Last Updated: January 15, 2018
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Far from slipping into correction mode, crude made a dash for new peaks this week. Brent flirted with the $70/barrel mark, while WTI topped $64 in intra-day trade Thursday. Both hit resistance and retreated, but still settled at fresh three-year highs.

They were back-pedalling again Friday, but only marginally, compared with their spectacular cumulative rise of a little over 20% in the past three months alone.

The market remains split between those calling for a correction and those betting on continued strength.

It is worth noting that the calls are for a market correction, not a crash. A correction is typically a 10-20% retracement from the 52-week high. A drop of more than 20% would be called a crash and bear market territory.

Thus, a correction in Brent from the current levels would be a pullback of between $7 and $14, giving us a range of $56-63/barrel.

Based on the current expectations and variables in the 2018 oil market, we regard the lower end of that range as unrealistic. The exceptions would be an unanticipated large jump in US shale output or a major dent in global oil consumption due to an economic slowdown or price elasticity of demand, all tail risks at this point.

We don’t expect OPEC’s cohesion on output cuts to break down amid higher prices and are factoring in a smooth, well-managed “exit” from the restraint strategy along with non-OPEC collaborators sometime after 2018.

Brent’s descent to the upper end of the correction band, the low- to mid-$60s, is possible, but may need a bearish jolt, for example data showing a big build in global oil stocks or a sharp drop in demand over the winter months. Again, neither of those events are a high probability.

Meanwhile, a severe La Nina winter unfolding in the northern hemisphere is likely to keep crude market sentiment buoyant in view of the seasonal oil demand peak, at least through February. It makes a sell-off more difficult.

The gradual erosion of some of the fear premium that has been layered into crude prices over the past several months is a possibility. But we see the various geopolitical tensions that have spurred successive price upticks, including the ones that have not caused any oil supply disruptions, an allor-none factor: the lingering presence of even one keeps the whole bunch top of mind. Increasingly, the cloud hanging over Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal appears to be that one worry.

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Always wanted to understand the mechanics of oil pricing, but didn’t know where to begin? Now explained succinctly and simply on the 27 March in Singapore. This short course is a primer on how global benchmark oil prices are set and how that information percolates down to the price tag at the petrol pump or on your LPG cylinder.  

What Determines the Price of Oil: https://goo.gl/fz3YrL

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