Oil Edges Off 2015 Low, But Stocks Stay Slippery

LONDON (Reuters) -
Workers look at journalists during a media tour of the Khurais oilfield, about 160 km (99 miles) from Riyadh, in this June 23, 2008 file photo. Saudi Arabia is shipping more crude oil to Asia over the last two months of 2015 as strong refining margins boost demand, trade sources said, helping the top oil exporter defend its market share amid fierce competition. To match MIDEAST-OIL/ REUTERS/Ali Jarekji/Files
Workers look at journalists during a media tour of the Khurais oilfield, about 160 km (99 miles) from Riyadh, in this 2008 file photo. (Reuters/Ali Jarekji/Files)

A surprise leap in Chinese commodity imports helped steady oil prices and energy-exposed currencies on Tuesday, though a second day of falls for world stocks and a two-month low for emerging market bourses kept the global mood subdued.

Investors were still struggling for confidence after Monday’s 6 percent plunge in oil had whacked it to its lowest level of the year, and the prospect of next week’s U.S. interest-rate hike, the first in almost a decade, also loomed.

European shares opened at their lowest level since mid-October as energy and mining stocks fell sharply again, and as manufacturing figures from Britain also saw a drop.

Currencies of major oil-exporting nations such as the Canadian dollar and the Norwegian crown remained under pressure despite their slight recovery, while safe-havens like the yen and the low-yielding euro did well.

“If you are looking to play weak oil prices you would want to sell the Canadian dollar and the Norwegian crown,” said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC World Markets.

“With oil prices falling and some even talking about oil falling to $30 a barrel, revenues for these countries will take a beating and hence their currencies will remain under pressure.”

Internationally traded Brent futures were up 31 cents at $41.04 a barrel, and U.S. crude was at $37.82 in early European trading, though there was little certainty from traders that they would remain steady.

Brent has fallen 40 percent since early May and has revived fears about global deflationary pressures and how countries that rely on it for revenues will cope.

Asia shares had also taken a hit overnight. Tokyo’s Nikkei ended down more than 1 percent despite data showing Japan dodged recession in the third quarter, while Chinese stocks fell 1.8 percent.

Though there was the surprise jump in commodities demand, overall Chinese imports fell for the 13th consecutive month, with an 8.7 percent decline in November compared to a year earlier.

“Beyond the December hike (by the Federal Reserve), investors are concerned about the lack of Chinese demand which is acting as a millstone around the neck of risky assets,” said Cliff Tan, East Asian head of global markets at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in Hong Kong.

German and other northern euro-zone government bond yields nudged lower as investors retreated into safer areas, though Swiss yields inched up as bets faded on another rate cut this month from the Swiss National Bank (SNB).

Greek 10-year yields rose to their highest level in almost three months, meanwhile, as concerns about the country’s ability to stick to its reform program were stoked by critical comments on the IMF from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

He accused the Washington-based global lender of making unrealistic demands both on Greece for tough reforms and on its euro-zone partners for debt relief beyond what they can accept.

“The Fund must decide if it wants to compromise, if it will stay in the program,” Tsipras said. “If it does not want that compromise, it should say so publicly.”

Other than that it was all about what is expected to be the first post-financial crisis rise in U.S. interest rates for bond markets.

Federal funds’ futures contracts imply an 80-percent chance that the Fed will end seven years of near-zero interest rates at its December meeting and about even odds of a second rate rise by March.

Long-dated U.S. Treasury debt prices held firm after rallying on Monday as the drop in oil prices pointed to benign inflation, potentially tempering the Fed’s policy tightening path.

On the currencies front, action around the China trade data was brief with the Australian dollar settling to new intraday lows at $0.7224 and receding further from a 3-1/2 month high of $0.7386 touched on Friday.

The euro was firm at $1.08560 following last week’s less-than-aggressive stimulus from European Central Bank and the offshore Chinese yuan traded at a three-month low of 6.4930 per dollar despite another lower-than-expected fixing by China’s central bank.