It is that time of the year again. Just as parents are assiduously picking the best presents for their kids, as kids are eagerly anticipating the onset of the winter break, as people all across the globe are readying their New Year resolutions, the global oil community raises the inevitable question – how will 2019 look like? The usual swings and roundabouts or are we finally to get a tranquil year that would make future at least temporarily more predictable? The odds are 2019 will be just as chaotic as 2018, with the Iran issue crying out for a long-term solution, the U.S. ramping up production to heights unseen and the Middle East boiling as usual. We have selected 7 main trends to look out for – trends that will shape the forward curve of oil and alter the geopolitical standings of oil-producing giants.
1. U.S. Crude Production Skyrocketing Further
The astounding rise of U.S. crude production will continue next year, stretching America’s lead in the top oil producers’ race. After U.S. output averaged 10.88 mbpd this year, it is expected that next year it would surpass the annual 12mbpd threshold to reach 12.06 mbpd. Improved drilling technology is making operations more efficient, bringing down breakeven costs generally to the 35-45 USD per barrel interval – against this background, oil companies retain more from the dollars they earned from selling the crude and can ramp up further investments. Yet there is a catch to U.S. production ramp-up next year, namely, global refinery appetite. The average refinery in the world (the same counts for the U.S. in particular) is tooled for a 32-33 API crude, thus leaving the 40-44 API WTI a bit out of scope. Moreover, medium sour crudes are getting increasingly difficult to get on the market, hence expect U.S. crudes to be heavily discounted against their Middle Eastern and Russian counterparts (WTI already trades at a discount to heavier and sourer Brent in Europe).
Source: OilPrice data.
2. Saudi Arabia Goes Aggressive on China
Pressurized by the inflow of light sweet American crude into regions previously deemed under Saudi control, Saudi Aramco has started to play hardball in Asia. If throughout 2018, Arab Extra Light for Asian markets oscillated in the 2.5-3 USD per barrel premium vs the Oman/Dubai average, in January 2019 Aramco dropped it to 0.75 USD per barrel. All indications point towards a more aggressive core market defense strategy…