Traders Are Bracing for a Record-Smashing Summer That Will Shake Up Commodities

(Bloomberg) -- Around the world, people are already living through the havoc brought on by global temperatures that are breaking records. It’s about to get a lot worse.

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Odds are growing that 2024 will become the hottest year in history as the Northern Hemisphere barrels into summer. Prices for some of the world’s most vital commodities — natural gas, power and staple crops like wheat and soy — are climbing. The world of shipping, already thrown into chaos from the Red Sea to the Panama Canal, is likely to be rocked again by parched waterways. And the potential for destructive wildfires is increasing.

The outlook is a bleak reminder of how wild weather driven by climate change is worsening inflation, elevating the cost of energy, food and fuel. Frequent natural disasters are also heightening the risk of devastating damages and insurance costs while making it harder to predict market moves. Last year, extreme weather and earthquakes inflicted global losses of $250 billion, according to Munich Re.

Some experts are predicting US natural gas prices could jump more than 50%, while wheat and coffee markets are also expected to rally.

Globally, 2024’s first four months were the warmest in 175 years, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. The year will definitely rank among the top five hottest on record and has a 61% chance of knocking 2023 out of the top spot, based on the US agency’s analysis.

Adding to the misery, record-hot oceans threaten to spawn “explosive” tropical cyclone activity. And La Niña, a weather pattern that’s expected to take hold in August, will supercharge hurricanes in the Atlantic while also unleashing dry conditions in the US West and South.

For the global economy and oil markets, the biggest risk “is not Russia-Ukraine, is not Iran, is not Hamas-Israel,” said Edward Morse, senior adviser at Hartree Partners LP and the former head of Citigroup Inc.’s commodities research. “The biggest risk for the summer, for the world as a whole, is the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Read more: What’s a Heat Dome? Are We in for More of Them?: QuickTake

Here’s a look at the markets that have the potential for the most volatility.

Gas Prices Seen Surging

US natural gas futures could soar to $4 per million British thermal units later this year if hot weather boosts air-conditioning use enough to erode inventories that are currently plentiful, said Gary Cunningham, director of market research at Tradition Energy. Producers, meanwhile, are curtailing output from shale basins in response to relatively low prices, setting the stage for a tighter market.

Europe, which can no longer rely on Russian supply following the invasion of Ukraine, now competes with Asia for cargoes of liquefied natural gas from exporters like the US, Qatar and Nigeria. Funds have been the most bullish on European natural gas since before the energy crisis, signaling growing concern about scarcer supplies.

“This summer will almost certainly bring a rash of debilitating heat waves, particularly in the US midsection and Europe,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

Severe heat in Southeast Asia starting in April prompted traders in the region to bulk up on gas cargoes. Scorching weather also descended on Egypt, forcing the North African nation, typically an exporter, to resort to buying LNG. Sweltering conditions engulfing India are boosting demand for the fuel from the power sector, according to Petronet LNG Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Akshay Kumar Singh.

In Europe and Asia, a “perfect storm” of intense heat, hurricane-driven disruptions to US exports and worsening drought that decimates hydropower in Latin America could send gas prices soaring about 50% to 60% above current levels, analysts at Citigroup said in April.

Potential for Blackouts

Power markets face a similar risk from a demand spike. Surging temperatures across Texas are testing the state’s grid, with electricity prices for August recently rallying above $200 a megawatt-hour, the highest since 2022 for this time of year. The upside risk is huge: Prices climbed more than 800% last August amid searing heat. And the state has repeatedly teetered on the edge of widespread blackouts for the past two summers.

“When it’s bad, it’s really bad,” said Sean Kelly, chief executive officer of Amperon Holdings Inc., which forecasts electricity use for Texas and other grids.

Read more: Power Failures Threaten Large Swath of North America This Summer

In Europe, blazing heat might force some French nuclear plants — which provide about 70% of the country’s power generation — to shut. That’s because many reactors rely on rivers for cooling, and when water temperatures are too high, environmental rules to protect aquatic wildlife can force the facilities to close temporarily.

Inflation Threat

Forecasts for stubbornly high commodity prices will continue to frustrate the Federal Reserve’s inflation battle and amplify the risk that interest rates will stay higher for longer. The outlook is also a concern for Joe Biden ahead of a US presidential election in which the cost of living will loom large for voters.

Extreme heat, meanwhile, is set to stifle the US economy by restricting construction workers’ productivity and curbing capital investment, according to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The paper found that without large-scale efforts to cut carbon emissions, future increases in intense heat would reduce the capital stock, or the value of accumulated investment, by 5.4% and annual consumption by 1.8% by the year 2200.

Supply Shocks

For agricultural markets, supply shocks present the greatest threat.

Wheat futures have hit the highest since July and funds are trimming bearish bets they’ve held for almost two years. Dry conditions in Russia, a key global exporter, are prompting analysts to cut harvest estimates. Field work in Western Europe has been slowed by excess rain, while attacks on agriculture infrastructure threaten exports in Ukraine.

In North America, much of top US grower Kansas is suffering from extreme drought. So far, estimates from this year’s crop tour show the state’s wheat fields will produce more than in 2023, when drought was so bad many fields didn’t make it to harvest. Still, with more than a month before fields will be ready for reaping, more dry weather or blazing heat would take yields down from these forecasts.

“It better start raining pretty quick to get these numbers,” said Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council and leader of the crop tour.

Extreme weather was one of the drivers for cocoa’s dizzying rally, and coffee markets are now facing similar risks. Futures for arabica coffee, the higher-end beans favored by companies like Starbucks Corp., could jump about 30% to hit $2.60 a pound over the next few months if adverse weather and production issues prevail in Brazil and Vietnam and money managers go on a buying spree, Citigroup analysts said this month.

Options Trading

Severe heat can affect every corner of the oil market, from production to shipping and refining.

Last year, Canada’s worst wildfire season on record prompted oil and gas drillers to shut as much as 300,000 barrels a day of production. In 2023, the fires largely spared the nation’s main producing region — but the impact this year could be enormous. At the end of April, 63% of the country was abnormally dry or in drought, according to the North American Drought Monitor, creating conditions ripe for blazes.

Intense heat can disrupt refinery operations, stressing process units and impacting the ability to maintain steady internal temperatures. Any outright refinery closures would come if the grid got overloaded and the facility lost power. Hot weather also threatens to disrupt crude pipelines by causing vapor to build up. And some traders are bracing for what’s supposed to be an unusually active hurricane season, another threat to oil refiners.

Money managers’ net bullish bets on US gasoline futures and options have come off their peaks after reaching the highest seasonal level since 2019.


Tanker shipments might be affected, too, with drought likely to create transit issues in key waterways such as the Suez Canal.

The Rhine River — Europe’s busiest commercial waterway, which moves everything from diesel to coal inland from the giant port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands — has seen record-low water levels in recent years.

In the coming months, the threat of wild weather is poised to keep commodities traders on their toes, said Carl Neill, a senior energy analyst at StoneX Group Inc.

“With uncertainty comes volatility,” Neill said. “How will the heat affect summer crops? How much will cooling demand compete with storage injections for natural gas? The market begins to price in that uncertainty.”

--With assistance from Brian K Sullivan, Elizabeth Elkin, Anna Shiryaevskaya, Stephen Stapczynski, Ruth Liao, Naureen S Malik, Eamon Farhat, Michael Hirtzer, Tarso Veloso, Celia Bergin, Megan Durisin Albery, Anuradha Raghu, Devika Krishna Kumar, Lucia Kassai, Barbara J. Powell, Robert Tuttle, Gerson Freitas Jr, Jordan Fitzgerald, Julia Fanzeres and Rachel Graham.

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