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Last Updated: May 9, 2018
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Forecast HighlightsGlobal Liquid Fuels

  • Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $72 per barrel (b) in April, an increase of $6/b from the March level and the first time monthly Brent crude oil prices have averaged more than $70/b since November 2014. EIA forecasts Brent spot prices will average $71/b in 2018 and $66/b in 2019, which are $7/b and $3/b higher, respectively, than in the April STEO. EIA expects West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices to average $5/b lower than Brent prices in both 2018 and 2019. NYMEX WTI futures and options contract values for August 2018 delivery traded during the five-day period ending May 3, 2018, suggest a range of $54/b to $84/b encompasses the market expectation for August 2018 WTI prices at the 95% confidence level.
  • For the 2018 April–September summer driving season, EIA forecasts U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.90/gallon (gal), 17 cents/gal higher than in last month’s STEO and up from an average of $2.41/gal last summer. The higher forecast gasoline prices are primarily the result of higher forecast crude oil prices. For the year 2018, EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.79/gal. Monthly average gasoline prices are forecast to reach a summer peak of $2.97/gal in June, before falling to $2.86/gal in September.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil production averaged 10.5 million barrels per day (b/d) in April, up 120,000 b/d from the March level. EIA projects that U.S. crude oil production will average 10.7 million b/d in 2018, up from 9.4 million b/d in 2017, and will average 11.9 million b/d in 2019, 0.4 million b/d higher than forecast in the April STEO. In the current outlook, EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will end 2019 at more than 12 million b/d.
  • EIA forecasts that total crude oil and petroleum product net imports will fall from an annual average of 3.7 million b/d in 2017 to an average of 2.6 million b/d in 2018 and to 1.5 million b/d in 2019, which would be the lowest level of net imports since 1958.
  • EIA estimates global petroleum and other liquid fuels inventories declined by 0.5 million b/d in 2017. In this forecast, global inventories grow by 0.2 million b/d in 2018 and by 0.6 million b/d in 2019.
Natural Gas
  • U.S. dry natural gas production averaged 73.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2017. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 80.5 Bcf/d in 2018, establishing a new record. EIA expects natural gas production will rise again by 2.9 Bcf/d in 2019 to 83.3 Bcf/d.
  • Growing U.S. natural gas production is expected to support increasing natural gas exports in the forecast. EIA forecasts net natural gas exports to increase from 0.4 Bcf/d in 2017 to an annual average of 2.0 Bcf/d in 2018 and 4.6 Bcf/d in 2019.
  • EIA estimates that natural gas inventories increased by 22 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in April, ending the month 27% below the five-year average for the end of April. If confirmed in the monthly data, the April 2018 injection would be the smallest April injection since 1983. Preliminary data indicate April temperatures were the coldest for that month in the past 21 years, which contributed to low injections. Based on EIA’s forecast of rising production, natural gas inventories should increase by more than the five-year average rate of growth during current the injection season (April–October) to reach more than 3.5 trillion cubic feet on October 31, which would be 8% lower than the five-year average for the end of October.
  • EIA expects Henry Hub natural gas spot prices to average $3.01/million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2018 and $3.11/MMBtu in 2019. NYMEX futures and options contract values for August 2018 delivery that traded during the five-day period ending May 3, 2018, suggest that a range of $2.32/MMBtu to $3.40/MMBtu encompasses the market expectation for August 2018 Henry Hub natural gas prices at the 95% confidence level.
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
  • EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants to rise from 32% in 2017 to 34% in both 2018 and 2019. The forecast electricity generation share from coal averages 29% in both 2018 and 2019, down from 30% in 2017. The nuclear share of generation was 20% in 2017 and is forecast to be 20% in 2018 and 19% in 2019. Nonhydropower renewables provided slightly less than 10% of electricity generation in 2017 and are expected to provide more than 10% in 2018 and nearly 11% in 2019. The generation share of hydropower was 7% in 2017 and is forecast to fall slightly below that level both 2018 and 2019.
  • EIA forecasts coal production to decline by 3% to 751 million short tons (MMst) in 2018. The production decrease is largely attributable to a forecast decline of 4% in domestic coal consumption in 2018, with most of the decline expected to be in the electric power sector. A 9% forecast decline in coal exports also contributes to lower expected coal production in 2018. EIA expects coal production to remain nearly unchanged in 2019 at 752 MMst.
  • In 2017, EIA estimates that wind generated an average of 697,000 megawatthours per day (MWh/d). EIA forecasts that wind generation will rise to 741,000 MWh/d in 2018 and to 766,000 MWh/d in 2019. If factors such as precipitation and snowpack remain as forecast, conventional hydropower is forecast to generate 747,000 MWh/d in 2019, making it the first year that wind generation would exceed hydropower generation in the United States.
  • After declining by 0.9% in 2017, EIA forecasts that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will increase by 1.4% in 2018 and by 0.4% in 2019. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, and energy prices.

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Saudi Aramco Moves Into Russia’s Backyard

International expansions for Saudi Aramco – the largest oil company in the world – are not uncommon. But up to this point, those expansions have followed a certain logic: to create entrenched demand for Saudi crude in the world’s largest consuming markets. But Saudi champion’s latest expansion move defies, or perhaps, changes that logic, as Aramco returns to Europe. And not just any part of Europe, but Eastern Europe – an area of the world dominated by Russia – as Saudi Aramco acquires downstream assets from Poland’s PKN Orlen and signs quite a significant crude supply deal. How is this important? Let us examine.

First, the deal itself and its history. As part of the current Polish government’s plan to strengthen its national ‘crown jewels’ in line with its more nationalistic stance, state energy firm PKN Orlen announced plans to purchase its fellow Polish rival (and also state-owned) Grupa Lotos. The outright purchase fell afoul of EU anti-competition rules, which meant that PKN Orlen had to divest some Lotos assets in order to win approval of the deal. Some of the Lotos assets – including 417 fuel stations – are being sold to Hungary’s MOL, which will also sign a long-term fuel supply agreement with PKN Orlen for the newly-acquired sites, while PKN Orlen will gain fuel retail assets in Hungary and Slovakia as part of the deal. But, more interestingly, PKN Orlen has chosen to sell a 30% stake in the Lotos Gdansk refinery in Poland (with a crude processing capacity of 210,000 bd) to Saudi Aramco, alongside a stake in a fuel logistic subsidiary and jet fuel joint venture supply arrangement between Lotos and BP. In return, PKN Orlen will also sign a long-term contract to purchase between 200,000-337,000 b/d of crude from Aramco, which is an addition to the current contract for 100,000 b/d of Saudi crude that already exists. At a maximum, that figure will cover more than half of Poland’s crude oil requirements, but PKN Orlen has also said that it plans to direct some of that new supply to several of its other refineries elsewhere in Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

For Saudi Aramco, this is very interesting. While Aramco has always been a presence in Europe as a major crude supplier, its expansion plans over the past decade have been focused elsewhere. In the US, where it acquired full ownership of the Motiva joint venture from Shell in 2017. In doing so, it acquired control of Port Arthur, the largest refinery in North America, and has been on a petrochemicals-focused expansion since. In Asia, where Aramco has been busy creating significant nodes for its crude – in China, in India and in Malaysia (to serve the Southeast Asia and facilitate trade). And at home, where the focus has on expanding refining and petrochemical capacity, and strengthen its natural gas position. So this expansion in Europe – a mature market with a low ceiling for growth, even in Eastern Europe, is interesting. Why Poland, and not East or southern Africa? The answer seems fairly obvious: Russia.

The current era of relatively peaceful cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the oil sphere is recent. Very recent. It was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia and Russia were locked in a crude price war, which had devastating consequences, and ultimately led to the détente through OPEC+ that presaged an unprecedented supply control deal. That was through necessity, as the world faced the far ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But remove that lens of cooperation, and Saudi Arabia and Russia are actual rivals. With the current supply easing strategy through OPEC+ gradually coming to an end, this could remove the need for the that club (by say 2H 2022). And with Russia not being part of OPEC itself – where Saudi Arabia is the kingpin – cooperation is no longer necessary once the world returns to normality.

So the Polish deal is canny. In a statement, Aramco stated that ‘the investments will widen (our) presence in the European downstream sector and further expand (our) crude imports into Poland, which aligns with PKN Orlen’s strategy of diversifying its energy supplies’. Which hints at the other geopolitical aspect in play. Europe’s major reliance on Russia for its crude and natural gas has been a minefield – see the recent price chaos in the European natural gas markets – and countries that were formally under the Soviet sphere of influence have been trying to wean themselves off reliance from a politically unpredictable neighbour. Poland’s current disillusion with EU membership (at least from the ruling party) are well-documented, but its entanglement with Russia is existential. The Cold War is not more than 30 years gone.

For Saudi Aramco, the move aligns with its desire to optimise export sales from its Red Sea-facing terminals Yanbu, Jeddah, Shuqaiq and Rabigh, which have closer access to Europe through the Suez Canal. It is for the same reason that Aramco’s trading subsidiary ATC recently signed a deal with German refiner/trader Klesch Group for a 3-year supply of 110,000 b/d crude. It would seem that Saudi Arabia is anticipating an eventual end to the OPEC+ era of cooperative and a return to rivalry. And in a rivalry, that means having to make power moves. The PKN Orlen deal is a power move, since it brings Aramco squarely in Russia’s backyard, directly displacing Russian market share. Not just in Poland, but in other markets as well. And with a geopolitical situation that is fragile – see the recent tensions about Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian borders – that plays into Aramco’s hands. European sales make up only a fraction of the daily flotilla of Saudi crude to enters international markets, but even though European consumption is in structural decline, there are still volumes required.

How will Russia react? Politically, it is on the backfoot, but its entrenched positions in Europe allows it to hold plenty of sway. European reservations about the Putin administration and climate change goals do not detract from commercial reality that Europe needs energy now. The debate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is proof of that. Russian crude freed up from being directed to Eastern Europe means a surplus to sell elsewhere. Which means that Russia will be looking at deals with other countries and refiners, possibly in markets with Aramco is dominant. That level of tension won’t be seen for a while – these deals takes months and years to complete – but we can certainly expect that agitation to be reflected in upcoming OPEC+ discussions. The club recently endorsed another expected 400,000 b/d of supply easing for January. Reading the tea leaves – of which the PKN Orlen is one – makes it sound like there will not be much more cooperation beyond April, once the supply deal is anticipated to end.

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Market Outlook:

-       Crude price trading range: Brent – US$86-88/b, WTI – US$84-86/b

-       Crude oil benchmarks globally continue their gain streak for a fifth week, as the market bounces back from the lows seen in early December as the threat of the Omicron virus variant fades and signs point to tightening balances on strong consumption

-       This could set the stage for US$100/b oil by midyear – as predicted by several key analysts – as consumption rebounds ahead of summer travel and OPEC+ remains locked into its gradual consumption easing schedule 

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