Summary: What Happened?
In late March China launched its first oil futures contract that may fully appeal to non-Chinese risk managers. Since oil field service (OFS) providers and other companies often peg contract pricing to oil benchmarks such as WTI and Brent, this introduces a new option for contracts. However, O&G supply chain teams should beware the new option: rather than entertaining the new Chinese oil futures, teams should consider less risky and more established alternatives to mitigate risk and avoid unnecessary costs.
Why Have I Not Heard of Chinese Futures Before Now?
Despite surging activity on China’s three main commodity exchanges (the Dalian Commodity Exchange, the Shanghai Futures Exchange, and the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange), until recently, several factors have precluded Chinese commodity futures markets from emerging as commonly referenced international price benchmarks:
- Lack of cross border access: Foreigners have seldom been permitted to access and utilize Chinese commodity futures. Only a limited number of Chinese state-controlled enterprises have been granted licenses by the Chinese government to transact in commodity derivatives outside China.
- Non-convertibility of the RMB: The Chinese government limits the convertibility of its currency, the RMB. This can make exchange rate transactions costlier to execute than those with other currencies. Market participants have expressed concerns that profits earned on Chinese commodity futures contracts may potentially be difficult to move out of China.
Both factors have contributed to large divergences between Chinese and foreign benchmark pricing across many commodities. These divergences make Chinese contracts unsuitable to hedge commodity exposure incurred outside of China and arguably make Chinese commodity derivative prices less reflective of global market conditions than their foreign equivalents. Traders and supply chain managers have thus been reluctant to use them.