Thursday, May 5, 2016

China's great commodity bubble loses air; Oil firms have 10 years to change strategy or face brutish end; Murdoch's News Corp posts $149m quarterly loss

1 China’s great commodity bubble loses air (Gulf News) The fever that’s gripped Chinese commodity markets is easing. Speculators who traded $261 billion futures in a single day last month have retreated as fast as they advanced. Trading volumes across the nation’s three biggest exchanges are more than half of what they were at their peak on April 22 and back to levels similar to a year ago.

The slowdown marks a return toward normality after a frenzy that drew comparisons with the credit-driven stock market rally last year that preceded a $5 trillion rout. Investor appetite has waned after the exchanges raised transaction fees and margins amid orders from regulators to limit speculation.

About 34 million contracts of everything from eggs to steel changed hands on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange and Shanghai Futures Exchange on Wednesday, down from a peak of 80.6 million contracts seven sessions earlier.

While prices have come off their peaks amid the slowdown in trading, they haven’t collapsed. Steel futures have slid 15 per cent since April 21 but are still almost 20 per cent higher compared with the beginning of March at 2,331 yuan a metric ton on Thursday. Coking coal is up 18 per cent.

Among the steps taken by the bourses to dampen the frenzy, the Dalian exchange hiked charges for iron ore contracts to 0.03 per cent of the transaction value. The Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange boosted fees for cotton contracts to 6 yuan per lot from 4.3 yuan while the Shanghai Futures Exchange increased margin requirements for rebar and hot-roiled coil to 8 per cent from 7 per cent.

2 Oil firms have 10 years to change strategy or face brutish end (Terry Macalister in The Guardian) International oil companies such as Shell and BP must completely change their business model or face a “nasty, brutish and short” end within 10 years, one of Britain’s most influential energy experts has warned.

Paul Stephens, a fellow at Chatham House thinktank, said in a research paper the oil “majors” were no longer fit for purpose – hit by low crude prices, tightening climate change regulations and their own wrongheaded strategies. Stephens argues the only way forward for the companies lies in diversifying into green energy, drastically reducing their operations or consolidating through mega-mergers.

“In this new world, the only realistic option … lies in restructuring and realising (selling) many of their current assets to provide cash for their shareholders.” Stephens believes the companies have spent too much time trying to maximise shareholder value by finding and proving more reserves while outsourcing key operations.

The collapse in crude to $45 per barrel has exacerbated problems for the industry, but the Chatham House expert says a major price recovery cannot be guaranteed. He says companies have 10 years to change strategy or die.

The big oil companies, including US firms such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, have been warned that they are presiding over “stranded assets” of carbon that can never be burned if the world is determined to keep average temperatures from rising no more than 2C (35.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

There are isolated signs of companies taking action to change their business model, with Shell merging with its rival BG and pulling back from high-cost and environmentally challenging drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. The Chatham House expert notes that the influence of the international oil companies has waned since the 25 years following the second world war, when they controlled virtually all crude production outside of the US and communist states.

3 Murdoch’s News Corp reports $149m quarterly loss (BBC) Media giant News Corp has reported a net loss of $149m for the three months to March. That compares with a profit of $23m in the same quarter last year. The group suffered as a result of a one off legal charge of $280m at its News America Marketing business. Revenue also fell - by 7.3% to $1.89bn.

News Corp, controlled by Rupert Murdoch, gets over half its revenue from outside the US and it blamed "currency headwinds" for the drop. News Corp's businesses include news and information services, book publishing, real estate services and cable network programming as well as pay-TV distribution in Australia.

Revenue at News Corp's online real estate services business which includes website jumped 14% in the quarter to $194m. Meanwhile revenue from the book publishing business, which includes HarperCollins Publishers fell 11% to $358m.

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