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WTI Challenges $80 Again on Strong Economic Data

Standard Chartered Says Peak Oil Demand Is Not Imminent

The oil price rally has lately lost some steam, with WTI for May delivery and June Brent futures slipping more than 5% since Friday after the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released bearish weekly data that triggered demand concerns. According to the EIA, crude inventories rose 5.84 mb w/w and oil product inventories rose 6.57 mb; however, the builds relative to the five-year average were modest, at just 0.11mb for crude oil and 1.24mb for products. U.S. commercial inventories now stand 16.47mb below the five-year average, with crude inventories at Cushing 7.35 mb below the five-year average. The EIA also estimates U.S. crude oil output clocked in at 13.1 mb/d for a fifth consecutive week, 0.8 mb/d higher y/y but 0.2 mb/d lower than December 2023 production.

Whereas the short-term oil price outlook appears murky, leading oil agencies remain largely bullish about the long-term outlook. Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its latest monthly Oil Market Report (OMR), including its first detailed 2025 forecast. The Paris-based energy watchdog predicted that global oil demand in 2025 demand will be 1.147 mb/d higher than 2024 levels, higher than the 1.0 mb/d estimate it had released in June 2023. Other leading agencies have predicted even higher demand growth in 2025: the EIA forecast is 1.351 mb/d, Standard Chartered's forecast is 1.444 mb/d while the OPEC Secretariat has predicted a 1.847 mb/d increase in demand. Related: World Oil Demand Jumped To 5-Year Seasonal High in February

Interestingly, over the medium-and long-term, only the IEA sees global oil demand peaking before 2030, even in its most optimistic forecast (high growth). However, the IEA says an oil demand peak doesn't necessarily mean a rapid plunge in fossil fuel consumption is imminent, adding that  it will probably be followed by "an undulating plateau lasting for many years."

 The EIA is the most bullish on long-term oil demand, and has predicted a demand peak will come in 2050 while the OPEC Secretariat sees it coming five years earlier. Meanwhile, Standard Chartered has predicted global oil demand will hit 110.2 mb/d in 2030 and increase further to 113.5 mb/d in 2035. However, the commodity experts have not projected a demand peak beyond the end of their modeling horizon in 2035. According to StanChart, a structural long-term peak is very unlikely within 10 years despite a high probability of cyclical downturns over the period. StanChart has argued that the current gulf between demand views creates significant investment uncertainty which that's likely to force longer-term prices higher.

In other words, the energy agencies appear to agree that an oil demand peak is nowhere on the horizon.

Source: Standard Chartered Research

Traders Still Betting On The Energy Sector

The energy sector has been a standout performer in the current year, managing a 15.8% return in the year-to-date, the second highest amongst 11 U.S. market sectors. However, the sector has slipped nearly 5% over the past week with Wall Street experts warning that oil prices sit in a precarious position, which could lead to price swings as geopolitical tensions continue to escalate all throughout the Middle East.

Thankfully, traders are still betting on the energy sector.

Last week, U.S. fund assets (exchange-traded funds and conventional funds) recorded $29.7B in net outflows--in large part to money market funds--marking the third week in four that money flowed from the space. Money market funds recorded $35.3B in net outflows, equity funds lost $1B, commodities funds gave back $207M, and mixed-assets funds observed outflows of $168M.

Interestingly, two funds that recorded the most significant amount of capital inflows on the week were the Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (NYSEARCA:RSP) at $2.8B and the Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSEARCA:XLE) at $756M.

Oil and gas stocks also remain among the least shorted. Last month, average short interest across energy stocks in the S&P 500 index increased 14 basis points to 2.56% of shares floating at the end of the month. APA Corp. (NYSE:APA) was the most-shorted energy stock, with 22.1 million shares sold short as of March 31, or just 5.98% of the shares float. EQT (NYSE:EQT) was the second most shorted energy stock at 5.85% of shares float, while Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) and  Valero (NYSE:VLO) were in third and fourth place with  5.58% and 3.35%, of their floats sold short, respectively.

In comparison, medical services company IMAC Holdings Inc. is the most shorted stock in the S&P 500 with nearly 95% of its float sold short.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com.  More