Could Europe Drive Commodities to 2008 Levels?

Brittney Barrett  |

The global markets are waiting with bated breath for an agreement to be made in the Eurozone. Yesterday’s announcement from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy seemed more an attempt to convince investors that European sovereign debt was safe amid whispers about the potential death of the euro. Until a deal is reached, those threats loom on the financial markets and there are still a portion of people betting on the inevitability of European debt contagion spreading.

Goldman Sachs (GS) is one of them with a Long July 2012 bet on ICE Brent crude oil futures. In a note to clients in early December, the firm drew several comparisons between the current landscape and 2008 at the dawn of the financial crisis. Goldman cited European debt as the equivalent to the Lehman Brother’s collapse, painting it as the first domino to fall. Similar to that time, an economically powerful region is acting uncharacteristically by receding while a number of emerging nations thrives. “In 2007 the failure of two prominent hedge funds run by Bear Sterns would come to be seen as the prelude to the broader financial crisis, which came in the second half of 2008,” read the note. “The sovereign and banking crises have now taken on a systemic dimension, with investors increasingly questioning the survival of the euro and the euro area.”

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In addition to global growth disparities with developed nations slowing down, oil is also mimicking its trajectory prior to the start of the great recession. Demand of distillate is nearing 2007 levels again, prompting a decline of inventories. This is a similar situation to what occurred in 2008 when the low levels and sustained demand caused prices to surge to record highs. The speed of expansion of the global economy, led by nations like China and India, would likely slow as a result of a financial crisis in Europe. Their current inertia though, with growth rates between 7 and 9 is too strong to slow to the pace of their developed counterparts.

As a consequence of this, these nations will demand increased commodities at the same time that producers will be struggling to gather the capital to expand. Finding oil and other fossil fuels is becoming increasingly difficult and is requiring more capital in order to engage in the new methodologies from deepwater to shale drilling. An unwillingness to explore these opportunities fully in the face of an unsure economy could in turn, limit supply and push prices to new highs.

Goldman believes that in three months time that Brent Crude oil will reach $117.50 a barrel and that within the next year it could push $127.50 a barrel. The firm has said WTI Crude will outperform Brent with a rise of 23 percent in the 12-month period. Goldman acknowledges that a weaker Europe could negatively impact demand but believes extreme tightness in the equity market, with an estimated 16 percent decline in the next year, will counteract this and set the stage for rocketing commodities pricing. "These forecasts reflect our view that crude oil prices will need to continue to rise in order to slow demand growth, restraining oil demand in line with limited supplies, even in a relatively poor economic growth environment,” said Goldman.

An argument could be made that while  the present economic terrain bears similarities to 2008, the world is much better prepared. That said, others remain alarmed that the sale of European sovereign debt from banks looking to deleverage themselves from the current tumult, mirrors decisions made in the mortgage crisis.  Whether Goldman is correct in their assumptions regarding the price of commodities in the coming years as a reaction to this remains to be seen, but there are several factors, as mentioned above that seem to support their argument.

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