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Oil prices collapse again in volatile week for markets

Oil plunged close to six-year lows this week on oversupply worries, before staging a slight recovery as the International Energy Agency declared there were signs that "the tide will turn".

[LONDON] Oil plunged close to six-year lows this week on oversupply worries, before staging a slight recovery as the International Energy Agency declared there were signs that "the tide will turn".

Commodity investors also digested the Swiss central bank's shock move to abandon its policy of weakening the franc, while traders readied for next week's pivotal European Central Bank meeting.

The Swiss franc, seen as a haven investment, soared by almost a third against the euro at one point on Thursday, after the Swiss National Bank said it was ending an action plan lasting three years.

Some commodities were weighed down by the strong dollar. The euro hit an 11-year low on Friday under US$1.15 on the increasing prospect of fresh stimulus from the ECB, dealers said.

Market voices on:

OIL: European benchmark Brent tumbled on Tuesday to US$45.19 per barrel, a level last seen in March 2009, while New York crude struck a similar low at US$44.20.

"How low the market's floor will be is anyone's guess," the International Energy Agency (IEA) watchdog said in a monthly report published on Friday.

"A price recovery - barring any major disruption - may not be imminent, but signs are mounting that the tide will turn." The global oil market has more than halved since June, crashing on stubborn worries over global oversupply and weak demand in a faltering world economy.

The IEA maintained its oil demand forecast for 2015, expecting it to grow by 0.9 million barrels a day to reach 93.3 million barrels.

The Paris-based agency also cautioned that prices were expected to keep falling in the short-term.

"The IEA have hedged their bets somewhat by saying the tide may turn," noted CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

The oil market had fallen Thursday on news that the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had overproduced in December, while it also cut its global demand outlook.

The 12-nation OPEC cartel, which produces about one third of global supplies, said in a monthly report that its production rose to 30.2 million barrels a day in December, above its 30 million limit.

It also projected that demand for its oil would fall to 28.8 million barrels per day this year from 29.1 million in 2014.

Slumping oil sent shockwaves through the energy industry this week, sparking job losses and the cancellation of projects, with Royal Dutch Shell axing a vast US$6.5-billion petrochemical investment with Qatar Petroleum.

By Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in March eased to US$49.50 a barrel from US$49.67 for the February contract the previous week.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate or light sweet crude for February reversed to US$47.16 a barrel from US$47.96.


Gold rallied to a four-month peak at US$1,279 per ounce on Friday, as investors sought shelter from ongoing markets turmoil.

"Gold has rallied to its highest price since September ... as the massive appreciation in Swiss francs has prompted a new wave of demand for safe-havens," said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.

Gold is traditionally regarded by investors as a safe bet in times of economic uncertainty.

By Friday on the London Bullion Market, the price of gold rallied to US$1,277.50 an ounce from US$1,217.75 a week earlier.

Silver climbed to US$16.92 an ounce from US$16.24.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum grew to US$1,262 an ounce from US$1,225.

Palladium edged down to US$757 an ounce from US$795.

BASE METALS: The price of copper tumbled to the lowest level for more than five years after the World Bank slashed its global economic forecasts, parking doubts over the demand outlook for the metal.

Copper dived on Wednesday to US$5,353.25 per tonne, a level last witnessed in July 2009.

The metal, which is used in plumbing, heating, electrical and telecommunications wiring, has now shed 15 per cent of its value since the start of the year.

"Unease over the global economy engulfed commodities," said analyst David Papier at trading firm ETX Capital.

Copper "is often considered a barometer of industrial demand, so the slump leant extra gravitas to news that the World Bank had cut its 2015 growth forecasts blaming sluggishness in the eurozone, Japan and some major emerging economies", Mr Papier noted.

The World Bank on Tuesday predicted that the global economy would grow by 3.0 per cent in 2015. That marked a downgrade from the previous forecast of 3.4 per cent that was given in June.

The news weighed on other base or industrial metals, with aluminium also hit hard by the oil price slump.

By Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months sank to US$5,679 a tonne from US$6,112 the previous week.

Three-month aluminium slid to US$1,802 a tonne from US$1,820.50.

Three-month lead retreated to US$1,785.25 a tonne from US$1,820.50.

Three-month tin dipped to US$19,400 a tonne from US$19,630.

Three-month nickel slid to US$14,567 a tonne from US$15,508.


Cocoa futures declined as traders digested signs of cooling demand in Europe and North America.

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in March dropped to £2,031 a tonne from £2,050 a week earlier.

On the ICE Futures US exchange, cocoa for March fell to US$2,946 a tonne from $2,993.

Prices enjoyed one-month peaks, driven by worries that a lack of rain could hurt sugar production in key producer Brazil.

Brazilian weather service Somar Meteorologica "warned that a lack of rain would probably result in lower yields in Brazil", said Commerzbank analysts.

By Friday on LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in March gained to US$401 from US$390.10 a week earlier.

On ICE Futures US, the price of unrefined sugar for March rose to 15.44 US cents a pound from 14.84 US cents.

COFFEE: Coffee prices dipped in subdued trade on forecasts of flat output in Brazil.

By Friday on ICE Futures US, Arabica for delivery in March dropped to 173 US cents a pound from 181.50 cents a week earlier.

On LIFFE, Robusta for March decreased to $1,971 a tonne from US$1,992.

Rubber prices sank after the World Bank slashed its economic growth forecasts, with additional pressure stemming from sliding oil prices. Crude oil is used in the production of synthetic rubber.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 on Friday fell to 139.90 US cents a kilo from 144.45 cents the previous week.