After a quick drop of $3-4 a barrel the week before last, oil prices steadied last week as the markets contemplated just how effective the OPEC/NOPEC production freeze will be in the short term. Speculators had enthusiastically embraced the production freeze when it was announced late last year and drove open interest in futures to record highs. The cuts, however, did not come fast enough or be deep enough to offset increasing oil production from other countries and lower demand. As one important trader put it, “The OPEC cuts were good enough to prevent a repeat of the glut of last year, but it’s a different story if you want to have oil at $60 or $70.” For now, the physical oil market continues to indicate an oversupply situation.
Peak Oil Review
Oil futures fell some 3 percent in New York and 2 percent in London last week, settling at $47.64 and $49.92 respectively. The markets have become volatile of late with traders reacting to nearly every API or EIA report and every utterance from the Saudi or Iranian oil ministers. Last week the markets were pressured by numerous comments pro and con the possibility of an oil production freeze next month; a jump in Chinese diesel exports; comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that there could be a price-depressing rate increase sooner-rather-than-later; increased exports from Iraq via Kurdistan; the possibility of a ceasefire in Nigeria; sluggish US and Chinese economies; and a jump in US crude and oil product inventories.
Oil prices climbed another $3 a barrel last week as traders continued to hope that not only will OPEC and Russia agree to a production freeze next month, but that it will eventually result in the elimination of global oversupply and reduce global stockpiles to a normal level. The week closes with New York futures at $48.52 and London at $50.88.
Oil prices climbed a bit on Monday, fell on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then surged upwards on Thursday and Friday after the Saudi energy minister said his country would be willing to discuss rebalancing the oil market. The minister said Saudi Arabia would “take any action to help” the crude market and will discuss the issue at a meeting in Septmber. Coupled with an EIA forecast that foresees a “sustained tightening” of the crude markets and a reduction in product stocks, New York futures prices now have climbed from below $40 a barrel early in the month to a close of $44.49 on Friday. The IEA says that a combination of falling production and increasing demand, which will be up by 1.4 million b/d in 2016, means that there will be no oversupply in the second half of this year. The Agency believes that refinery processing of crude is now down about 500,000 b/d year over year and projects that production in North and South America alone will be down by 700,000 b/d in the third quarter.
Oil prices fell steadily during July as the realities of oversupply trumped traders’ hopes that there would be balanced markets and higher prices later this year. July opened with London trading just below $51 a barrel and New York around $49.50. By month’s end, London was down to $42.71 and New York to $40.74. The month’s trading was dominated by reports of increasing oil product inventories and higher OPEC production. The decline of nearly $10 a barrel naturally has had repercussions across the oil industry. For most of July, the US rig count was growing as drillers anticipated that crude prices would soon be at a level where more wells would be profitable. By month’s end, however, these hopes had been dashed, and the US oil rig count had nearly stopped growing.
Concerns are rising that the predictions of the oil markets coming back into balance later this year are wrong and that lower oil prices are ahead. Oil production is not falling as fast as predicted. Some outages are coming to a close and the growing glut of oil products could be as bad as last year’s crude glut. Many analysts now are talking about prices falling below $40 in the next few months and a few are even talking about a return to the $30 level. Although US crude stocks have been falling of late, the growth in the inventories of refined products continues to grow. Europe is running out of storage space for refined products which would force a cut in refining and result in lower demand for crude. Increased refining to support the summer driving season in the US has only another few weeks to run before the increased demand for gasoline comes to an end. The US oil rig count was up for the 6th time in 7 weeks and North Dakota reported that its oil production increased slightly in May.
Futures fell about $4 a barrel during the holiday-shortened US trading week closing at $45.41 in New York and $46.44 in London. Prices edged down early in the week, recovered a bit on Wednesday, and the plunged after the EIA reported that the US crude inventory had dropped by only 2.2 million barrels as opposed to the 6.7-million-barrel drop that the API came up with after their weekly survey. The weekly decline for Brent was the largest since January.
The oil markets remained volatile last week, trading around $48-50 a barrel, amidst much uncertainty about the future of crude prices. In the wake of the Brexit vote, analysts are all over the board as to where prices will be by the end of the year. Some are talking about $85 a barrel while others are looking for a retreat to less than $30 again. Nearly all agree that the markets will “rebalance” with supply and demand coming together as demand increases and the supply continues to drop as the impact of the much lower investment levels during the last two years reduces supply. For the next six months, however, there is uncertainty especially concerning the spate of unplanned outages that have taken place in the past few months. Oil worker strikes such as in France and Norway likely will be settled quickly, and Alberta tar sands production will soon be back to normal by the end of the summer. The outages in Libya, Nigeria, and Venezuela, however, are more uncertain and seem to be getting worse rather than better in the immediate future.
The vote in Britain to pull out of the EU came as a surprise as most observers were expecting the referendum would fail. Oil prices fell immediately and after some gyrations settled down about $2.50 a barrel at $47.64 in New York and $47.54 in London.
The ramifications of the British vote for the oil markets will take years to work out, and many believe it will lead to a series of international realignments with other countries pulling out of the EU and possibly even the secession of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK. Conventional wisdom currently holds that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will lead to lower economic growth in the EU, UK, and possibly other countries.
Oil prices dropped for six straight trading sessions before rebounding on Friday to close at $47.98 in New York and $49.17 in London but both markets were down for the week. Trading was dominated by polls showing that Britain may vote to leave the EU this week sparking financial turmoil and slower economic growth. These fears resulted in a stronger US dollar which in turn drove oil prices lower. Running counter to these pressures were an IEA forecast that the global supply/demand would be back in balance by the end of the year; production outages in Libya, Canada, and Nigeria; and concerns that the deteriorating situation in Venezuela could soon limit oil production and exports.
Oil prices remained firm last week amidst continuing reports concerning actual or impending supply disruptions. US futures dipped below $50 a barrel on Friday, to close at $49.83, but analysts are expecting further gains as the impact of more disruptions are felt. Higher oil prices have encouraged a small revival of drilling activity with the US rig count up slightly for the second week in a row.
Oil prices hovered just below the $50 level last week with Brent closing just above $50 on Thursday before settling at $49.46 on Friday. As has been the case lately, there were numerous factors pressuring oil prices one way or another. The week opened with much enthusiasm that OPEC would agree to a production freeze, but this went away when the OPEC meeting failed to take any action. The major factor pushing prices higher last week was the unplanned production outages in Alberta, Nigeria, and Venezuela. Although the fires are now well past the Alberta tar sands, it will be several weeks before the 1 million b/d of production that had to be shut down during the firestorms can return fully to production. In the meantime, the Alberta outage and the one in Nigeria have likely removed much or all of the production surplus that has overhung the markets and for now, there may be a rough balance of supply and demand.
Oil briefly traded above $50 a barrel last week but quickly fell back to close at $49.33 in NY and $49.32 in London on profit taking and uncertainties about the status of the global oil glut. For the past two months, oil prices have been driven higher by a series of unplanned production outages in Kuwait, Libya, Canada, Nigeria, and concerns about the political stability of Venezuela. Currently, about 3.5 million b/d of normal production is offline. While some of these outages, such as the 1 million b/d fire-caused drop in tar sands production, will be short-lived, other situations such as in Nigeria, Libya, and Nigeria could last indefinitely.
Last week began on a bullish tone with oil prices climbing to a seven-month high, Goldman Sachs talking about the end of the oil glut, and columnists predicting a new spike in prices. All this optimism was based on solid Chinese oil imports, strong US gasoline demand, and production outages in Alberta, Nigeria, Libya and Venezuela. As the week moved on, however, the market became less optimistic as US, European, and Asian crude stocks continued to rise, and prices failed to break through the $50 a barrel barrier.
Oil prices continued to climb last week with New York futures closing up 3.5 percent, the tenth weekly increase in the past 13 and closing Friday at $46.21. Similarly, London prices were up 5.4 percent to close at $47.83. Forces that move the oil markets keep coming in and out of existence. Hopes that the major exporters would agree to freeze production have now faded, to be replaced by unexpected production outages in several countries as the principal force driving prices higher.
Last week saw volatile oil prices and unexpected developments that could have major consequences for the oil industry. The week started on a bearish tone with prices pulling back from weeks of steady increases. As the week wore on several unanticipated oil production outages occurred sending prices higher. At week’s end, however, both US and Brent crude were lower, the first weekly loss after four straight weeks of gains with New York futures at $44.66 a barrel and London at $43.37.
Analysts are starting to wonder as whether 2016 could turn out to be similar to 2015 when oil prices rose sharply in the first five months of the year on hopes that the oil surplus would soon be over, and then collapsed in May when it became apparent that there was going to be more oil around than necessary. Last week the price surge which began in February continued throughThursday and then slowed on Friday leaving London futures at $48.13 at the close and New York at $45.92. The impetus for the surge is that that hedge funds and other speculators are convinced that the two-year price slump is over and that higher prices are ahead. This forecast is supported by the steady decline in the US rig count, which continued last week; a continuing drop in US crude production which the EIA projects will continue into next year; a weaker dollar due to the Federal Reserve’s failure to increase interest rates; increased consumption of gasoline in the US due to low prices; market technical analysis showing prices breaking various “ceilings;” and news of a string of production outages across the globe due to insurgencies and unsettled economic conditions.
Market sentiment has switched to the opinion that prices are not going much lower, despite warnings from Goldman Sachs and other respected observers that there is no fundamental support for higher prices at this time. Last week various pieces of slightly bullish news that are usually are ignored by the markets were enough to move prices higher for the eighth time in the last ten weeks. Crude now is up 67 percent since February, closing on Friday at $43.73 in New York and $45.11 in London.
Oil prices climbed to recent highs early last week on hopes that the Doha meeting would eventually lead to some sort of production cut, a weaker dollar, and scattered production problems. Later in the week prices fell as the US crude glut continued to grow and expectations that something meaningful would come from the Doha meeting subsided. At week’s end, New York oil was at $40.36 and London at $43.10 up 2.8 percent for the week.
Oil prices surged 8 percent last Friday and are now back at levels seen at the top of the last price surge in mid-March. This time strengthening the US and German economies, a falling dollar, and the OPEC price freeze meeting on April 17th was seen as the trigger behind the rally. Friday’s rally was the 12th time in the last two months that daily prices have surged by 5 percent or more showing that there is a lot of money eager to participate in big price rise that will come someday. However, this rally was mostly based on hopes that things are going to get better rather than any specific news, other than the recent increases in US gasoline consumption which are likely to short-lived as retail prices move higher.
The six-week long surge in oil prices which pushed the price of crude up by roughly 50 percent seems to be coming to an end with prices down 6 percent last week. Looming behind the price increase was the notion that the world’s major crude exporters would to get together and sign an agreement to freeze production at current levels. Supporting the price jump was an increase in US gasoline consumption as prices fell to levels not seen in decades and the never ending hope that the US economy was about to get better. Much of the surge was caused by the liquidation of the unprecedented short futures positions that hedge funds and other speculators had built up during the nearly two-year slide of oil prices. When oil fell below $30 a barrel, many speculators figured that the long price slide was over and that oil was unlikely to go much lower. The resulting liquidation of positions which pushed up prices was the largest on record.
Oil prices finished a holiday-shortened trading week on Thursday relatively unchanged. Oil had been a bit higher on Monday and Tuesday but then underwent a $2 a barrel decline on Wednesday after the weekly stocks report showed a 9.4-million-barrel increase in the US crude inventory. Prices recovered by a dollar or so on Thursday to close at $39 in New York and $40 in London, partly in response to a 15-unit drop in the US oil rig count. The 50 percent price increase since January still seems to be based mostly on unrealistic expectations that the large oil exporters will cut production enough to bring supply and demand back into balance. So far, however, crude stocks have continued to rise, and production cuts have been minimal.
The price rally that has been on-going since mid-February continued last week with US futures closing Friday at $39.44 a barrel, up 2.4 percent for the week, and London futures closing at $41.20 up 2 percent. Last week the move came from a combination of what one analyst termed a “brilliant communications strategy” and other developments that normally lead to higher prices. The “brilliant communications strategy,” of course, is the meeting in April during which those countries that either cannot or do not want to increase oil production are supposed to agree not to increase their production. During the week, Moscow even hinted that Iran might join the group after it increases its oil output to 4 million b/d, a goal that might take many months or even years to reach. The producers now are scheduled to meet on 17 April in Qatar; the meeting is being heralded as the first agreement to limit global oil production in 15 years even though it is unlikely to have any real impact on oil production.
Oil prices continued to move higher last week closing at $38.50 in New York and $40.39 in London, up 7.2 and 4.3 percent respectively for the week. The two-month surge which has taken oil prices up some 45 percent started with reports in January that Russia and the Saudis were trying to bring major oil producers together to agree on a production freeze. This idea is now fading as Iran adamantly refuses to freeze production and no other exporters seem willing to cede current customers to Tehran. The impetus for the price increase now is focusing on forecasts that low prices could lead to a decline of some 750,000 b/d in non-OPEC oil production this year – mostly in the US. Some of this could, of course, be offset by increased Iranian exports. Tehran had hoped to increase production and exports by 1 million b/d this year but is having difficulty finding customers and increasing production. A weaker US dollar also contributed to the oil price increase last week.
Oil prices rose for the third consecutive week with New York futures closing at $35.92 a barrel and London at $38.72. Prices in London are now up 3.9 percent for the year. Behind the price rise is a continuing drop in the number of drilling rigs operating in the US and the announcement by several major shale oil producers that they plan to suspend new drilling until prices recover. Exactly where profitability is these days is in dispute with some drillers contending they can make money from shale oil if prices rise into the mid- $40s as compared to $60-70 two years ago. Some of these claims are for the benefit of the banks who have become very wary of the oil industry in recent months. The downside, of course, is that if shale oil producers start increasing production if prices get into the mid-$40s, they could easily drive them back down again with unsaleable production.
Oil had a good week for a change with New York futures rising 3.2 percent to close at $32.78 and London climbing 6.3 percent to close at $35.10. This time, there was more than just wishful thinking behind the price increase as pipeline outages shut in 600,000 b/d in Kurdistan and 250,000 b/d in Nigeria to cut global exports by 850,000 b/d. In both cases, it is unclear as to just when the pipelines will reopen. In Nigeria, the outage was due to an underwater leak while the situation in Kurdistan likely is related to one of many wars taking place in the region.