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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 The Oil Price Rally May Soon End

oil rig

Oil forecasters are falling over themselves, publishing new estimates on how high they think prices can go. The rise of Brent to $85 per barrel has forced a rethink among a long line of commodity analysts and investment banks, and the predictions for $100 oil are proliferating.

However, not everyone agrees. Barclays decided to take a contrarian approach, and went against the grain in recent note with its prediction that oil prices will begin to fall before the end of the year. “The recent increase in prices has gone too far, in our view. Although prices may continue to rise from current levels in October, the market is ripe for a correction,” the bank said in a note.

Before that, however, prices could rise in the near-term. But that may only accentuate, or at least bring on, the price correction. “The rally could go even further this month, leading US policymakers, consumers, OPEC, and Saudi Arabia to react,” Barclays said in a note.

There are several reasons why the investment bank says oil prices will fall. First, demand will “soften” at a time when supply should continue to rise. That seems to be the same fear that Saudi officials currently have, at least according to recent press reports. Saudi Arabia is hesitant to increase production now because the oil market will hit a seasonal lull this coming winter, which could take the edge off of the market.

The latest OPEC report suggests that the slowdown in demand due to seasonal factors, combined with rising non-OPEC production, could translate into a decline in the “call on OPEC” by 600,000 bpd in the first half of 2019 relative to August levels.

Saudi Arabia may unilaterally increase production in order to fine-tune the market, hoping to offset Iranian outages, but it did not want to pressure the entire OPEC+ group into increasing output. A formal increase in output may only lead to a situation of oversupply, rising inventories and another downturn in prices, Saudi officials reportedly fear. Related: $200 Billion Saudi Solar Megaproject Might Never Happen

Moreover, it would create a situation where OPEC+ might need to agree to cut production once again at some point next year in response to the glut, and getting more than a dozen oil-producing countries to agree to any change, let alone a production cut, takes a tremendous effort. Thus, OPEC+ did nothing at its latest meeting in Algiers, expecting the market to sort itself out by early next year.

Nevertheless, the market looks rather tight over the next few months. Iran may have already lost about 1 million barrels per day in oil exports, compared to its April peak. News that China may be forced into cutting imports from Iran raises the odds that Iran could lose much more supply in the weeks ahead, forcing oil prices to move even higher as global supplies start to feel the strain.

However, that merely increases the odds of a reaction from the U.S. government. Barclays believes that the Trump administration will either issue more waivers to countries from secondary sanctions, allowing them to continue importing Iranian oil, or absent that, the U.S. could release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). “We expect that the White House and State Department will issue significant reduction exemption guidance before the November 4 deadline,” Barclays said. That could include India, Japan and South Korea.

Still, because confrontation with Iran is a high strategic priority for the Trump administration, and maintaining the integrity of the SPR does not seem to garner as much enthusiasm from inside the White House, it would seem that an SPR release is more likely than Iran waivers. Related: $200 Billion Saudi Solar Megaproject Might Never Happen

Another reason why Barclays says that the current oil price rally may be overstretched is that the bank is not as skeptical of OPEC’s spare capacity as some other market watchers. They pointed to the potential restart of the Neutral Zone oil fields on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, which is often not included in spare capacity estimates thrown around in the press. Those fields could produce as much as 500,000 bpd. Iraq too has ramped up production over the past few months, an increase that few analysts saw coming.

Finally, Barclays says the macroeconomic picture “continues to deteriorate,” with an end to global synchronous growth and turmoil in emerging markets. EM countries face a “one-two punch of weaker currencies and higher oil prices,” the bank wrote. The result could be that oil demand continues to “miss expectations.”

Barclays says oil prices could potentially rise towards $90 per barrel as the November 4 deadline for U.S. sanctions on Iran approaches, but prices decline thereafter. The banks sees Brent crude averaging just $77 per barrel in the fourth quarter, down significantly from the price today. From there, Brent continues to fall, averaging $75 in Q1 2019, $71 in Q2 2019, and just $70 in Q3 2019.

Absent a major supply disruption, Barclays says oil prices will be “anchored” below $80 per barrel.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh G Salameh on October 04 2018 said:
    This article goes against the grain when market conditions support surging oil prices. As long as the fundamentals of the global oil market are as robust as they are now, oil prices have only one way to go: upwards.

    Prices have already broken through the $86 a barrel and I would not be surprised if they even hit $90 before the end of this year rising even to $100 early next year. The robustness of the market is supported by the fact that Saudi Arabia and Russia can’t add more than the 650,000 barrels a day (b/d) they have already added two months ago. The fact that Saudi Arabia is trying to restart production at the Neutral Zone oil fields it shares with Kuwait confirms that it has no spare capacity. Even if successful, its share from these oilfields will not exceed 250,000 b/d.

    Moreover, the claim that China might be forced to cut its imports of Iranian crude is not only a fake news but a wishful thinking and self-delusion. On the contrary, China will do everything to undermine US sanctions on Iran by increasing its Iranian crude oil imports as a retaliation against increasing US tariffs against it.

    Two other factors worth mentioning. One is that any release of oil from the US strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) will be a waste of time as it will confirm the tightness of the global oil market and thus enhance the surge of the oil prices. Another is that the issuing of waivers to countries like Japan, India and South Korea will be like scoring its own goal by undermining sanctions on Iran. Anyway, India has already declared to the world that it doesn’t recognize US sanctions on Iran and therefore it will not comply with them.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Brandon A. Johnson on October 04 2018 said:
    Actual oil rally did not even start yet.
  • Mitch on October 04 2018 said:
    I'm surprised that Iraq doesnt get in on these production increases with restarting exports in the north thru Turkey. They never really complied with the production cuts, why start now...
  • John Brown on October 04 2018 said:
    There is no shortage of oil or capacity to produce oil. Production in the USA has outstripped all forecasts & will continue especially w WTI at $75. It’s a black Gold Rush in the USA. I’ve ceased to care about the obvious manipulation of oil prices upward. The further they go up the more the USA will produce, the better for renewables, & the sooner the manipulation ceases to work & prices crash.
  • Pratik Panchal on October 09 2018 said:
    Whatever happpened to the shale gas?

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