Last week, oil prices booked their worst week since the start of the year, dropping off a cliff on renewed fears about the global economy after the collapse of two big U.S. banks and the near-collapse of Credit Suisse. While most price forecasts for the short term have been bullish because of pro-bullish oil fundamentals, now things are beginning to change. Tight supply, cited by virtually all forecasters as the main reason for oil price rise predictions, is giving way to fears of an economic slowdown that would dent demand and push prices lower.
Goldman Sachs has already revised its oil price forecast for the rest of the year. Previously expecting Brent to hit $100 in the second half, now the investment bank expects the international benchmark to only rise to $94 per barrel in the coming 12 months. For 2024, Goldman analysts see Brent crude at $97 per barrel.
"Oil prices have plunged despite the China demand boom given banking stress, recession fears, and an exodus of investor flows," Goldman said in a note last week, as quoted by Bloomberg. "Historically, after such scarring events, positioning and prices recover only gradually, especially long-dated prices."
Indeed, as far as events go, this one left a serious scar. Brent crude went from over $80 per barrel to less than $75 per barrel, and West Texas Intermediate slipped down close to $65 per barrel. And this happened while authoritative forecasters such as the IEA and OPEC recently said they expect stronger demand growth than supply growth.
According to a recent CNBC report, 41 percent of Americans are preparing for a recession and with a good reason. Despite seemingly endless media debates about whether the world's largest economy is in a recession already, about to enter a recession, or will manage to avoid a recession, forecasts are not looking optimistic.
"What you're really seeing is a significant tightening of financial conditions. What the markets are saying is this increases risks of a recession and rightfully so," Jim Caron, head of macro strategy for global fixed income at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, told CNBC earlier this month.
"Equities are down. Bond yields are down. I think another question is: it looks like we're pricing in three rate cuts, does that happen? You can't rule it out," Caron said.
Reuters's market analyst John Kemp went further in January when he forecast that one way or another, there will be a global recession, and debates are basically pointless.
Citing the cyclical nature of economic growth, Kemp foresaw two likely scenarios: one, in which recession begins earlier in the year as a natural consequence of events from the last couple of years, and another, in which central bank-pumped growth leads to even higher inflation, which then leads to a slowdown amid lower consumption.
Whichever scenario pans out, if any, it will lead to lower oil demand as recessions normally do. And lower demand will naturally depress oil prices, albeit temporarily. Because lower prices tend to stimulate demand, even amid a recession.
But there is one important detail here. The recession forecasts focus on the UK, the EU, the U.S., and Canada, as well as Australia. There is zero talk about a recession in China or India. Because China and India are going to grow this year, and as they grow, they will consume more oil. Meanwhile, the supply of crude is not going anywhere much further, it seems.
Be that as it may, just because oil demand from China and India, but most notably China, is seen higher this year, it does not mean higher oil prices are all but guaranteed. That's because China's economy is very export-oriented, and when consumer countries are in a recession or anything resembling it, these exports will suffer.
Forecasts for Chinese oil demand are still at record highs this year. OPEC said it expected demand from the world's biggest importer to add more than 700,000 bpd this year for a total of 15.56 million bpd. The IEA, for its part, forecast that demand growth from China will push the oil market into a deficit in the second half of the year. Yet if a recession here or there dampens demand for everything coming out of China, all bets are off.
Because of oil's fundamentals, all price forecasts are for higher prices towards the end of the year. But the basis for these forecasts came before the bank failures and the bailout of Credit Suisse.
Perhaps the baking panic will let go soon enough, and everything, including oil demand outlooks, will return to normal. Or perhaps the banking panic is a harbinger of worse things to come-things that will affect demand for everything, from crude oil to iPhones. Collectively known as a recession, these things may well prompt some very different oil price forecasts later in the year.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry. More