In reviewing BP’s latest Statistic Review of World Energy, the big story for world oil last year was obvious: the USA’s third straight record-breaking increase in average annual production. Just over 75% of the net increase in world oil production during 2014 came from the USA; add in Canada and 90% of the total increase came from North America. Throw in Brazil’s first significant increase in three years and you have all the world’s net gain in world oil production accounted for by three non-OPEC players. Production from all other producers combined was flat. So the question for 2015 is straightforward: will we see a repeat of those gains…and the flat-liners?
Peak Oil Review
It was one of the wildest weeks for the oil markets in recent years. On Monday, another plunge in the Chinese stock markets sent New York oil futures below $38 a barrel and London down to $43, a six and one half year low. The markets bounced around on Tuesday and Wednesday and then surged upwards for two days on the news that the US’s GDP was doing better than previously thought and that the Chinese situation was stabilizing. By Friday afternoon New York futures were up 12 percent for the week, the largest one-week gain since February 2009, closing at $45.22 a barrel. London’s Brent gained 10 percent during the week, closing at $50.05.
The great oil price slide of 2014-15 is taking on epic proportions. US futures traded for a while below $40 a barrel on Friday while Brent closed out at $45.46. Last week the financial press struggled to find an historical comparison to what is taking place in the oil markets. Some papers finally settled on the price crash of 1986 which sent oil prices down to $10 a barrel and led to the demise of the Soviet Union as the most apt. The now familiar forces of too much oil in inventories with nobody moving to cut production; China’s exports, manufacturing, yuan, and stock markets continuing to drop with still more problems in sight; and the prospect for increased Iranian exports after the nuclear agreement is ratified; all contributed to the falling prices. Many sense a decisive shift in the oil markets overall appraisal of the situation with those expecting a price rebound at any minute throwing in the towel and acknowledging that those not expecting a substantial price increase until late 2016 or even 2017 are probably right.
Oil prices have now had a 7th consecutive weekly loss with New York futures closing Friday at $42.50 and London at $49.19. Last week Beijing’s devaluation of the yuan joined the 2 million b/d oil glut and an unplanned outage at a major US refinery to send oil prices lower. Traders now are talking about prices falling into the $30s. The week’s new data included: US crude stocks falling a bit, but not as much as expected; new forecasts from the IEA and EIA which predict that the glut will continue and US production will fall until late in 2016 at which time production and oil prices will rise; the monthly report from North Dakota saying that shale oil production continued to rise in June and that its well-head prices are now down to $28 a barrel; and that the US rig count was up slightly the week before last.
Oil prices continue to fall with New York futures closing Friday at $43.87 and London at $48.61, both down 7 percent for the week. There was the now usual mid-week bounce as traders anticipated that US crude inventories would decline. This time they did fall for the third straight week, but record refining simply turned the crude into inventories of oil products leaving the total stockpiles of commercial crude oil and products largely unchanged at the time of year when it usually drops due to heavier summer demand.
Last week started with the China’s stock markets suffering the biggest one-day loss in eight years. After that it was mostly down hill for the oil markets. There was a bounce after the Wednesday stocks report showed a larger-than-expected, 4.2 million barrel, drop in the US crude inventory, but by the end of the week prices were falling again. At the close Friday New York futures were down to $47.12, the lowest close since March 20th, and London was down to $52.26. The week’s losses left US oil futures down 21 percent during July and Brent down 18 percent, the largest one-month losses since last December. The price drop in July was the largest since the 2008 financial crisis.
The slide in oil prices continued with New York futures closing Friday at $48.14, down 6 percent for the week, and London futures closing at 54.42, down 4.3 percent during the week. This time the decline was aided by an increase of 21 rigs drilling for oil in the US suggesting that US shale oil production will increase or at least decline more slowly. The decision to reactivate these rigs was likely taken a month or more ago when prices seemed to be stabilized around $60 a barrel. In addition to the increase in rigs, the now normal factors of a stronger US dollar, a contracting Chinese economy, increasing inventories, and higher oil output from Saudi Arabia and Iraq contributed to the falling prices. The prospect that more Iranian oil will be coming on the the market before the end of the year also keeps pressure on the market.
While still volatile, oil prices continued to decline last week with New York futures closing at nearly a three-month low of $50.89 – down 3.5 percent for the week and 14 percent this month. In London oil futures followed a similar pattern with Brent also finishing at close to a three-month low of 57.10 – down 3.2 percent for the week and 10 percent this month. This was the third consecutive weekly loss for oil futures.
Last week US oil prices had their biggest weekly decline since March as concerns about over supply, the Greek debt crisis and China’s stockmarket plunge all came together to force prices down. Most of the decline came on Monday and Tuesday in the wake of the Greek Austerity referendum with New York futures trading below $51 a barrel, down $10 from where they had been in the previous week and London got close to $55 a barrel before a rebound set in. By Sunday night the Greeks reached a deal with the other Eurozone members over a bailout and Beijing “stabilized” its equity markets using draconian measures. New York futures closed out the week at $52.74 and London at $58.57.
The gradual down trend in oil prices which began in early May continues with New York futures closing the week at $55.52 and London at $60.32 – down about 13 percent from the spring highs. The Greek crisis; the Iranian nuclear negotiations; reports of near-record oil production by Russia and OPEC resulting in a circa 2 million b/d global surplus; the steep decline in the Chinese equity markets; and the announcement that the US drilling rig count increased last week after 29 consecutive declines all contributed to weak prices. At $55 a barrel, NY futures have now broken out of the $57-62 trading range that has obtained since early May.
Crude oil prices were little changed last week, with New York futures trading around $60 a barrel and in London around $63. As has been the case for several weeks, the global oversupply of crude, the Greek debt crisis, and China’s weak economy have kept downward pressure on the markets. Trader hopes that the summer driving season will soon push up the demand for gasoline and expectations of an economic rebound continue to support oil prices. The uncertainties of the Iranian nuclear negotiations cut both ways with an agreement likely leading to a large increase in available crude, while failure of the talks would lead to increased tensions or worse in the Middle East.