China’s new oil futures contract is gaining some momentum as a fixture on the global oil market, although hurdles remain before it can become a key benchmark for Asia.
China launched its yuan-denominated oil benchmark in March to much fanfare, after years of planning and delays. The logic of starting up an oil futures contract in China is obvious. China is the largest crude oil importer in the world, and its growing appetite for crude has increased the urgency to establish a contract based on local supply and demand conditions. Importing such heavy volumes at dollar-denominated prices exposes Chinese refiners and consumers to currency risk. A yuan contract mitigates some of that risk.
Beyond those concerns, the yuan contract also augments the global status of the Chinese currency. China is the world’s second largest economy and shifting more global trade into yuan advances Chinese influence.
However, the new contract on the Shanghai International Exchange still has to overcome some hurdles before it can be taken seriously as a premier benchmark in the global oil market. Just because the contract was launched does not mean it will become dominant, or even relevant. Previous contracts have failed to garner sufficient liquidity and ultimately have been discontinued or have wallowed in irrelevance.
The Dubai Mercantile Exchange’s Oman futures contract has been somewhat reflective of conditions in the Asian market, incorporating medium and heavy sour blends. But “its daily traded volume and open interest (number of contracts outstanding) have remained at low levels since its inception in 2007, indicating it is not actively used among market participants,” the EIA wrote last week.
As Reuters noted in early April, there are several ingredients for success. First, the contract must serve a need for hedging. Second, it has to attract enough traders in order to build liquidity. Finally, restrictions on trading, speculation, and capital controls must not be too onerous.
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