Premarket stocks: Oil prices are finally falling. Thank China and Joe Biden

What’s happening: West Texas Intermediate futures, the US benchmark for oil prices, and Brent futures, the global benchmark, are now trading at their lowest levels in six weeks on signals that supply constraints could begin to ease soon.

In the United States, prices fell sharply Wednesday after oil inventories at a key hub in Cushing, Oklahoma rose for the first time in weeks.

But Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets at the consultancy Rystad Energy, told me that the biggest factor driving prices right now is the expected release of strategic reserves from the United States and China.

According to the White House, US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the “importance of taking measures to address global energy supplies” during their virtual summit this week. That sparked chatter about a coordinated move initiated by the White House to put millions of barrels of oil on the market.

Thursday brought some signs that China is taking action. Reuters reported that the country’s state reserve bureau said it was working on a release, though the exact details remain murky.

A spokesperson for China’s National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration told CNN on Friday that it was “pushing forward with crude oil release-related work at the moment,” but declined to comment on whether it was in response to a US request to work together to tackle the supply crunch.

Based on current price moves, Tonhaugen said, investors are expecting between 20 million and 30 million barrels to come online in the next month. That could be from the United States and China together, or through broader action coordinated by the International Energy Agency.

He emphasized, however, that the release of strategic reserves won’t change the overall picture for long.

“[Releasing] strategic reserves is not the same as getting more continuous production of oil online,” Tonhaugen said.

But more lasting relief could be coming. The IEA said in a report this week that it expects global oil supplies to rise by 1.5 million barrels per day over November and December as some production in the United States picks up again.

“The world oil market remains tight by all measures, but a reprieve from the price rally could be on the horizon,” the Paris-based agency said.

OPEC is also steadily ramping up output, but there are questions about whether supply gains will be enough to meet a surge in demand for fuel.

Watch this space: President Joe Biden, who is taking political heat from the spike in gasoline prices, asked the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday to “immediately” investigate whether illegal activity by oil and gas companies is contributing to the problem.
The American Petroleum Institute slammed the push and renewed its call for the federal government to encourage domestic oil and gas production even as it tries to fight the climate crisis.

“This is a distraction from the fundamental shift that is taking place and the ill-advised government decisions that are exacerbating this challenging situation,” the group said in a statement.

Warren Buffett-backed Paytm stumbles in trading debut

One of the hottest companies to begin trading on India’s stock market is getting off to a rough start.

This just in: Paytm’s stock launched in Mumbai on Thursday. Shares of the startup went live at $26 apiece, below the offer price. They finished down more than 27%, giving the firm a market value of under $14 billion.

The weak debut reflects analysts’ fears about the digital payments company, my CNN Business colleague Diksha Madhok reports. Despite its buzz, it lost hundreds of millions of dollars last year and seems far from ready to turn a profit. It’s also up against competition from some of the biggest technology firms in the world.

Its initial public offering still marks a milestone. The digital payments company raised $2.5 billion in its IPO — the largest ever in the country when measured in local currency.

With backing from investors such as Warren Buffett, Masayoshi Son and Alibaba, Paytm is one of India’s best funded startups.

The company took off five years ago when Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned two of the country’s biggest currency notes. The move was hugely disruptive for India’s economy, but it helped Paytm grow at an explosive rate: The company signed 10 million new users within a month.

Paytm now has 337 million registered consumers and 22 million merchants. Yet the field is getting crowded. Facebook and Google also want a piece of the huge market and have launched their own mobile payments systems in the country.

The metaverse is bigger than just Facebook

Facebook (FB) (ahem, Meta Platforms) isn’t the only company planning to cash in on the metaverse.
The latest: Shares of Nvidia (NVDA), the industry leader in graphics processors and AI chips, are up 9% in premarket trading on Thursday after the company reported record revenue and forecast better-than-expected earnings for its upcoming quarter.

Nvidia recently announced the formal launch of NVIDIA Omniverse, a platform for simulating and designing virtual worlds. The company has said it hopes to tap into the 40 million 3D designers in the global market.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come,” said CEO Jensen Huang.

Chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM) also wants in on the action, telling investors it intends to be “the ticket to the metaverse.” Companies ranging from the owner of Playboy to record label Warner Music Group and media giant Disney all discussed the metaverse in earnings calls during the past few weeks, my CNN Business colleague Paul R. La Monica has noted.

Then there’s gaming platform Roblox, which lets users generate their own avatars and play games created by other players. Shares have soared almost 160% since they debuted on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year.

Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney told CNN in Seoul that the metaverse isn’t going to be created by one company. “It will be created by millions of developers each building out their part of it,” Sweeney said.

Step back: Facebook made a splash when it changed its corporate name to Meta Platforms as it pivots its focus to augmented reality and virtual worlds. But if its vision of the future pans out, it won’t be alone in raking in profits.

Up next

Alibaba (BABA), (JD), Kohl’s (KSS), Macy’s (M) and Petco report results before US markets open. Ross Stores (ROST) and Williams-Sonoma (WSM) follow after the close.

Also today: Initial US jobless claims for last week post at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Coming tomorrow: Foot Locker (FL) earnings wrap up retail’s big week.

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