Why Oil Prices Could Still Go Lower

Why Oil Prices Could Still Go Lower

Crude markets had a panic attack in August and September that sent prices soaring. Sanity is now returning. Prices have fallen but are likely to move even lower over the next few months.

Oil Price reports in its article Why Oil Prices Could Still Go Lower that the panic attack was caused largely by Trump’s August 7 announcement that sanctions would be re-imposed on Iran. Anxiety about the effect on oil supply and prices was reasonable but the reaction was hysterical.

From August 15 to October 1, Brent December futures spreads increased $3.01 (175 percent) from $1.72 to $4.73. Brent prices increased $15.53 (22 percent) from $70.76 to $86.29.

Then spreads and prices collapsed. By October 24, spreads had fallen from $4.73 to $1.52, less than when the price rally began. Front-month Brent price decreased from $86.29 to $76.17. Prices and spreads recovered slightly on October 24 closing at $76.89 and $1.76, respectively.

It seems unlikely that the correction is over. The timing depends on how long it takes for markets to fully recover from what Vitol’s Ian Taylor calls the supply fear factor. After 6 weeks of fear, markets must adjust to the reality that the “oil market is adequately supplied for now.”

Clearly markets are concerned about more than just Iran. Falling or uncertain output from the problem children Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria, and take-away constraints from the Permian basin are critical.

Iran, however, is different because it is a completely artificial supply crisis. It was a choice made by Donald Trump and his advisors. Markets are used to the uncertainty of its problem children but not to the apparent certainty of an executive decision. The reaction was consistent with the cause—certain and linear. It was also wrong.

World liquids production has, in fact, increased 2.91 mmb/d so far in 2018. Much of that increase came from producers other than U.S. & OPEC. That data, of course, includes losses from Venezuela, Iran, Libya, and Nigeria.

Both OECD and U.S. commercial stocks increased in September moving comparative inventory (C.I.) 30 mmb higher and closer to the 5-year average. “We expect an oversupply in 2019, we may have to go back to the reduction,” Saudi Energy Minister, Khalid al Falih commented in late September.

Positive oil supply growth began in the first quarter of 2018 and price generally lags the shift to positive growth by several quarters. This is important because it signals a probable lessening of or end to the upward movement of oil prices that began in early 2016. The last time a secular shift like this occurred was in early 2014. The previous deficit shifted to supply growth in the first quarter of 2014. Prices, however, remained above $100 until the third quarter. Brent begin to fall in earnest and then collapsed during the fourth quarter of 2014. "I am not suggesting that another oil price collapse is going to occur in 2019. I am saying that data indicates that lower rather than higher oil prices are more likely going forward," - Oil Price states. 

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