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Nick Cunningham

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Nick Cunningham is a freelance writer on oil and gas, renewable energy, climate change, energy policy and geopolitics. He is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

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IEA: Oil Prices To Hit A Ceiling In 2018


The global oil market continues to make progress, but the ongoing production gains from non-OPEC countries will probably act as a “the ceiling for aspirations of higher oil prices” in 2018, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

In its monthly Oil Market Report published Thursday, the IEA cataloged the long list of indicators that suggests the oil market has made huge strides this year towards rebalancing. In the second and the third quarter, the global supply/demand balance was in a deficit, putting total inventories on track to drain at a rate of 0.3 million barrels per day for the whole of 2017.

The drawdowns were especially felt in floating storage, oil in transit, and in independent storage. Currently, OECD inventories are only 170 million barrels above the five-year average, a substantial drop from the 318 million-barrel surplus seen back in January. Moreover, stocks even fell in months when they typically rise.

All of this progress fueled a wave of optimism in the third quarter, culminating in a record buildup in bullish positions by money managers in September. However, like many of the bull runs seen in the past few years, money managers often take things farther than the fundamentals justify, leading to a sudden correction, which is what we saw earlier this month.

Also, global oil production was actually up in September by 90,000 bpd on non-OPEC growth. That puts total supply about 620,000 bpd higher than a year ago, a figure that already takes into account the 400,000 bpd year-on-year decline in OPEC production.

Related: What Bitcoin And Solar Have In Common

In fact, the IEA warned that the positive movements towards a tighter market might have run out of steam after two quarters of progress. U.S. shale production is showing some signs of weakness, but is still growing at an impressive rate. The spike in demand this summer is set to soften a bit. The IEA predicts that the supply and demand will be roughly balanced in 2018 after the sizable deficit this year, meaning that further progress towards rebalancing might be disappointingly slow.

Much of that is because U.S. shale is expected to plug the deficit, offsetting the barrels taken off the market by OPEC. The IEA sees non-OPEC growth expanding by 0.7 mb/d this year, a figure that doubles to an explosive 1.5 mb/d increase in 2018. This is the real reason why analysts are pessimistic about further price gains.

The upshot of these findings is that OPEC might need to take more dramatic action if it wants stronger and faster price increases. The IEA does not necessarily see that as a likely outcome of the next OPEC meeting, but the agency suggested in its report that OPEC officials are probably seeing the same thing that everyone else is seeing: the oil market stubbornly refusing to move towards balance despite some notable progress, and the prospect that 2018 might bring about more downside risk unless decisive action is taken.

Related: Traders Are Betting On $100 Oil In 2018

The IEA sees the recent “bromance” between Saudi Arabia and Russia as a sign that two of the world’s largest oil producers “have re-committed to do whatever it takes to underpin the market and to support the long process of re-balancing.” The suddenly warm Saudi-Russian relationship is a strong indicator that the OPEC/non-OPEC coalition will at least extend their cuts beyond March 2018 when they meet in a few weeks, perhaps as long as through the end of next year. Although the possibility of deeper cuts remains remote, it is not an impossibility.

And because Saudi Arabia and Russia are demonstrating their resolve, they will almost certainly drag the rest of the group along with them. “While there may still be doubts about some of them, the market heavyweights have once again walked into the ring,” the IEA wrote.

Ultimately, the oil market looks fundamentally different than it did last year or even last quarter. The sharp drop in global inventories alone is evidence that things are heading in the right direction. But the journey isn’t over yet. “A lot has been achieved towards stabilizing the market, but to build on this success in 2018 will require continued discipline,” the IEA concluded.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Mark M on October 12 2017 said:
    The IEA estimates of production in the US Shale patch are exaggerated. Most companies are backing off the 'drill more no matter what' game plan are adopting a more discipline "profits first" approach.

    Low investment world wide over the past three years will lead to a supply crunch from 2020 - 2023 or so. OPEC can only do so much and by then Shale will have pumped the cheapest wells.

    After 2025 the EV's and the like will ease the pressure on prices but supply will NOT grow.

    Oil related stocks will see massive gains in a few years. Massive.

  • Kr55 on October 12 2017 said:
    IEA playbook every single fall season.

    1) overestimate supply
    2) underestimate demand
  • Jewel Chawdary on October 12 2017 said:
    Why is nobody talking about how the SPR is shrinking. It seems like the EIA is injecting oil reserves into the market to keep a lid on inflation. Will this end when QE3 comes to an end? I think we have seen the end of US oil inventory transparency.
  • jack ma on October 12 2017 said:
    Oil will be over 100 in 2018. The IEA is a joke and they often contradict their own statements every twenty two hours on average. IMHO
  • Ted Paulus on October 13 2017 said:
    Comparing current inventory levels vs. the 5-year average is deceiving. From what I can tell, inventories have not in fact been drawn significantly. Rather the 5-year average has been increasing because 50% of that time span has been in a post-glut environment with elevated stock levels. By my calculations, there still exists ~350 mmbbl in stock levels above the 2010-2014 5-year average - which had been relatively flat over that period.
  • Mark on October 13 2017 said:
    Ted P-

    Its been a little of both. However, overall supply in storage should increase due to greater daily demand.

    Days of demand in storage is the best way to look at it and if you do we are just a little above 2014.

    If you extrapolate demand growth out three years and keep barrels in storage flat (no draw downs or increases - I think there will more draw downs) by 2020 Days of demand in storage will be significantly below the 10 year average.

    Lastly, Oil is traded in dollars...inflation alone should add $10 a barrel over the next three years - The Fed wants inflation.

    Demand up 2-4 million barrels a day for the next three years. Supply maybe 1m depending on OPEC - they can't pump much more. Thus, deficit of .5 BPD now will grow to at least 2.5BPD by 2020.

    Demand per day in storage will be at all-time lows plus inflation = $100-$150 oil. Exxon will double. Smaller Shale plays will be 3-5x and all Pipelines will be 2x plus divvy.

    Sell then cause $100 oil will cause rescission - may have mini recession within next 6 months buy then. Take oil profits and short market in 2021.

  • snoopyloopy on October 17 2017 said:
    @Mark: Wasn't there a story on here last week about how China is looking to start paying Saudi Arabia yuan for oil? If that comes to pass, that is an extreme downside for the dollar.

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