Oil up on OPEC uncertainty regarding production levels

OPEC is meeting together with non-OPEC members including No.1 producer Russia at its headquarters in the Austrian capital to discuss output policy. (Reuters)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Oil up on OPEC uncertainty regarding production levels

  • Saudi Arabia and Russia are in favor of raising output. Other OPEC-members including Iran have opposed this, resulting in a flurry of backdoor diplomacy ahead of the meeting
  • Phillip Futures said in a note that it expected “an approximate 300,000–600,000 barrels per day (bpd) hike by Saudi Arabia and Russia collectively”

SINGAPORE: Oil prices rose by around 1 percent on Friday, lifted by uncertainty over whether OPEC would manage to agree a production increase at a meeting in Vienna later in the day.
Brent crude oil futures were at $73.78 per barrel at 0502 GMT, up 73 cents, or 1 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $66.26 a barrel, up 72 cents, or 1.1 percent.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a producer group with top exporter Saudi Arabia as the de facto head, is meeting together with non-OPEC members including No.1 producer Russia at its headquarters in the Austrian capital to discuss output policy.
The group started withholding supply in 2017 to prop up prices. This year, amid strong demand, the market has tightened significantly, pushing up crude prices and triggering calls by consumers to increase supplies.
Saudi Arabia and Russia are in favor of raising output. Other OPEC-members including Iran have opposed this, resulting in a flurry of backdoor diplomacy ahead of the meeting.
“The actual decision by OPEC and its partners — which may not actually become apparent until Saturday — is the big one traders are watching,” said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.
Phillip Futures, another brokerage, said in a note that it expected “an approximate 300,000–600,000 barrels per day (bpd) hike by Saudi Arabia and Russia collectively.”
US investment bank Jefferies said an increase in “the range of 450-750,000 bpd seems the most likely outcome” of the meeting, driven largely by Russia and Gulf OPEC members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Jefferies said these increases “would essentially offset Venezuelan declines and falling Iranian exports,” but the bank warned that global “spare capacity could fall globally to around 2 percent of demand – its lowest level since at least 1984.”
That would leave markets prone to supply shortages and price spikes in case of large, unforeseen disruptions.
The other big uncertainty is potential Chinese tariffs on US crude imports that Beijing may impose in an escalating trade dispute between the United States on one side and China, the European Union and India on the other.
Asian shares hit a six-month low on Friday as tariffs and the US-China trade battle start taking their economic toll.
Should the 25 percent duty on US crude imports be implemented by Beijing, American oil would become uncompetitive in China, forcing it to seek buyers elsewhere.
Chinese buyers are already starting to scale back orders, with a drop in supplies expected from September.
“If China’s import demand dries up, more than 300,000 bpd of US crude will have to find a new destination,” energy consultancy FGE said.
“This will certainly depress US Gulf Coast prices,” it said.


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