Oil prices, unlike the prices of most commodities, rose in the last two weeks; the front-month Brent contract (ICE) was up by 3% and its price returned to more than US$110 per barrel. Oil was not significantly affected by poor figures from U.S. industry (ISM). On the contrary, it benefited from a few factors. Markets saw the comments by Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum Naimi as a positive signal, who said without further specification that he expected an improvement in Asian demand for Saudi oil in the months to come. In addition, the price was likely encouraged by the problems of the Pegasus Pipeline in the United States and by the extension of the tax allowances for European oil imports to South Korea by three months. In spite of the last factor mentioned, the situation regarding the North Sea market in physical oil remains calm, due in particular to the surprisingly high production in April (the loading programme for May should be released by the end of this week), and the spread between the prices of front-month and second-month contracts fell to the lowest levels since the beginning of July 2012 in the last two weeks. By contrast, the fairly good price of Brent likely encouraged European oil exports to America – the spread between the prices of Light Louisiana Sweet and Brent climbed to four-year highs in the second half of the month.
Prices of base metals continued to fall in the last two weeks. Particularly the price of aluminium declined at an above-average rate and even dropped to seven-month lows of less than US$1,900/t. A similar fall affected the price of copper, which went down to less than US$7,500/t (7-1/2-month lows). Base metals more or less ignored the improved Chinese PMI figures for March and continued to focus on adverse fundamentals in particular. Although the global aluminium production declined in February according to IAI data, the decline was due to a lower number of working days in the month, because the daily production of the metal hit a new all-time high (of more than 130,000t). As concerns copper, the inflow of the metal to LME warehouses continued, notably in the Johor and New Orleans locations. Nevertheless, physical premiums on the metal do not currently suggest any problems regarding its availability; despite a moderate increase in those premiums in Europe since the end of February, they only remain at slightly above-average levels historically.