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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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OPEC Faces ‘’Daunting’’ Task To Balance Oil Markets In 2020

The oil market is tightening up in the short run, but a major surplus is looming for next year, making OPEC’s task of balancing the market a “daunting one.”

That conclusion came from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest Oil Market Report, which contained some optimistic conclusions regarding the health of the global economy, but also some warnings about the trouble ahead.

“Trade disputes and rising uncertainty about the impact of the UK’s possible exit from the European Union are reducing global growth through lower business and consumer confidence, supply chain reassessments, declining investment and direct reduction of trade,” the IEA said. Brent prices should average about $62 per barrel for 2019.

Nevertheless, the IEA stuck with its demand forecast at 1.1 million barrels per day (mb/d), which is starting to look overly optimistic given a range of downward revisions from analysts elsewhere. The U.S. EIA now says demand may only grow by 0.9 mb/d, the slowest rate in nearly a decade.

Global oil demand only grew by 0.5 mb/d in the first half of the year, and by less than 0.2 mb/d in June, according to the IEA. As a result, demand will need to accelerate significantly if the 1.1-mb/d full-year average is to be reached. The IEA says that with oil prices 20 percent lower than they were at this time last year, consumption will rise. Also, demand in the second half of 2018 was rather weak, so by comparison, the numbers for the second half of this year should look bigger. Related: The U.S. Briefly Overtook Saudi Arabia In Gross Oil Exports

Moreover, the agency also says that its estimate rests on no further deterioration on the economic and trade fronts.

That is a hopeful take, but in a sign that Washington and Beijing are eager to put an end to the cycle of escalation on the trade war, China decided to delay some tariffs on American goods this week and President Trump responded in kind just hours later, announcing a two-week delay on the scheduled increase in tariffs for October. As the Wall Street Journal reports, President Trump has shown a desire to find a way to backtrack on some tariffs after U.S. business interests stepped up an aggressive lobbying campaign last month following the announced tariffs.

Ultimately, the IEA sees an oil supply deficit of about 0.8 mb/d in the second half of 2019, due to the OPEC+ cuts, stronger demand and slower-than-expected U.S. shale growth.

However, this is “only really a breather,” the agency warns. “While the relentless stock builds we have seen since early 2018 have halted, this is temporary.” U.S. shale has slowed down, but is still expected to add 1.25 mb/d this year (a figure that might turn out to be optimistic). More gains are coming from Norway and Brazil as projects ramp up.

“Soon, the OPEC+ producers will once again see surging non-OPEC oil production with the implied market balance returning to a significant surplus and placing pressure on prices,” the IEA said in its report. “The challenge of market management remains a daunting one well into 2020.” Related: Oil Prices May Slump Heavily In 2020

The IEA sees non-OPEC supply growing by 1.9 mb/d this year before rising to a 2.3-mb/d gain next year. That stands in a rather stark contrast to demand growth of only 1.1 mb/d and 1.3 mb/d in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

With supply expected to continue to outpace demand, the pressure on OPEC+ to cut deeper will grow. The IEA expects demand for OPEC crude to be 1.4 mb/d lower in 2020 than its output last month.

Meanwhile, at a monitoring meeting in Abu Dhabi this week, OPEC agreed to boost compliance with the current production cuts, but refrained from pushing for deeper reductions. The measure was aimed at trying to get Iraq and Nigeria to bring their production levels back down, after consistently pumping more than agreed to. Iraq said that it would cut output by 175,000 bpd by October, and Nigeria agreed to reduce by 57,000 bpd. In August, three countries party to the OPEC+ agreement – Iraq, Nigeria and Russia – produced 0.6 mb/d more than allocated.

“To achieve market stability, it’s imperative we maintain a high degree of cohesiveness within OPEC and within also our partners in OPEC,” Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the new Saudi energy minister, said at OPEC’s Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee in Abu Dhabi.

Oil prices were on track to close the week lower on Friday afternoon.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Jim bob on September 16 2019 said:
    I bet those shorts got burnt!

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