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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

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

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Why Oil Crashed Back Below $100

  • StanChart: key fundamentals are largely unchanged and are also subject to an unusually high level of uncertainty.
  • The sharp decline in crude prices was triggered by a strong bout of profit-taking and a shift in positioning.
  • Standard Chartered: Russian oil flows to Europe can be replaced in the short term.

After a torrid three-week rally, energy markets have entered correction mode, with prices moving sharply lower. Over the past week, Brent has slipped 30% from the 7 March intra-day high while European gas prices have declined 65%.

Brent for May delivery settled at USD 106.90 per barrel (bbl) on 14 March, a w/w fall of USD 16.31/bbl, and moved below USD 100/bbl in early trading on 15 March. WTI for April delivery fell USD 16.31/bbl w/w to USD 106.90/bbl at settlement on 14 March, while the value of the OPEC basket fell by USD 15.84/bbl to USD 110.67/bl and by EUR 15.40/bbl to EUR 101.16/bbl. 

You can blame speculative overshoot for the unfolding scenario though the overall outlook remains bullish.

According to Standard Chartered commodity analysts, the correction tells us more about market positioning and the effect of extreme volatility than it does about changes in fundamentals over the past week. 

The increase in volatility across financial and commodity markets has led to a sharp rise in the level of risk held by traders, and an associated incentive to close out some positions to lower the risk. Oil traders have mostly been positioned with a highly bullish bias in terms of both outright positions and spreads in recent weeks, meaning optimization in a higher-risk environment has mostly involved closing out prompt longs. With speculative shorts being very thin on the ground currently, there have been few natural buyers, and the downside has quickly opened up. While the price ranges involved have been rather extreme, recent price dynamics bear all the hallmarks of a textbook speculative overshoot followed by the correction necessary to reset extreme positioning. 

The irony of the situation is that the dominance among oil traders of the belief that prices could only move higher has led to a position from which market dynamics dictated that in the short term, prices could only go lower.

Replacing Russian Oil

Despite the positioning-led price fall, StanChart says that the key fundamentals are largely unchanged and are also subject to an unusually high level of uncertainty. 

According to commodity analysts at Standard Chartered, Russian oil flows to Europe can be replaced in the short term, with the short-term price implications of that displacement potentially capable of being minimized by the extent to which OPEC members increase output beyond their current OPEC+ targets, and also by the possibility of a successful conclusion to talks in Vienna that results in higher volumes of Iranian exports.

The analysts have projected that consumer reluctance to buy from Russia coupled with shortages of capital, equipment, and technology will continue to depress Russian output over at least the next three years. Russian output is expected to fall by 1.612 million barrels per day (mb/d) y/y in 2022, and by a further 0.217mb/d in 2023, with the y/y decline peaking at 2.306mb/d in Q2-2022. To avoid significant upside price pressure, StanChart reckons that the market would require around 2mb/d extra supply for the remainder of 2022, and an additional 2mb/d in Q2 to ease the dislocations caused by the displacement of Russian oil. The temporary 2mb/d Q2 boost could come from strategic reserves, but the 2mb/d additional flow for the remainder of 2022 would likely need to come from OPEC sources (including potentially Iran).

Market tightness is, however, being helped by the fact that withdrawal from Russian markets has been less dramatic than anticipated.

So far, there are indications that some of the larger EU countries are less keen than countries in the east of the EU to pursue the fastest possible reduction in Russian oil flows. Outside of the EU, the UK’s ban on the import of Russian oil has proved less dramatic than the headlines that accompanied the initial announcement, as it does not take effect until the end of 2022. In the private sector, while several companies have given assurances they will buy no more Russian oil on the spot market, there have been very few indications given about if, when, and how they will cut the volume of Russian oil purchased through their term contracts. Meanwhile, statements from some governments and some companies do appear to have become less hawkish over the past week, with an apparent lengthening of the timespan envisaged for the process of reducing dependence. 

StanChart says that Russian oil trade into Europe appears to be moving further into the shadows of term contracts and a greater reliance on third-party trading intermediaries. That does not make trading with Russia any less distasteful for European public opinion, but it does make the trade less visible and thus likely keeps oil flows from Russia higher than they would have been with more direct government targeting of those flows.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on March 17 2022 said:
    Three factors caused Brent crude oil price to decline below $100 a barrel. The first is that market fear that there could be a global supply disruption as a result of the Ukraine conflict didn’t materialize.

    The second is that claims that customers were shunning Russian oil exports have proven false. If there was a real shunning of Russian crude oil exports, prices in a tight market like the one prevailing now would have gone up not down. No one single producer in the world or even a group of producers could replace 8.0 million barrels a day (mbd) of Russian oil exports (5 mbd of crude and 3 mbd of products) now or probably ever.

    A third factor is profit-taking. Oil traders believe there are signs that the Ukraine conflict could be headed for a settlement so they wanted to get their profits before Brent crude falls to its pre-conflict level of $94-$95 a barrel. The recent admission by the president of Ukraine that his country will never be able to join NATO concedes one of President Putin’s main demands to end the conflict.

    However and even with a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine conflict, prices will resume their surge with Brent crude hitting $100 in the second half of this year if not earlier because of a shrinking global spare oil production capacity including OPEC+, under-investments in oil and gas and tightness of the global oil market.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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