In the last two weeks, oil prices again rose and even hit six-month highs. Particularly the escalating situation in the Middle East again had a key role. In recent days, the unrest and the non-transparent political situation in Egypt have also been accompanied by events in Syria, where chemical weapons are alleged to have been demonstrably used to suppress the uprising. Bear in mind that the breaking of this limit has significantly increased the likelihood of a military intervention by western countries, led by the United States, and this may become another source of uncertainty in the region (at least temporarily). Although Syria alone is unimportant in terms of oil production, markets are nervous because of the possible spill-over of the conflict into neighbouring Iraq or into Iran, as this would pose a more serious problem, given the contribution of those countries to the global oil production (approximately 6.6%). The market in North Sea oil was significantly affected not only by the above events but also by the persisting low oil exports from Libya. These primarily influenced the shape of the forward curve, which is probably showing its greatest negative slope ever (measured as the spread between the prices of front-month and twelve-month contracts, using the data since April 1994). Fairly strong demand for light oil with low sulphur content is also evident in the spreads between the prices of individual grades of North Sea oil, such as the difference between the Forties and Ekofisk oil prices.
Prices of base metals only changed slightly in the last two weeks, having increased by 0.5% on average. Prices of both copper and aluminium rose slightly over that period. The upbeat mood in the market was primarily fuelled by news from the real economy – GDP growth in the Eurozone sprang a pleasant surprise, while the improving mood in industry (not only in Germany) is also signalled by soft business mood data. According to a preliminary forecast, this indicator returned to more than 50 points even in China in August. Moreover, the imports of copper (copper concentrate) to this country increased significantly in July.