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Oil, gold and trade in times of crisis

posted onApril 12, 2018
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Oil prices soared to their highest level since December 2014 amid the possibility of the US carrying out air strikes against Syria. Brent Crude surged more than 3 percent  at $71.34 a barrel late Tuesday while American benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) rose to as much as $65.86 a barrel at 19:15 GMT - its highest level since March 27.

Both Brent and WTI on Wednesday hit their highest since late 2014 at $73.09 and $67.45 a barrel respectively. On Thursday, brent crude futures were at $71.70 a barrel at 0902 GMT and U.S. WTI crude futures were at $66.62.

Syria is not a key oil producer, but the wider Middle East is the world's most important crude exporter and tensions in the region tend to disrupt oil markets. Barclays said that geopolitical events could keep Brent prices elevated above $70 in April and May, with a high likelihood of a downward correction in the second half of the year. 

US President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action against Syria after they blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a suspected deadly chemical attack on Douma last weekend. Damascus has denied any responsibility.

Escalating tensions in Syria weighed on gold as well. The yellow metal is often perceived as a safe store of value during times of political and financial uncertainty.

WTO Director
WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo

Spot gold rose for a third straight session and was 0.1 percent higher at $1,337.11 an ounce as of 0045 GMT on Tuesday. On Wednesday, gold rose more than 1 percent. Spot gold was up 0.9 percent at $1,350.80 an ounce at 1330 GMT, while U.S. gold futures were 0.7 percent higher $1,354.60. On Thursday, spot gold fell 0.4 percent to $1,347.03 an ounce at 0956 GMT while U.S. gold futures fell 0.7 percent to $1,350.20. 

Also supporting gold was continuing concern over a prolonged trade dispute between the United States and China. The world's two largest economies,  have threatened each other with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs in recent weeks.

The World Trade Organization  in its annual forecast published on Thursday said it expects strong trade growth through 2018 and 2019 but warned progress would be "undermined" if governments implement threatened protectionist measures.

Trade in goods will grow 4.4 percent this year and 4.0 percent in 2019. Last year it grew 4.7 percent - much higher than the 3.6 percent forecast in September - and a further 4.0 percent rise is expected in 2019, the WTO said. 

However, the organisation cautioned that there are signs that escalating trade tensions may already be affecting business confidence and investment decisions, which could compromise the current outlook. 

WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo cautioned that "this important progress could be quickly undermined if governments resort to restrictive trade policies, especially in a tit-for-tat process that could lead to an unmanageable escalation."

"A cycle of retaliation is the last thing the world economy needs," he added in a statement.

Azevedo reiterated his call for nations to try to resolve their disputes through the multilateral system, instead of via face-to-face standoffs.

"The pressing trade problems confronting WTO members (are) best tackled through collective action," he said. "I urge governments to show restraint and settle their differences through dialogue and serious engagement."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP