OPEC+, not Trump tweets, key to oil market in 2019
Oil prices were last week hovering around the psychological level of $60 per barrel of Brent crude, dropping to under $59, and at best, rising a little over $61. The massive rally in US stocks didn’t lift prices.
Futures prices are still suffering from a severe hangover caused by October’s high production, which was supposed to be in preparation for coping with US sanctions on Iran. Instead, the US issued waivers to Iran’s biggest customers and the tight oil market never happened.
That contributed to a drop in the price of Brent crude by almost $27 in just two months — one of the steepest declines in history, except for during the 2008 financial crisis. Gloomy scenarios are now the norm.
Analysts have discarded the forecasts they put out in early October and have dramatically lowered estimates for future oil demand and prices. While Brent was once projected to hit $85 or higher in 2019, new forecasts put prices at no more than $75.
The US President Donald Trump’s tweets calling for lower oil prices have been popular with his supporters, who delight in low gasoline prices. However, the US shale producers cannot thrive in a low-price environment. Texas, North Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming produce the majority of US shale oil. Trump and the Republicans are struggling politically in Texas, which is no longer “reliably red.” Oil companies in the state are considering slowing or even stopping drilling if WTI prices remain around or below $50. Reports are that the US shale industry is waiting with bated breath to see the results of talks between OPEC and other producers at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. The Republicans can ill-afford a downturn in the Texan economy.
Analysts have discarded the forecasts they put out in early October and have dramatically lowered estimates for future oil demand and prices.
The symbiotic collaboration that Saudi and Russian leaders made during the 2016 G20 meeting in Beijing shows what the path forward should be. At that meeting, a joint statement of cooperation was released after a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Later negotiations between a group of producers resulted in an agreement to cut production by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) with the successful OPEC+ collaboration, which helped to stabilize global oil markets.
Any new cuts will not have to be so dramatic. Most analysts think that a supply drop of 1 million bpd will be enough to keep Brent prices between $70 and $80. Saudi Arabia’s production rates have hit record highs of above 11.2 million bpd, as it increased output ahead of the US sanctions on Iran. Any production cuts will simply be a matter of the Kingdom returning to previous production levels. Almost 1 million barrels of spare capacity will however be on standby, to be brought online if needed.
Prior to the recent G20 summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the role of Saudi Arabia in stabilizing world oil markets. This is setting the stage for a third year of collaboration between Russia and Saudi Arabia as part of the OPEC+ agreement.
That collaboration could take several forms. With oil prices under pressure, supplies surging and inventories building, an output cut may be considered. Or there might be a “wait and see” attitude to understand how markets react to the current supply level, once the influence of speculators has diminished. US supply growth will also have a role to play in the final equation.
Oil price movements are not a reaction to Trump’s tweets, but to market developments. It comes down to market economics and the willingness of OPEC+ to work together to stabilize the global economy.
- Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza