Oil prices started the new year trading 2% higher in Asia amid increased tensions in the Red Sea after Iran said it had deployed a warship in the Red Sea.
Yet, oil and natural gas prices have been subdued for most of the time since the Hamas-Israel war began in early October and ended 2023 with an annual loss—the first annual decline since 2020 when Covid crushed demand.
With the OPEC+ production cuts, including a large voluntary cut from Saudi Arabia, one would think that another war apart from the Russian invasion of Ukraine would have roiled oil and gas markets and sent prices spiking.
Prices Haven’t Rallied
So far, this has not been the case, also due to surging oil supply from countries not part of the OPEC+ group—the United States, Guyana, and Brazil, among others.
U.S. crude oil and natural gas production hit record-high levels in 2023, and exports also surged, keeping the markets well supplied even as OPEC+ has been trying to manage its own supply to prop up prices, or – as OPEC always says – to ensure “market stability.”
Oil ended 2023 below the $80 per barrel mark as prices lost around 10% last year due to concerns about the U.S. and Chinese economies and the higher-than-expected supply from non-OPEC+ producers, led by the United States.
Further tensions in the Middle East could, of course, send prices much higher, but barring a major escalation, analysts believe oil prices would average around the $80 a barrel mark this year.
Expected weak global economic growth would slow oil demand growth in 2024, keeping the average U.S. benchmark oil price, WTI Crude, at below $80 per barrel, according to the monthly Reuters poll in which analysts revised down their forecasts for 2024 from last month’s projections. Brent Crude prices are now expected to average $82.56 per barrel next year, down from the $84.43 consensus forecast in last month’s poll. In the December survey, only one of 34 contributors said they expected the average Brent Crude prices to be above $90 per barrel in 2024.
But geopolitical flare-ups could provide support to oil prices with the potential of increased volatility, according to the respondents in the Reuters poll.
Prices failed to rally for more than a day or two even after many shippers and oil companies said they would avoid the Red Sea/Suez Canal route, where The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a critical chokepoint for international oil and natural gas flows. The Suez Canal, the SUMED pipeline, and the Strait are strategic routes for Gulf oil and natural gas shipments to Europe and North America.
While there isn’t an immediate threat to oil and gas supply, disruptions to trade routes, the longer travel time via the south of Africa, and renewed delays in supply chains could accelerate inflation and threaten the more dovish approach to monetary policy and economic prospects, which could upend outlooks on global oil demand.
Record U.S. Oil and Gas Production and Exports
Along with fears of recessions and slower oil demand growth, larger-than-expected U.S. crude oil production has kept prices from spiking whenever tensions in the Middle East jumped in 2023.
U.S. oil production has overwhelmingly exceeded earlier forecasts and has grown at a much faster pace this year, offsetting much of the OPEC+ efforts to push up prices by coordinated supply reductions.
Some analysts predict that the U.S. oil output increase will slacken in 2024.
But others, including industry officials, see the estimates of production growth by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) as too conservative for 2024, and believe that U.S. shale production could top projections again.
The U.S. is now producing more than 13 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil—more than any country ever—and is headed to a continued increase in the short and medium term.
U.S. output hit a new monthly record of 13.252 million bpd in September and kept the pace at 13.248 million bpd in October, according to data from the EIA.
As a result, America’s crude oil exports have also surged.
As of early November, as many as 48 tankers are headed to the U.S. and expected to load crude in the next three months, the highest number of vessels in at least six years, according to tanker-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
U.S. LNG exports are also breaking records.
The U.S. exported more LNG in the first half of 2023 than any other country, the EIA said earlier this year. With average LNG exports of 11.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) during this period, or 4% more than in the first half of 2022, the United States was the world’s top LNG exporter ahead of Australia and Qatar.
Exports remained strong in the second half of 2023, too.
October 2023 saw record shipments, per EIA data. As Europe has been scrambling to replace Russian pipeline gas supply since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, growing volumes of U.S. LNG are making their way to Europe instead of Asia.
The benchmark European natural gas prices and the spot LNG prices in Asia remain at their lowest in months due to high inventories and tepid demand. Asian spot LNG prices were assessed to have dropped by 58% in 2023.
Weaker gas demand, milder weather, and concerns about economy and oil demand have combined with ample U.S. oil and gas supply to cap prices in recent months.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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