US crude output to overtake Saudi Arabia “very soon”

An oil rig at sunset in Texas. US growth by shale producers will shortly knock Saudi Arabia from second to third place among the world’s oil-producing titans. (Reuters)
Updated 20 January 2018
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US crude output to overtake Saudi Arabia “very soon”

LONDON: The rapid growth of US shale producers will shortly knock Saudi Arabia from second to third place among the world’s oil-producing titans, with only Russia ahead, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.
With Venezuelan output plummeting amid political and economic turmoil, the IEA indicated the Kingdom could lose its number two position in 2018.
“Very soon US crude production may overtake that of Saudi Arabia and also rival Russia’s,” it said.
The backdrop is a tightening market amid a significant fall in Venezuelan production, geopolitical uncertainty, continuing falls in inventory levels and OPEC/Russia supply cuts.
But the upshot, said the agency, is likely to be a sizeable pick-up in non-OPEC production. After adding in barrels from Brazil, Canada and other growth countries, and allowing for falls in Mexico, China and elsewhere, total non-OPEC production will increase by 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd), IEA said in its latest world oil market report.
The agency said: “This represents, after the downturn in 2016 and the steady recovery in 2017, a return to the heady days of 2013-2015 when US-led growth averaged 1.9 million bpd.
The factors contributing to investor interest in oil include the possible unraveling of the Iran nuclear deal and recent demonstrations in the country, disruption to the industry in Libya, and the closure of the Forties pipeline system.
Although these factors might have faded somewhat, there are others at work, said the IEA. “The general perception that the market has been tightening is clearly the overriding factor and, within this overall picture, there is mounting concern about Venezuela’s production.
A plunge in Venezuelan supply cut OPEC crude output to 32.23 million bpd in December, boosting compliance to 129 percent. Declines are accelerating in Venezuela, which posted the world’s biggest unplanned output fall in 2017.”
Said the IEA: “Venezuelan production is now about half the level inherited by president Chavez in 1999 - and in December output was 490,000 bpd a day lower than a year ago, having fallen to 1.61 million bpd.
The agency said it was reasonable to assume that the decline will continue, but it was impossible to say at what rate. But if output and exports sank further, it was fair to assume other producers would probably step in with the flexibility to deliver oil similar in quality to Venezuela’s shipments to the US and elsewhere, including China.
Market tightening in the final months of 2017 was evident and continued into 2018. OECD commercial stocks declined for the fourth consecutive month in November, by 17.9 million barrels, with a large fall in middle distillates, said IEA. Preliminary data for December suggested a further fall of 42.7 million barrels.
“Additionally, global crude oil markets saw an exceptionally tight fourth quarter in 2017 as the large draw in OECD crude stocks coincided with a decline in Chinese implied crude balances.”
On the demand side, estimates for 2017 and 2018 were roughly unchanged at 97.8 million bpd and 99.1 million bpd respectively.
“The slowdown in 2018 demand growth is mainly due to the impact of higher oil prices, changing patterns of oil use in China, recent weakness in OECD demand and the switch to natural gas in several non-OECD countries. Production was steady on a year ago as non-OPEC gains of nearly 1 mb/d offset declines in OPEC.”
The price of Brent crude oil closed earlier this week above $70 for the first time since Dec. 2, 2014, and money managers have placed record bets on the recent upward momentum continuing. Whether or not the recent price rise has run out of steam and “seventy really is plenty” remained to be seen, said the agency.
“However, such are the geopolitical uncertainties and the ever-dynamic prospects for US shale that we should expect a volatile year,” it added.


Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza