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Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Taking a voyage across the world of energy with ClipperData’s Director of Commodity Research. Follow on Twitter @ClipperData, @mattvsmith01

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Oil Prices Crumble As OPEC Ups Output And Exports

Trader behind computer

Crude is easing lower on this last day of February, as other sources are endorsing what we said last week - that OPEC production and exports are on the rise. As gasoline weakness leads the complex lower, hark, here are five things to consider in oil markets today.

1) We highlighted last week that one of our key themes here at ClipperData for the first half of this year is the de-stocking of product inventories, given they are at such an elevated level. Another theme we are keeping a keen eye on is that of refinery output from OPEC kingpin, Saudi Arabia.

This is because we suspect that Saudi Arabia is looking to supplement lost revenues from the OPEC production cut by exporting more products. This theory is endorsed by Saudi Arabia's refinery output, which reached 2.96 million barrels per day in December, the highest since records began in 2002:

(Click to enlarge)

2) We can see in our ClipperData that as Saudi refinery output increases, so do product exports. Export loadings so far this month of gasoline and distillates are up to 1.5 million barrels per day, tracking above year-ago levels, and seemingly on course to make a new record in the coming months.

Exports going forward may not only be aided by higher refinery output, but also by higher prices. It was suggested yesterday that Saudi is considering a 30 percent increase to retail gasoline prices, starting in the second half of the year. This effort to encourage more mindful consumption would likely quell gasoline demand growth going forward, leaving more to be pushed out onto the global market.

(Click to enlarge)

3) Two and a half years after oil prices swooned from above $100/bbl, petro-states remain in the winter of their discontent. Nigeria's economy shrank for four consecutive quarters last year, the first time it has contracted for an entire year since 1991.

Lower oil prices have cut government revenue by about half, while a weakening currency (the Naira) has caused a currency shortage, propelling inflation to its highest level in over a decade. Related: Is Mexico’s Oil Boom Under Threat?

Our ClipperData show that after declining through the first nine months of last year, exports have been showing upside (amid volatility) since then. Export loadings are up the best part of 400,000 bpd in the last two months; total Nigerian output is being reported at 2.1 million bpd this month, up 500,000 bpd what it reported to OPEC in January.

(Click to enlarge)

4) As the trading range of WTI and Brent remains narrow - and narrowing - the pressure is building for a breakout, like a kettle boiling on a stove. Hedge funds are confident it is going to pop to the upside, boosting bullish bets to a record. Meanwhile, producers have been taking the opportunity to hedge their future production - signaling their conviction that the next price move is to the downside (as well as signaling they are risk averse). Related: Expert Commentary: Inventory Draws Should Tighten Oil Markets Soon

Although fundamentals remain on the back foot, with US inventories at a record and the globe still dealing with a flood of OPEC exports ahead of last month's production cut, the expectation of a tightening market is convincing the bulls this market is going higher. With our ClipperData indicating that OPEC has ramped up exports in the last month to pre-agreement levels, the bullish case is less compelling.

(Click to enlarge)

5) Finally, the chart below from Rystad Energy shows how the average wellhead breakeven price for key shale plays has dropped over 55 percent from 2013 to 2016, with the biggest drop seen at Permian Midland (hark, 60 percent to $38/bbl). Due to a number of factors - higher average royalties, a differing decline profile and hydrocarbon split - Eagle Ford had one of the highest breakevens last year:

(Click to enlarge)

By Matt Smith

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  • EH on February 28 2017 said:
    I wouldn't call $54 to $53 crumbling. 50 bucks is better then 30!
  • petergrt on February 28 2017 said:
    Great article and observations, and yet the oil bulls keep on amassing more and more oil futures.

    I can't wait until they start heading for the exit . . . . will be fun.
  • petergrt on February 28 2017 said:
    It takes a bit over two barrels of crude to make one barrel of gas, so the implications of the exportation of refined products by not only Saudis, but also by many other oil producers and China are ominous.
  • Johnsmart on February 28 2017 said:
    I can't fathom how prices can go higher in the near term, no matter how many bulls there are.
    Once the music stops and they start running for the exits, the price will fall back to $45-$50 which is where it should be still. It will take more than a couple of months of OPEC cuts to take hold and it's doubtful that Russia will comply when they are so desperate for revenues.

    Libya will be adding a lot of production back online in the coming months and others are filling any production cuts made by OPEC, especially in N.America where they're drowning in supply.

    It will be good for consumers and importers again and should help to continue to stimulate the economy with cheaper gas and heating prices. It also makes the producers more competitive and it drives R&D to lower production costs.

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