Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to hand it to the crude bulls. They prevailed through the first month of 2018.
Brent was hovering just below $70 barrel as the week came to an end, not too far from its three-year peak in January.
The US Energy Information Administration reported a surprisingly large crude stock-build of 6.78 million barrels for the week ended January 26, breaking a 10-week spell of drawdowns. WTI wobbled for a day, but was back above $66 in intraday trading Friday.
The market was preoccupied with the continued disappearance of barrels from Cushing, the delivery point of NYMEX crude. Stocks at the Oklahoma storage hub finally breached the low end of the fiveyear range.
Two factors contributed to that: A persistent reduction in supplies of Canadian crude into the US through the Keystone pipeline and two new domestic pipelines ramping up to capacity and redrawing crude flows around Cushing.
The strength in NYMEX WTI crunched the front-month discount to Brent futures to a five-month low of $3.90/barrel on January 29. A taste of things to come? We look at the strong winds that might be buffeting the WTI/Brent spread in the coming months.
The WTI forward curve, which lagged Brent’s return to contango and only slipped into backwardation between the prompt and the second month at the start of January, has caught up fast.
The two slopes now match in their incline and in fact, WTI M1/M12 was at a wider spread of $5.17/barrel at Thursday’s market close than the corresponding Brent value.
The rather academic debate over which country is the world’s second largest crude producer after Russia has been laid to rest. The US pumped 10.038 million b/d that month, according to the latest monthly data from the EIA this week (which is still regarded as credible, the continuing debate over the methodology and reliability of its weekly production numbers aside). Saudi Arabia’s output was 10.033 million b/d, according to OPEC’s report based on independent secondary sources.
Neither the new US record nor ExxonMobil’s plans unveiled this week to triple its Permian production by 2025 was able to dampen market sentiment.
Attention focused, instead, on Goldman Sachs’ latest forecast calling for $75/barrel average price of Brent in 2018, the most bullish so far on Wall Street, citing “stellar” global demand growth, high OPEC compliance and collapsing Venezuelan production.
Barclays sees the possibility of Venezuelan output crashing to 1.43 million b/d this year, down 750,000 b/d from 2017, as state-owned PDVSA finds itself in dire financial straits.
We have shared our view on OPEC/non-OPEC producers sticking to their commitment as well as Venezuelan supply risk being skewed to the downside in our recent issues. We are cautious on oil consumption growth, though, despite the rosy economic outlook for 2018.
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