China's oil futures: frazzle or dazzle for foreign traders?


That may begin to change gradually going forward, as today saw the launch of Chinese crude oil futures out of Shanghai - Asia, despite being the world's biggest and fastest growing oil consumer, has so far not had a benchmark.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg pointed out that Anglo-Swiss Glencore Plc and Swiss-based Trafigura Group commodity trading companies executed crude deals on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange platform along with other foreign companies, indicating their interest in China's oil futures.

Oil prices rose on Monday with global Brent crude futures opening above 70 dollars per barrel for the first time since January.

Chinese online newspaper Global Times specified that the Shanghai yuan-denominated crude futures were traded Monday "at 429.9 yuan ($68.30) a barrel for September by the end of the trading day at 3 pm (GMT+8), slightly down from 440 yuan at the start of trading, but still above the preset reference point of 416 yuan by 3.34 percent". Last year, Beijing outpaced the United States and became the largest buyer of the raw material.

The new contracts are "rooted in China's ambition to increase its bargaining power to price energy supplies amidst an increasing reliance on oil imports", energy industry information provider ICIS said in a research note.

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But analysts said the long-delayed Shanghai-traded futures are unlikely to challenge the primacy of NY and London-based futures any time soon due to Chinese capital controls and the entrenched position of the dollar-denominated contracts. Thus, the contracts may not only help to win some control over pricing from the major worldwide benchmarks, but also promote the use of Chinese currency in global trade.

Beijing has set a daily foreign-exchange quota of US$5 billion and is likely to raise the cap in the future to attract more overseas traders to invest in the contracts.

While the nation hopes to establish a benchmark for global oil transactions, whether the Asian nation would achieve that goal has been the subject of hot debate.

Experts see China's yuan-dominated contracts as historic as the new futures symbolize the first time that foreign investors can access a Chinese commodity market.

Similar obstacles have kept foreign investors as bit players in the country's giant mainland stock and bond markets. With this, the country, which is also the world's largest buyer of crude oil is trying to gain more control over pricing, challenging European and USA benchmarks.