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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

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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Why Oil Prices Will Fall In 2019 And Beyond

The decision by the U.S. to grant waivers to eight countries, allowing them to continue to import oil from Iran, has helped ease the tension in the oil market. No longer are oil traders talking about $100 oil.

Iran’s oil exports stood at 1.7 million barrels per day in October and won’t fall to zero anytime soon. But that may not be the end of the story. “While consistent with our expectations, the granting of waivers does not imply that Iran exports will stabilize near current levels,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note on November 1. As more Iranian supply goes offline, the market will continue to tighten. Iran could lose nearly 600,000 bpd of exports by the end of the year, relative to October levels, the bank predicts.

“As a result, we still expect that the global oil market will be in deficit in 4Q18, leading to a strengthening in Brent timespreads,” Goldman said.

In fact, while everyone focuses on the short-term movements in oil prices, Goldman says it’s important to look at the futures curve. “In our view, the most interesting takeaway from today’s oil price sell-off is the parallel shift in the crude forward curve. This is consistent with a move down on the oil cost curve as recent supply news (less Iran losses, more US and Saudi production) point to fewer high-cost marginal barrels needed in 2019,” the bank said.

That’s a bit of financial jargon, but the gist is that traders are suddenly less concerned that high-cost producers will be needed to supply the marginal barrel. Earlier this year, when Iran sanctions were announced and fears about Permian bottlenecks permeated into the market, oil futures prices rose sharply, with Brent five-year prices rising from $57 per barrel in May to $68 per barrel in September. This can be boiled down to investors believing that the oil market will need high-cost production in the years ahead to supply the marginal barrel, as low-cost producers are at their maximum levels. Related: There’s No Strong Fundamental Reason For Oil’s Decline

However, over the last few weeks, the five-year Brent price fell back. “The retracing of this last move higher reflects the realization that such high cost marginal barrels may no longer be needed,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote. That was due to several reasons. The EIA revealed that U.S. shale production surged in August, rising by an astounding 400,000 bpd compared to a month earlier. That’s obviously important to the immediate present, since it means a lot more supply has been brought online than previously thought, just as Iranian exports go offline.

But it also suggests that U.S. shale can grow more at a given price level than many analysts had thought. It shows that “US shale is able to deliver more production at the lower 1H18 incentive price than previously expected and that Permian constraints are not as binding as initially feared.” WTI averaged just $65 per barrel in the first half of the year, with some producers in the Permian likely fetching less than that because of discounts related to pipeline bottlenecks. Goldman’s logic is that if U.S. shale can grow as quickly as it did this year, with WTI in the $60s per barrel, then that means it can continue to grow briskly, which means that oil prices in the years ahead will be lower than previously thought.

Another reason longer-dated futures prices fell back was because Saudi Arabia and Libya added new supplies. Low-cost production from these two countries could lower the price of the marginal barrel in the years ahead. The same is true for Iran – the losses from Iran are going to be more gradual than previously thought. Related: It's All-Or-Nothing For Colorado Drillers

The result is a steeper backwardation in the futures curve, Goldman argues. A long bet on oil is more profitable, which could induce investors to jump in. That, in turn, could help edge up spot prices and near-term futures. Goldman sees Brent rebounding to $80 per barrel by the end of the year.

However, the longer-dated price is still lower. The investment bank sees Brent falling back to about $65 per barrel by the end of 2019 as midstream bottlenecks in the Permian clear up. That may allow OPEC to dial back on production and rebuild spare capacity. Goldman calls this a “re-anchoring of long-term oil prices.”

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • citymoments on November 06 2018 said:
    With all due respects to the author, I must say, after reading this article, my impression the author obviously is telling us that we will not need produce unconventional oil, the very high cost shale oil production from 2019. May I ask him a simple question: where these low cost conventional production will come from? Can he tell us when and where we had any on shore low cost conventional oil reserve discoveries for the last 20 years? If there are any, then are most shale oil producers very stupid in having been drilling for the the last ten years but never made any profit so far? I welcome the author to clarify his notion.
  • Mamdouh G Salameh on November 06 2018 said:
    The issuing of sanction waivers to eight countries who are major buyers of Iranian crude oil is a clear admission by the Trump administration that their zero oil option is out of reach. It is also a face-saving formula since those who received the waivers wouldn’t stop buying Iranian crude waiver or no waiver.

    Furthermore, it is preposterous to issue waivers to China and India. China as the world’s largest economy and a superpower in its own right and India the world’s third-largest economy and also a nuclear power don’t need sanction waivers to buy Iranian crude.

    And while the fundamentals of the global oil market are still robust enough to support an oil price ranging from $80-$85 a barrel this year, the recent decline in oil prices signifies the market’s message that US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports are doomed to fail miserably and that Iran will not lose a single barrels from its oil exports. This is the same message I have been hammering for the last eleven months based on market realities.

    Of recent times, Goldman Sachs’ projection of oil prices has been like a see saw with each projection contradicting the one before. Is this the same Goldman Sachs who was saying in the 1st of November this year “that global oil demand is still growing at a brisk rate globally with Chinese oil demand continuing to surprise to the upside and emerging market oil demand growing by 1.55 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2018 and 1.45 mb/d in 2019”. If that is the case, then Goldman Sachs’ projection that Brent oil could fall back to $65 a barrel by the end of 2019 is totally wrong.

    And despite the EIA’s exaggerated claims about rising US oil output, its impact on the global oil market is hardly noticeable. The US is still importing 9-10 mbd to satisfy domestic demand. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Russia can’t add more than the 650,000 barrels a day (b/d) they have already added to the market three months ago. Saudi Arabia has no spare production capacity.

    Based on these market realities, I project that oil prices will end the year at $80 and hitting $85-$90 next year.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business, London

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