How has Covid-19 impacted the commodities market?

Posting date: 11 June 2020

The global commodities and natural resources market has had its fair share of highs and lows of late, and like many industries it has not been spared from the damaging impact Covid-19 has had. However, some commodity firms have found themselves weathering the pandemic storm more successfully than those in other sectors, thanks to their experience in handling fluctuations that are so common within this ever-changing industry.


While the full impact of Covid-19 on the national and global economy has yet to be revealed, we can already see some clear challenges and opportunities for firms and professionals in this space. Here’s how Covid-19 has impacted the commodities market.


Mobilisation and supply chain issues


Lockdown conditions all over the world have had a significant impact on the mobilisation of both people and parts over the past months. With many countries imposing strict measures to control the spread of coronavirus – including closing borders, restricting visa supplies and asking people to stay at home – the global commodity supply chain has been significantly impacted. Commodity trading and shipping activity has been impacted, with flow-on effects to freight capacities, rates, speed of processing and delivery time. According to Swissinfo, restrictions have seen activity decreased at ports, although cargo has still been flowing to and from most destinations, albeit at a delayed rate.


This is partly due to increased pressure to keep supply chains moving in order to ensure countries have stocks of their required goods. This even extends to Swiss coffee and cocoa reserves – Swiss commodity trading companies have been working with roasters and chocolate makers to ensure federal reserves are maintained.


Some firms more stable than others


The energy industry – and in particular oil trading companies – already had a rocky start to 2020. The oil price war between USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia saw barrel prices sink to a 17-year low in March, and oil prices even fell below zero in the United States as sellers were forced to pay customers to take unwanted oil. The price war combined with Covid-19 presented enormous challenges for natural resources markets all over the world. Energy prices are expected to be 40% lower than in 2019, according to the World Bank, with the economic slowdown also impacting industrial commodities such as copper and zinc. Interestingly, gold prices have risen as a result of buyers seeking safety in the turbulent financial market.


The firms that are weathering this storm the most successfully are those which have sufficient cashflow to enable them to buy gas and oil when the market is down, as well as having the means to stock it. Were seeing oil trading companies at the forefront of this market turbulence, taking opportunities to profit from price movements. Accustomed to volatility and risk taking, these trading firms are no stranger to uncertain times and may well come through this crisis on top.


Firms with assets, refineries and mines are generally perceived to be more stable in the current market than the classic trading shops. Indeed, some European refineries have resumed work after the coronavirus lockdown, adapting their activities according to market changes. This is a positive signal for the industry and jobseekers alike. Meanwhile, Sberbank has just announced a physical commodities trading company in Switzerland, suggesting some firms are faring better than others.


As well as stable pockets of the industry, we’ve also seen some jobs experience more stability than others. At Swisslinx, we’ve seen an uplift in the number of risk and compliance roles within the commodities sector, as well as legal functions and trade finance.


Technology pushes forward


New technologies have been creating innovation within the commodities and natural resources sector for years, and their importance is perhaps now more heightened than ever. We’ve seen calls for increased digitisation of the commodities market to counteract fraud that has blighted the market recently, with suggestions of a digital platform to track the entire logistics lifecycle of transactions. Blockchain technology can help to achieve this, thanks to its focus on privacy preservation. We’ve observed the market move to adopt distributed ledger technology products for commodity trade finance, something innovative Swiss firms have been at the forefront of.


Make your next move in commodities and natural resources at Swisslinx


At Swisslinx, we have a wealth of knowledge on the global commodities market, with clients across up-mid and downstream organisations across EMEA.


Whether you’re an industry professional considering your next career step after Covid-19 or an organisation looking to secure the market’s top talent, we’d love to hear from you. Find out more about our commodities and natural resources function or read more about our client services.

How has Covid-19 impacted Dubai?

Around the world, countries have been impacted by and responded to Covid-19 in different ways. While Switzerland chose to rely heavily on testing and offered support to businesses, the United Arab Emirates implemented a travel ban, cut interest rates and rolled out a stimulus package. As a travel hub with many expat and temporary workers, Dubai has been presented with unique challenges during the pandemic. Now as individuals and businesses start to recover and now look to the future, what can we expect for the city, and how might the economy recover? Travel plans have changed Dubai came to a standstill in April as the UAE government imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. Now, the emirate is opening the economy back up, and a significant part of this is travel. As one of the world’s most significant travel hubs, Dubai was heavily impacted by lockdown measures. It's a city reliant on tourism, hospitality and aviation, so the grounding of planes and imposition of strict travel restrictions have had a major effect on the economy. March’s complete halt of passenger flights has contributed to passenger travel through Dubai dropping by a fifth in the first quarter of 2020, though special repatriation flights still operated to ensure travellers and contract workers could return home. The transport and storage sector, which includes aviation, land, air and water transport, made up 18.5% of Dubai’s GDP in 2017 and was its most active economic driver in the first half of 2019, so such a significant halt could be detrimental to the wider economy. However, there is now good news for the aviation and hospitality sectors with the resumption of travel from to and from Dubai by July 7. Airports and national carriers are resuming large-scale operations whilst maintaining strict health and safety measures, which may help to accelerate the predicted economic recovery. We can therefore expect to see more opportunity for investment in the travel and tourism sector over the coming months. Staff consider their options While the UAE did roll out a stimulus package to help its economy in the midst of the pandemic, Dubai hasn’t seen the same level of support that other parts of the world has when it’s come to securing businesses. With no furlough scheme, some employers have been forced to reduce headcount and salaries to ensure survival during and after Covid-19. As the nation is made up largely of expats, many residents are making the decision to return home, and Oxford Economics estimates that the UAE could see 10% of residents leave its shores. However, with job losses and tanking economies an issue worldwide, those in stable industries may choose to stay on in Dubai rather than facing an uncertain future back home. Some nations in the GCC are actively looking to reduce expatriate worker numbers, with Kuwait and Oman looking to fill a higher percentage of key positions with national candidates. As international flights resume and restrictions ease, we anticipate there will be more employment opportunities within the UAE, particularly within the healthcare, distribution and logistics and technology industries. E-commerce is thriving throughout the pandemic, so specialist skillsets in this area will be highly sought after.  Oil and gas take a hit We know that the commodities market has taken a considerable hit in 2020, not just with Covid-19 but with the oil price wars as well. Supply has outweighed demand and we saw storage facilities reach maximum capacity, resulting in a record low oil price that created significant disruption throughout the global industry. However, the past two months have seen the market recover somewhat, and there are predictions that the second half of the year will see oil prices rise back to $50. As lockdowns continue to be lifted around the world and the mobilisation of people and supplies resumes, we hope this sector continues to strengthen and more job opportunities will emerge. Investment shows confidence There are clear signs of opportunity and optimism in the UAE already. One such sign of confidence is the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announcing a $20.7 billion energy infrastructure deal with global investors, operators and sovereign wealth and investment funds. It’s one of the largest global energy infrastructure transactions and is positive news for the UAE’s gas market – and indeed, clients and jobseekers. Emiratis are optimistic about an economic recovery, according to Mckinsey, and the relaxation of lockdown rules should speed this up. Dubai has maintained its position as among the top three destinations globally for greenfield foreign direct investment, thanks to its ease of doing business, location and security. This should help the city to recover economically, perhaps more quickly than other areas. Flexibility into the future Through this crisis we’ve seen many clients in Dubai and UAE implement remote working, reducing business travel as much as possible and placing projects on hold. We can expect to see some of this continue long into the future, particularly regarding employer flexibility, potentially creating more opportunities for workers who may not otherwise have been able to work full time in an office location. As 22% of UAE employers say working from home has increased their business’ productivity, many organisations may introduce new remote and flexible working policies to allow employees to work from home on a permanent or part time basis. Unnecessary business travel will likely be reduced or eliminated entirely, with a focus on working – and hiring – locally. That’s not to say there won’t be opportunities for global workers to take up lucrative contracts in the UAE, however. For the right candidate, opportunities will remain. Established in 2007, Swisslinx’s Dubai office is focused on banking and finance, oil and gas, and technology. We have a multilingual team of sector experts who are committed to matching the right candidates with the right roles, providing ongoing support before, during and after the recruitment process. View our latest UAE jobs or contact us to talk about how we can help you.

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How have startups pivoted to respond to Covid-19?

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to a raft of changes across industries, from home working and virtual business meetings through to social distancing and reorganisation. Beyond the day-to-day of how we’re working, we’ve also seen dramatic changes within some industries as to what we’re working on. One of the most interesting impacts of Covid-19 has been the response of businesses who are trying to not only survive, but also help in the face of a massive global pandemic. Restaurants have moved to online delivery models, fashion labels are manufacturing face masks and life science organisations worldwide are devoting their efforts entirely to finding a vaccine. This is easier for some than others – changing business models and production plans suit organisations that are agile and free from the restrictions that many established large-scale businesses have in place. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at how startups have pivoted in response to Covid-19. What does ‘pivot’ mean? Anyone who’s worked in technology – and particularly the startup world – will be familiar with the pivot. It’s the term given to a change in approach to test a new business model or product, usually after receiving feedback that the original approach is not effective. It’s common in the startup community where entrepreneurs typically follow a lean methodology where everything is questioned – even the purpose of the organisation. Famous organisations that have pivoted include Nintendo, whose previous products have included instant rice and vacuum cleaners, and Twitter, which was once a service called Odeo that allowed people to find and listen to podcasts. Which startups have pivoted as a response to Covid-19? The 2010s saw a huge amount of hype generated over 3D printing, yet the technology has so far seemed somewhat underutilised. Now, however, Covid-19 is presenting new demand for additive manufacturing, thanks largely to the stranglehold China has had on manufacturing personal protective equipment and other products that have been in short supply during the pandemic. When Chinese manufacturing came to a halt during lockdown, startups and other businesses stepped up to use 3D printing to fill the gap, with designs for face shields and medical equipment shared on open source platforms to allow anyone to create these much-needed products. The Middle East and North African market have seen 3D printing startups such as Eon Dental pivot to contribute to the Covid-19 battle, reconfiguring machines and temporarily changing their entire business models. Meanwhile, UAE commodities startup Immensa produces 10,000-12,000 face shields a day to export to Europe, the US and Middle East. Closer to home, Swiss-based fertility tracking organisation Ava Women is researching whether its fertility tracking device can be used to detect early signs of Covid-19. Another life sciences startup, Warsaw Genomics, has moved away from its genetic testing to now offer Covid-19 tests for distribution within Poland’s hospitals, while delivery network Gophr is now delivering pharma, bio-sample and test kids for health services companies. The fintech market is not exempt from virus-driven pivots. Examples include US neobank Moven selling its direct consumer offering to focus entirely on developing financial technology for other banks, and British credit rating startup Credit Kudos launching a tool that allows freelancers to verify their earnings to benefit from the British government’s financial support.  What does this mean for me? These pivots demonstrated the rapidly changing business landscape we are finding ourselves in, and the need for businesses and workers alike to take a flexible, agile approach to the marketplace. While experience in healthcare and life sciences is naturally in demand in the current climate, so too are digital and technology skills to help startups and other businesses pivot and digitalise their offering. If you’re in the market for a new role, we’d love to help. We have deep experience in our specialist markets and are paying close attention to the current market conditions. Contact us to start a conversation about your next steps.

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