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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Oil Traders Don’t Buy The Saudi Cuts

  • The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Brent futures market had swung into a contango.
  • Traders are selling their oil positions instead of boosting them in anticipation of the supply crunch.
  • Demand pessimism appears to have become a fixture of oil markets lately, keeping prices lower despite production cut commitments.
Oil traders

Something odd is happening in the oil market. Despite news that Saudi Arabia would extend its voluntary production cuts for another month and possibly beyond, and despite Russia saying it would reduce exports by half a million barrels daily, prices are falling.

Traders are selling their oil positions instead of boosting them in anticipation of the supply crunch. Logically, this is what follows a production cut, especially one of 1.5 million barrels daily. Yet there is no less logic in seeking to anticipate weaker oil demand in case of a global slowdown, which traders appear to be doing.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Brent futures market had swung into a contango, meaning that spot prices for the benchmark crude had fallen below the futures price. What this suggests is that traders don’t really expect a supply squeeze anytime soon.

The latest factory data, as reported by Reuters earlier this week, revealed that factory activity had slumped across regions, notably in much of Asia and the eurozone, as well as in the UK. Activity increased in China, but the increase was, it seems, too small to impress oil traders.

Combined with central banks’ continued focus on rate hiking as a cure for inflation, the economic growth outlook for some of the biggest oil markets in the world is not looking good, and trader behavior confirms it.

Reuters’ John Kemp said in his latest column on oil trading that sentiment among institutional traders had not been so bad since 2020 when governments’ pandemic response wrecked oil prices as lockdowns destroyed demand.

The net position of institutional traders across the three most traded crude oil contracts—Brent, NYSE WTI and ICE WTI—had fallen to 205 million barrels at the end of June. This was the lowest since records began in 2013, Kemp noted. Related: Iran’s Growing Oil Production: A New Threat To OPEC’s Market Grip

It seems that despite conflicting forecasts on oil demand in the second half of the year, traders have picked the pessimistic road. OPEC and even the International Energy Agency, as well as most investment banks, expect a rebound in demand. Yet the World Bank warned last month that global growth would slow down during that same second half, dragged down by inflation and the response of central banks to it.

Interestingly enough, the World Bank forecast is not all that pessimistic. It actually revised upwards its outlook for the global economy in its latest update. Yet demand pessimism appears to have become a fixture of oil markets lately, keeping prices lower despite production cut commitments.

Things could yet turn around later this year. Despite the eurozone’s recession, China’s slower-than-expected recovery, and doubts about U.S. growth, the world continues running on oil. Sooner or later, output cuts would begin to affect prices. Unless the demand outlook gets even grimmer than it appears to be now, based on oil trader behavior.

If demand proved to be resilient in the face of economic slowdown challenges, however, prices could reverse course swiftly and sharply. Reuters’ Kemp wrote that “extreme pessimism towards crude prices and lopsided positions are creating potential for an explosive rally in future.”

Meanwhile, the head of commodities research at ING noted that “Fundamentals are not having as much influence on price direction as one would expect. Instead, the uncertain macro outlook is what the market is focused on.”

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This basically means that traders do not even care about actual demand right now. What they care about is the direction demand would take in the immediate future based on things like factory activity and consumer spending. And this may blindside them in case China, for example, picks up the pace of recovery or the Fed ends its rate hikes ahead of schedule.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on July 04 2023 said:
    I have reached the conclusion that the weakness in oil prices since early this year has nothing whatsoever to do with global oil demand and market fundamentals which are still robust and everything to do with both real fears and pseudo-fears being stoked by the United States in collusion with speculators and Western disinformation to keep crude oil prices low.

    1- There were real fears when three US commercial banks collapsed early this year as a result of steep hikes by the US Federal Bank leading to concerns of a global banking or financial crisis triggered by a weak US banking system and also further fears of one or two more US banks collapsing as well from continuing hikes of US interest rates.

    2- While these fears may have subsided a little, there are pseudo-fears being stoked by the Federal Bank saying that there could be more hikes before the end of the this year.

    3- There has been plenty of speculative activities in the market aimed at keeping prices down. These activities could have been orchestrated by the United States.

    4- Therefore, whatever cuts voluntary or collective by OPEC+ are a waste of time with no impact on oil prices.

    If this is the case, then who benefits from weak oil prices? Major consumers but the largest beneficiary is the United States. How?

    1- It wants urgently to refill its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) with crude bought at prices ranging from $68-$72 a barrel.

    2- It aims to reduce Russia’s oil and gas revenues to undermine its military efforts in Ukraine and also cripple its economy.

    3- It aims to humble OPEC+ for its refusal to increase production when President Biden begged it to do so.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

Leave a comment




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