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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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$70 Oil Is Right Around the Corner

offshore rig

Oil traders are taking on an “overly bearish tone,” paying too much attention to Trump’s tweets, macroeconomic fragility and expected U.S. shale growth.

“We think more critical and bullish determinants of the oil price and oil price volatility in the year ahead are worth reviewing,” Barclays wrote in a March 3 report. While there are plenty of signs that the global economy is slowing – weak car sales and manufacturing data from China, flat growth in Europe, and a slowing GDP rate in the fourth quarter for the U.S. – oil demand has held steady.

The main source of uncertainty and oil market instability this year, Barclays says, is how OPEC+ responds to U.S. government policy. That’s a tricky conclusion since U.S. policy, as well as the decision-making process, is itself impossible to predict. But while many other analysts have argued that Trump’s actions are increasingly one of the major sources of uncertainty in the oil market, Barclays says OPEC will carry more weight.

“We retain our more bullish view of $70 Brent for the year, but we are not taking it easy like President Trump and Minister Al-Falih and see new risks to the downside. We think the biggest source of uncertainty for oil markets this year is not the US, but OPEC’s response to US policy decisions,” Barclays said. The bank says that there is a “tight price range where both are happy.”

The Trump administration has roughly 2 million barrels per day of oil supply under sanctions in Venezuela and Iran. These volumes could go offline, or could be “released” into the market, depending on which way Trump wants to go.

Related: Be Wary Of Unrealistic Shale Growth Expectations

From there, the permutations become even harder to analyze because OPEC+ will have a variety of choices on how to respond to policies coming out of Washington.

How Saudi Arabia responds will be even more influential. By nearly all accounts, Saudi Arabia is going to be less willing to shield the U.S. from higher prices as it did last year. Budgetary pressure means that Riyadh has almost no incentive to facilitate a lower oil price scenario. Plus, the U.S. already called upon Saudi Arabia last year to increase output and lower prices, something that perturbed Saudi officials when prices crashed.

Meanwhile, even though the Trump administration has leverage over Saudi Arabia, including the possibility of NOPEC legislation, the U.S. government also relies on Saudi Arabia for other strategic objectives. That could mean backing off Saudi Arabia when it comes to oil policy goals, while rhetorically bashing OPEC. The result could be higher prices as Riyadh balks at production increases.

Related: Oil Rises Amid Nigerian Oil Terminal Shutdown

A second major reason why oil prices could rise in the near-term is that the global economic dangers may not be as pronounced as they seemed a few weeks ago. Europe and China, in particular, have demonstrated weak economic signals, but there is also evidence that perhaps the worst is behind them. Oil demand has held steady, so fears of a more serious economic slowdown may be overblown, Barclays said.

Finally, Barclays says that U.S. shale could slowdown, notwithstanding the huge production growth and larger-than-expected output figures in the last few months. In fact, the investment bank notes that the industry spent more than expected in the fourth quarter while 2019 budgets are coming in lower than expected. That suggests the industry front-loaded some spending, so the slowdown may only now begin to crop up. In other words, U.S. oil production figures continued to reach new heights, but that doesn’t mean that explosive growth can simply be extrapolated forward.

The investment bank says that the surplus that emerged in the fourth quarter of 2018 may take time to work through, which means that inventories could tick up in the first quarter of this year, keeping prices in check. But the market has been “overly bearish.”

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on March 05 2019 said:
    That is a lot of rigmarole about nothing. The same fundamentals of the global economy that sent oil prices to $87 a barrel in November even at the height of the trade war between China and the US still exist and as robust. The fundamentals have even improved since then with strong indications of an imminent deal on the trade war thus making them more capable of supporting an oil price beyond $80 this year.

    In addition, two important bullish factors stand out. Saudi Arabia’s unwavering determination to get oil prices beyond $80 in order to balance its 2019 budget. The other is that OPEC+ could extend the production cuts to the end of the year to ensure that the market becomes irrevocably balanced.

    President Trump’s tweets have no impact on oil prices whatsoever. Moreover, his implied threat to use the NOPEC legislation as a Damocles Sword to extract concessions from Saudi Arabia and OPEC is more of a hot air than a reality.

    OPEC has enough firepower to retaliate against the US if it ever sues the organization or its members.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Bill Simpson on March 05 2019 said:
    If Putin and OPEC could ever get their act together, they can cut output a lot faster than Texans can drill new wells. They can absolutely force the price of oil up a lot, but only if they can actually cooperate, and not cheat. Global oil demand is too constant, and supply too difficult to increase, for that strategy not to work.
    An oil price above $80 a barrel for more than a year will cause global economic stagnation, by reducing demand for everything else. The vast majority of people only have so much disposable income. Spending significantly more on gasoline, means they need to cut back spending elsewhere. If ever a war cut off oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, another Great Depression would follow within 6 months. The entire banking system might collapse due to the excessive level of debt throughout the financial system.
  • Geoffrey Smith on March 07 2019 said:
    I don't disagree, however, one thing that is not being stated are the fundamentals. In the past 6 months WTI inventories have increased 47M barrels and 11.5M barrels this year. Gasoline inventories have increased 18M in the past 6 months and 17.5M this years. Heating Oil is the lowest increase with 3M in the past 6 months and only 0.87M this year. And yet WTI has gone up 24% and RBOB up 37% this year. If inventories continue to increase, this will begin to put a cap on the market.

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