Thursday, March 29, 2018

China Taking The Long Road To Solve The Petro-Yuan Puzzle

China taking the long road to solve the petro-yuan puzzle

Few geoeconomic game-changers are more spectacular than yuan-denominated future crude oil contracts – especially when set up by the largest importer of crude on the planet.
And yet Beijing’s media strategy seems to have consisted in substantially play down the official launch of the petro-yuan at the Shanghai International Energy Exchange.
Still, some euphoria was in order. Brent Crude soared to $71 a barrel for the first time since 2015. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) reached the highest level in three years at $66.55 a barrel; then retreated to $65.53.
A series of petro-yuan “firsts” include the first time overseas investors are able to access a Chinese commodity market. Significantly, US dollars will be accepted as deposit and for settlement. In the near future, a basket of currencies will also be accepted as deposit.

As the yuan progressively reaches full consolidation in trade settlement, the petro-yuan threat to the US dollar, inscribed in a complex, long-term process, will disseminate the Holy Grail: crude oil futures contracts priced in yuan fully convertible into gold.
That means China’s vast array of trade partners will be able to convert yuan into gold without having to keep funds in Chinese assets or turn them into US dollars. Exporters facing the wrath of Washington, such as Russia, Iran or Venezuela, may then avoid US sanctions by trading oil in yuan convertible to gold. Iran and Venezuela, for instance, would have no problems redirecting tankers to China in order to sell directly in the Chinese market – if that’s what it takes.
In the short- to medium-term the petro-yuan will surely boost the appeal of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially when it comes to the House of Saud.
It’s still unclear in what capacity Beijing will be part of the Aramco IPO, but that will be a decisive step towards the fateful historic moment when Beijing will tell – or compel – Riyadh to start accepting payment for oil in yuan.
Only then the petrodollar may be at serious risk – along with the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

How to bypass the US dollar, as well as the petrodollar, has been discussed at BRICS summits for years now. Russia is now China’s largest crude oil supplier (1.32 million barrels a day last month, up 17.8% from a year earlier.) Moscow and Beijing have been forcefully bypassing the US dollar in bilateral trade. In October last year, China launched a payment system in both currencies – the yuan and the ruble. And that will apply to Russian oil bought by China.

The game will really start to change when other nations realize they have found a real credible alternative to the petrodollar, and switching to the yuan en masse will certainly spark a US dollar crisis.

What the petro-yuan may be able to provoke in the short term is an acceleration of the next crises in treasuries and bond markets, which will inevitably spill out in the form of a crisis in global currency markets.

The game-changing aspect, for now, mostly has to do with the exquisite timing. Beijing has crafted an ultra-long-term plan and yet chose to launch the petro-yuan smack in the middle of a period of sharp deterioration in trade relations with Washington.

The answer to the geoeconomic riddle is bound to be The Golden Moment. Eventually gold will rise to a level where Beijing – by then totally in control over physical gold markets – feels ready to set a conversion rate.

Yet this is just the initial step in an ultra-high-stakes game. One should keep one’s eyes firmly focused on the interpolations between trade connectivity and technological breakthroughs. The petrodollar may be in danger but is far from finished.

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