How China will shake up the oil futures market

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by Chris Powell, GATA:

China, the world’s biggest oil buyer, is on the verge of opening a domestic market to trade futures contracts. It’s been planning one for years, only to encounter delays. The Shanghai International Energy Exchange, a unit of Shanghai Futures Exchange, will be known by the acronym INE and will allow Chinese buyers to lock in oil prices and pay in local currency. Also, foreign traders will be allowed to invest — a first for China’s commodities markets — because the exchange is registered in Shanghai’s free trade zone.

There are implications for the U.S. dollar’s well-established role as the global currency of the oil market.

According to the Shanghai-based news portal Jiemian, which cited an unidentified person from a futures company, trading is expected to start Jan. 18. Multiple rounds of testing have been carried out and all listing requirements met. …

Futures trading would wrest some control over pricing from the main international benchmarks, which are based on dollars. Denominating oil contracts in yuan would promote the use of China’s currency in global trade, one of the country’s key long-term goals. And China would benefit from having a benchmark that reflects the grades of oil that are mostly consumed by local refineries and differ from those underpinning Western contracts. …

Could the yuan challenge the dollar’s dominance in oil?

Not any time soon, since paying for oil in dollars is an entrenched practice, according to some analysts. Shady Shaher, head of macro strategy at Dubai-based lender Emirates NBD PJSC, says it makes sense in the long run to look at transactions in yuan because China is a key market, but it will take years. Bloomberg Gadfly columnist David Fickling argues that China doesn’t have “nearly the influence in the oil market needed to carry out such a coup.” On the other hand, paying in yuan for oil could become part of President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to develop ties across Eurasia, including the Middle East. Chinese participation in Saudi Aramco’s planned initial public offering could help sway Saudi opinion toward accepting yuan, which is used in only about 2 percent of global payments. …

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