The rally in oil prices appears to be stronger than what many analysts have expected. In the past few months, many negative events have taken place around the world. Starting with the failure of oil producers to reach an output freeze deal during Doha's meeting, the continuous growth of Iran's oil output and OPEC's in general, and most recently the concerns over the Brexit.
These events have imposed a huge threat to the rally in oil prices. In fact, during each event, we saw many oil market analysts doubting the rally in oil prices and expecting it to reverse a course. However, the actual impact of such negative events have been limited in terms of the duration and the oil price volatility caused. Throughout these events, the oil prices rally has shown a huge resistance and continued its upward path.
The recent oil prices recovery after oil prices retreated in mid-June as the rising likelihood of a Brexit raised concerns about the economic fallout in Europe is a simple example of such a fact. Oil prices fell sharply below $50/bbl aimed worries over a possible Brexit from the EU. The fall in oil prices didn't last long. Oil prices recovered to levels above $50 a barrel despite the huge volatility caused by such an event.
What is next for oil prices?
Given the current positive market sentiments along with other positive news coming from around the world, oil prices will not stay at $50 a barrel for quite long. In fact, in the coming weeks, oil prices could head above $55 a barrel reaching to $60/bbl, and here is why.
1. Unchanged Interest Rate and Weaker U.S. Dollar
On Wednesday last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to keep interest rates unchanged. The decision came as no surprise, especially after the brutal jobs report of May. Keeping interest rates unchanged means a weaker U.S. dollar. Given the inverse relationship between the greenback and oil prices, weakness in U.S. dollar is directly translated into strength in oil prices.
The Fed has also cut its economic growth forecast by 0.1 percentage point to 2 percent this year. With the Fed expecting a slower economic growth, interest rate hike is questionable. It will take a while until the Fed makes sure there are signs of economy strength. Till then, keeping interest rate unchanged will support the rally in oil prices.
2. Expected Oil Outages
Oil outages in many countries such as Canada, Nigeria, and Libya have increasingly contributed to the rally in oil prices over the past few months up until today. According to the IEA, outages from OPEC and non-OPEC countries cut global oil supply by nearly 0.8 mb/d in May. Although Canada's shut-in production will be fully restored in the near future, outages in both Nigeria and Libya appear to be escalating.
In Nigeria, militants attacks on oil and gas infrastructures have decreased the country's oil production to thirty-year lows. While government official say they have reached to a one-month ceasefire agreement with the rebels in the Niger Delta, what goes on the ground proves opposite. In fact, yesterday, the Niger Delta rebels denied having any ceasefire agreement with the Nigerian government. This news tell us one thing; militants attacks on oil and gas facilities will intensify in coming weeks.
Adding to the existing troubles the country is going through, the Nigerian oil workers threaten to go on strike over what they call it as an engagement of some companies in anti-labor practices. The oil workers have given these companies seven days starting on Monday, June 20, to change what the workers believe to be anti-labor practices. If the workers go on strike, the oil and gas industry activities will shutdown completely resulting in more oil outages.
Libya on the other hand is not in a better place than Nigeria despite occasional signs of optimism. The country's oil and gas fields and facilities are also under attacks from different militia groups. With the troubles the country is going through, it appears that Libya has a long way to go before making a significant increase to its oil production. For Libya, expectations are only for the worst to come.
3. U.S. Crude Inventory Drawdowns
The summer session is officially here. That means the seasonal U.S. inventory drawdowns is here as well. According to the EIA, the current session started with crude oil inventories at 531.5 million barrels as of 10 June. Crude inventory has declined for 3 consecutive weeks since then.
Inventory drawdowns are expected to increase from July to September as gasoline demand increases during the U.S. summer season. According to a report by Deutsche Bank, the rate of weekly drawdown should increase from the beginning of July and accelerate further into August.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 May 2019 – Brent: US$70/b; WTI: US$61/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
The world’s largest oil & gas companies have generally reported a mixed set of results in Q1 2019. Industry turmoil over new US sanctions on Venezuela, production woes in Canada and the ebb-and-flow between OPEC+’s supply deal and rising American production have created a shaky environment at the start of the year, with more ongoing as the oil world grapples with the removal of waivers on Iranian crude and Iran’s retaliation.
The results were particularly disappointing for ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two US supermajors. Both firms cited weak downstream performance as a drag on their financial performance, with ExxonMobil posting its first loss in its refining business since 2009. Chevron, too, reported a 65% drop in the refining and chemicals profit. Weak refining margins, particularly on gasoline, were blamed for the underperformance, exacerbating a set of weaker upstream numbers impaired by lower crude pricing even though production climbed. ExxonMobil was hit particularly hard, as its net profit fell below Chevron’s for the first time in nine years. Both supermajors did highlight growing output in the American Permian Basin as a future highlight, with ExxonMobil saying it was on track to produce 1 million barrels per day in the Permian by 2024. The Permian is also the focus of Chevron, which agreed to a US$33 billion takeover of Anadarko Petroleum (and its Permian Basin assets), only for the deal to be derailed by a rival bid from Occidental Petroleum with the backing of billionaire investor guru Warren Buffet. Chevron has now decided to opt out of the deal – a development that would put paid to Chevron’s ambitions to match or exceed ExxonMobil in shale.
Performance was better across the pond. Much better, in fact, for Royal Dutch Shell, which provided a positive end to a variable earnings season. Net profit for the Anglo-Dutch firm may have been down 2% y-o-y to US$5.3 billion, but that was still well ahead of even the highest analyst estimates of US$4.52 billion. Weaker refining margins and lower crude prices were cited as a slight drag on performance, but Shell’s acquisition of BG Group is paying dividends as strong natural gas performance contributed to the strong profits. Unlike ExxonMobil and Chevron, Shell has only dipped its toes in the Permian, preferring to maintain a strong global portfolio mixed between oil, gas and shale assets.
For the other European supermajors, BP and Total largely matched earning estimates. BP’s net profits of US$2.36 billion hit the target of analyst estimates. The addition of BHP Group’s US shale oil assets contributed to increased performance, while BP’s downstream performance was surprisingly resilient as its in-house supply and trading arm showed a strong performance – a business division that ExxonMobil lacks. France’s Total also hit the mark of expectations, with US$2.8 billion in net profit as lower crude prices offset the group’s record oil and gas output. Total’s upstream performance has been particularly notable – with start-ups in Angola, Brazil, the UK and Norway – with growth expected at 9% for the year.
All in all, the volatile environment over the first quarter of 2019 has seen some shift among the supermajors. Shell has eclipsed ExxonMobil once again – in both revenue and earnings – while Chevron’s failed bid for Anadarko won’t vault it up the rankings. Almost ten years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP is now reclaiming its place after being overtaken by Total over the past few years. With Q219 looking to be quite volatile as well, brace yourselves for an interesting earnings season.
Supermajor Financials: Q1 2019
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January, April, and May 2019 editions
In its May 2019 edition of the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA revised its price forecast for Brent crude oil upward, reflecting price increases in recent months, more recent data, and changing expectations of global oil markets. Several supply constraints have caused oil markets to be generally tighter and oil prices to be higher so far in 2019 than previous STEOs expected.
Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had agreed at a December 2018 meeting to cut crude oil production in the first six months of 2019; compliance with these cuts has been more effective than EIA initially expected. In the January STEO, OPEC’s crude oil and petroleum liquids production was expected to decline by 1.0 million b/d in 2019 compared with the 2018 level, but EIA now forecasts OPEC production to decline by 1.9 million b/d in the May STEO.
Within OPEC, EIA expects Iran’s liquid fuels production and exports to also decline. On April 22, 2019, the United States issued a statement indicating that it would not reissue waivers, which previously allowed eight countries to continue importing crude oil and condensate from Iran after their waivers expired on May 2. Although EIA’s previous forecasts had assumed that the United States would not reissue waivers, the increased certainty regarding waiver policy and enforcement led to lower forecasts of Iran’s crude oil production.
Venezuela—another OPEC member—has experienced declines in production and exports as a result of recurring power outages, political instability, and U.S. sanctions. In addition to supply constraints that have already materialized in 2019, political instability in Libya may further affect global supply. Any further escalation in conflict may damage crude oil infrastructure or result in a security environment where oil fields are shut in. Either situation could reduce global supply by more than EIA currently forecasts.
In the May STEO, total OPEC crude oil and other liquids supply was estimated at 37.3 million b/d in 2018, and EIA forecasts that it will average 35.4 million b/d in 2019. EIA assumes that the December 2018 agreement among OPEC members to limit production will expire following the June 2019 OPEC meeting.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January, April, and May 2019 editions
U.S. crude oil and other liquids production is sensitive to changes in crude oil prices, taking into account a lag of several months for drilling operations to adjust. As crude oil prices have increased in recent months, so too have EIA’s domestic liquid fuels production forecasts for the remaining months of 2019.
U.S. crude oil and other liquids production, which grew by 2.2 million b/d in 2018, is forecast in EIA’s May STEO to grow by 2.0 million b/d in 2019, an increase of 310,000 b/d more than anticipated in the January STEO. In 2019, EIA expects overall U.S. crude oil and liquids production to average 19.9 million b/d, with crude oil production alone forecast to average 12.4 million b/d.
Relative to these changes in forecasted supply, EIA’s changes in forecasted demand were relatively minor. EIA expects that global oil markets will be tightest in the second and third quarters of 2019, resulting in draws in global inventories. By the fourth quarter of 2019, EIA expects that inventories will build again, and Brent crude oil prices will fall slightly.
More information about changes in STEO expectations for crude oil prices, supply, demand, and inventories is available in This Week in Petroleum.