[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] O [/yt_dropcap]f-late the monotonous oscillation of oil prices is making it difficult for writers and analysts to get any sense out of this whimsical trend. After the Vienna Oil deal in November 2016 and after the 21st January meeting between oil producers the oil prices have been moving up and down in the $50-$60 band.
Ever since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia refused to play its part as a swing producer (in 2014) the oil markets turned topsy-turvy. What followed was an influx of extra oil which created a glut so huge that it is now proving almost difficult to flush it out. Despite 91% compliance from the oil producers vis-à-vis the oil deal the prices seems to be stuck in the aforesaid band. As noted many times the issue is that of the US Shale producers. This represents a perfect Catch-22 situation where the investors may find themselves dizzy by the vicious circle triggered whenever there is a cut in production. A production cut is all what everyone wants, yes, but after the production cut, due a mix of slight change in fundamentals and a huge alteration in speculations and sentiments, the oil prices start to move up. This is also a good omen. The next event, however, thwarts the rising hopes and prices as the US Shale producers-most of whom had stopped producing given the difference of cost of production- get back at the oil fields. When this happens, the supply-supposed to go down by the cut in production- once again starts to swell. And we, after making merry go rounds once again stand where we started from. Now-a-days, this is exactly what is happening: The oil prices every now and then rally up as the oil producers are fully complying with the November deal, but the Shale producers getting back at the derricks is a cause of continuous consternation. Last Friday Baker & Hughes reported a 17 rig increase in US oil rigs, making the total number at 583. Oil rigs have increased by 106 after the November oil deal. Many of the oil companies are back at their projects. BP signed a flurry of oil exploration deals and expects to increase the oil production, almost 800,000 bpd by the end of decade.
What, then, is the panacea? I am afraid there is none. The markets have to wait. Patience is the key here. If the OPEC and NOPEC producers remain true to the Vienna Deal-which is only for the first six months of the current year- it can still take a year or half for the oil glut to drain gradually. But a very relevant condition for this drainage to eventuate is Demand and it looks waning. China’s economy is not very promising. This price cap may, in future, effect the compliance of the oil producers as they do not see any potential effect of the deal.
There is a possibility: As Mr. Fereydoun, head of Vienna Energy Centre, said to me few weeks back that the OPEC should now try to bring the US shale producers on the table as well. But given their reduction in cost of production due to greater adaptability by the virtue of better technologies, it seems hardly possible. But in the long run, if US exercises far-sightedness, its willingness to cooperate with OPEC and other producers like Russia will only help create a better and stable oil market. The need for which is dire!
Oil Markets Ignoring Realities
Brent oil touched $68 last week. WTI is already past $60 mark. Inventories are down by 20% nearing to the five year moving average of 420 million barrels. But all is not hunky-dory with the oil markets. There are some wildcards at play right now. Temporary factors, driving prices up. The markets and observers need not to lose sight of what are the potential risks to this upbeat and probably short-lived phase of recovery.
Last year we saw the Kurdish referendum which resulted in a price hike. However, we didn’t know that 2018 will have another big surprise (distressing one) in its stock: Unrests in Iran. Slogans like “Death to Khamenei” cannot be taken lightly. Nor the killings that have ensued as a result of these protests. Government has warned to deal with an “iron fist” in order to control the situation which only seems to get worse. This is one of the factors that are drawing oil prices up, representing the typical relationship between any unrest/disorder/conflict in Middle-East resulting into a higher oil price. But matters are not that simple. If these unrests can translate into a higher oil price, it can also cause Iran, in case tensions escalate, to leave the Vienna accord. This can be due to more sanctions slapped upon the regime in case they take any serious action against the protesters or due to general economic problems that might result, once again, if matters exacerbate.
Pipeline outages also helped to provide some buoyancy to oil prices. Disruptions in Forties Pipeline, one of the most important in the world, gave prices a boost when the company announced that it can take a longer time to repair the hairline crack that appeared in December, 2017. However it is fully operational as of now.
The recent meeting wherein members of Vienna accord decided to extend their deal for the full 2018 year was another cause of merriment for the oil markets. But that caveat according to which the members will meet again in June to review the situation can be taken as a wicket-gate for the ones who want an exit. Russia has already signaled to take about an exit strategy. The oil executives in Russia are not happy to see the growing U.S. shale production and market share.Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has its own reasons. They have an IPO to take care of hence; they are trying to keep all these oil producers together. But the question might be asked: For how long? It is their company (Aramco) and their IPO. Not every country in the region has a plan to wean itself off oil.
What has become a necessary part of the narrative whenever discussion the future of oil, in terms of prices or usage, is of-course, United States of America. U.S’ shale production has risen from 8 million barrels in 2016 to 9.78 million barrels per day (latest). The estimates for future rise in US production are promising. What is also important, but obvious, to mention here about the vicious cycle that higher oil prices trigger. The solution to which is only a stronger demand.
Even though oil prices are at post-crisis high it doesn’t mean that the trend will continue. Sustainability is the most important and decisive factor. Geopolitical risk premiums are temporary. So are the pipeline outages (if in case there are any in future). Time and again, we have to remind ourselves of not getting carried away by these ephemeral rallies. We should look for something sustainable, permanent, and fundamental. Until or unless we find it, the search for higher oil prices should continue.
Shale growth, Geopolitical tensions and Re-balancing
It has been a wild ride for oil prices. November 4th, 2017, prime minister of Lebanon Mr. Hariri resigns, at night missiles from rebel occupied Yemen can be seen hurtling across the sky of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What begins next has been widely covered by all the major media outlets.
Crude Oil Bearishness Is Here To Stay
Despite seven weeks of inventory withdrawals, the global oil market has failed to translate this effect into a sustainable and significant oil price increase. Doubts remain. As reported, OPEC production has edged up. The compliance rate among OPEC and NOPEC members of the Vienna deal, extended to March 2018, has fallen. US production has added more barrels to global production.
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