Brent surrendered all the gains it had made since the last week of December in just five days of financial markets mayhem that began February 2. The pullback in WTI was a touch milder, with the US benchmark retracing to levels seen at the start of January. The spread between Brent and WTI continued to shrink.
While the major stock market indexes Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 were in correction territory — defined as a decline of 10% or more from a 52-week high —crude was lagging.
The Brent and WTI futures curves also remained firmly in backwardation, a sign of tightly balanced markets.
Inflation and high interest rates, the current bugbears of investors, have a direct bearing on equity and currency markets. Their connection with oil, however, is far more circuitous.
Fears of accelerating inflation, initially triggered by a better-than-expected US January wage growth report released on February 2, prompted the market to assume that central banks on either side of the Atlantic will raise interest rates by more than what had been previously factored in. That would mean higher borrowing costs for the corporate world, which is bearish for equities.
The week-long global stock markets rout dragged industrial commodities along with it, including oil. A recovering US dollar and short-term supply fundamentals also pressured crude prices down, but the financial markets were the single biggest influence.
The crude market will need time to assess the implications of inflation becoming a headwind for global economic growth and thus potentially a drag on oil demand. It would then need to connect the dots between the extent of that drag and the pace of the global oil market rebalancing. A rational assessment and a reconnection with the oil market fundamentals can only happen after the storm in the financial markets abates.
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In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on January 14, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts year-over-year decreases in energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through 2021. After decreasing by 2.1% in 2019, energy-related CO2 emissions will decrease by 2.0% in 2020 and again by 1.5% in 2021 for a third consecutive year of declines.
These declines come after an increase in 2018 when weather-related factors caused energy-related CO2 emissions to rise by 2.9%. If this forecast holds, energy-related CO2 emissions will have declined in 7 of the 10 years from 2012 to 2021. With the forecast declines, the 2021 level of fewer than 5 billion metric tons would be the first time emissions have been at that level since 1991.
After a slight decline in 2019, EIA expects petroleum-related CO2 emissions to be flat in 2020 and decline slightly in 2021. The transportation sector uses more than two-thirds of total U.S. petroleum consumption. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) grow nearly 1% annually during the forecast period. In the short term, increases in VMT are largely offset by increases in vehicle efficiency.
Winter temperatures in New England, which were colder than normal in 2019, led to increased petroleum consumption for heating. New England uses more petroleum as a heating fuel than other parts of the United States. EIA expects winter temperatures will revert to normal, contributing to a flattening in overall petroleum demand.
Natural gas-related CO2 increased by 4.2% in 2019, and EIA expects that it will rise by 1.4% in 2020. However, EIA expects a 1.7% decline in natural gas-related CO2 in 2021 because of warmer winter weather and less demand for natural gas for heating.
Changes in the relative prices of coal and natural gas can cause fuel switching in the electric power sector. Small price changes can yield relatively large shifts in generation shares between coal and natural gas. EIA expects coal-related CO2 will decline by 10.8% in 2020 after declining by 12.7% in 2019 because of low natural gas prices. EIA expects the rate of coal-related CO2 to decline to be less in 2021 at 2.7%.
The declines in CO2 emissions are driven by two factors that continue from recent historical trends. EIA expects that less carbon-intensive and more efficient natural gas-fired generation will replace coal-fired generation and that generation from renewable energy—especially wind and solar—will increase.
As total generation declines during the forecast period, increases in renewable generation decrease the share of fossil-fueled generation. EIA estimates that coal and natural gas electric generation combined, which had a 63% share of generation in 2018, fell to 62% in 2019 and will drop to 59% in 2020 and 58% in 2021.
Coal-fired generation alone has fallen from 28% in 2018 to 24% in 2019 and will fall further to 21% in 2020 and 2021. The natural gas-fired generation share rises from 37% in 2019 to 38% in 2020, but it declines to 37% in 2021. In general, when the share of natural gas increases relative to coal, the carbon intensity of the electricity supply decreases. Increasing the share of renewable generation further decreases the carbon intensity.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2020
Note: CO2 is carbon dioxide.
GEO ExPro Vol. 16, No. 6 was published on 9th December 2019 bringing light to the latest science and technology activity in the global geoscience community within the oil, gas and energy sector.
This issue focusses on oil and gas exploration in frontier regions within Europe, with stories and articles discussing new modelling and mapping technologies available to the industry. This issue also presents several articles discussing the discipline of geochemistry and how it can be used to further enhance hydrocarbon exploration.
You can download the PDF of GEO ExPro magazine for FREE and sign up to GEO ExPro’s weekly updates and online exclusives to receive the latest articles direct to your inbox.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 January 2020 – Brent: US$64/b; WTI: US$59/b
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