Oil prices fell by another $1-2 a barrel last week to settle at $67.75 in New York and $76.83 in London as the struggle between lower demand occasioned by the Sino-American trade war balanced against falling Iranian exports. Last week saw a storm in the Gulf of Mexico which did less damage than expected and a 4.3 million barrel drop in US crude inventories which brought them to the lowest since 2015. However, prices were driven lower as US gasoline stocks rose by 1.8 million barrels and distillate stockpiles by 3.1 million barrels, suggesting that the summer driving season has come to an end.
Oil prices had two down and three up days last week closing out Friday a dollar or so higher with NY futures at $69.80 and London at $77.64. The struggle between the soon-to-be-implemented Iran sanctions and the threat to demand posed by the trade war continues as the primary factor driving prices. An unexpectedly large drop in the US crude inventory of 2.6 million barrels last week and a four-unit increase in the US oil rig count last week contributed to the volatility of the market.
The oil price surge which began two weeks ago continued last week with prices rising by $4-5 a barrel to settle on Friday at $68.72 in New York and $75.82 in London. The markets are still conflicted as to whether a reduction in demand occasioned by the trade war or a drop in supply stemming from the Iranian sanctions, the Venezuelan collapse, and the slowing growth of US shale oil production will dominate the immediate future. Last week we learned that China may continue buying US crude, but will swap or sell the oil to third countries so that crude imports to China would not come directly from the US. Third party crude would not be subject to any tariffs imposed on US crude or give the appearance that Beijing is backing down in the trade confrontation with Washington. Any crude that comes from the US would reduce China’s dependence on the volatile Middle East.
Crude prices were up Thursday and Friday of last week but still closed with a seventh consecutive weekly loss for WTI — the longest losing streak since 2015. Fears that the multiple escalating trade wars will lead to a drop in global demand are trumping the warnings that the lack of sufficient investment and the beginning of problems with US shale oil output could lead to production shortfalls in the months ahead.
Oil prices slid about 3 percent last Wednesday as the trade dispute between the US and China escalated and after Chinese import data showed a slowdown in energy demand. However, prices recovered a bit on Friday as US sanctions against Iran looked as if they would tighten oil supplies ending up the week with New York futures at $67.63 and London at $72.81.
Oil prices fell last week mostly on concerns that the looming US-China trade war would stifle demand. There was a short-lived rally on Thursday after the stocks report showed a 3.8 million barrel increase in total crude stocks mostly due to lower exports, but a 1.1 million drop in the inventory at Cushing, Okla. For now, the markets seem well supplied with production by Russia, the Saudis and the Gulf Arabs increasing after the relaxation of the market cap, and there has not yet been a significant reduction in Iranian exports in response to the new US sanctions. The week ended with New York oil futures down to $68.49 and London down to $73.21.
Oil prices climbed steadily through Thursday last week, supported by easing US-EU trade tensions and a temporary shutdown by the Saudis of a critical crude oil shipping lane. On Friday prices fell in sympathy with the US equities market to end the week at $74.29 in London and $68.69 in New York. Crude prices were unfazed last week by the unexpectedly robust US GDP figure, or the threatening rhetoric exchanged between Tehran and Washington.
The $3 drop in US oil prices last Monday was a signal that the forces moving the oil market are changing. Last year, the main forces pushing the oil markets higher were the agreement by OPEC and its partners to lower production and the growth of global demand. This year, an array of factors are pressuring the oil markets: the US sanctions that threaten to cut Iranian oil exports; US-China trade tensions; OPEC’s decision to raise crude output; and dwindling oil production from Venezuela. Moreover, there are supply disruptions in Libya, the Canadian tar sands, Norway, and Nigeria that add to the uncertainties as does erratic policymaking in Washington, complete with threats to sell off part of the US strategic reserve and a weaker dollar.
Oil prices dropped suddenly last Wednesday on the news that yet another dispute in Libya had been settled so that the traditional Libyan National Oil company was back in business exporting oil from its major terminals. New York futures fell by $3.50 a barrel on the news, and the London price decreased by $6.50, with New York closing out the week at $71 and London at $75.33.
Oil prices traded in a narrow range last week, between $73-$74 a barrel in New York, and $77-78 in London. A surprise increase in the US crude stocks balanced off the uncertainties of the US-China trade war that began on Friday. The announcement that the Saudis had increased production by 500,000 b/d in June helped keep the lid on prices despite the worsening prospects for global trade.
In the two weeks since the OPEC+ coalition decided to increase oil production by an undefined amount, oil prices have risen steadily on fears that there will be oil shortages and higher prices in the coming months. New York oil futures closed above $74 a barrel last week and London closed above $79 on Friday. Driving the markets higher are disruptions to oil production in Venezuela, Libya, Canada, Nigeria, and the US efforts to force Iran to zero exports this fall. The situation is not helped by the slowdown in the increase in US shale oil production due largely to bottlenecks in moving Permian shale oil to markets. There is no sign of a letup in the global demand for oil which is expected to increase by 1.5 million b/d this year.
Oil prices, which have been falling since mid-May, fell more than $2 on Friday to settle at $65.06 in the US and $73.44 in London. For now, the chief concern is that the OPEC + coalition will raise or lift the production cap this coming Friday and allow as much as another 1.5 million b/d of crude to enter the market. Additional pressure on oil prices is coming from the looming Sino-American trade war which could damage the global economy and lower the demand for oil. The announcement that Beijing might impose a hefty tariff on the 360,000 b/d of crude that the US has been sending to China in recent months did not help the situation nor did the continual increase in US shale oil production despite the bottleneck on getting crude out of the Permian Basin. While the renewed US sanctions on Iran may eventually reduce its ability to export oil, these sanctions do not start up until later this year so that it will be well into 2019 before we have some idea of their effectiveness.
Oil futures traded in a narrow range last week, at circa $65 a barrel in New York, and $76 in London. The standoff between higher and lower oil prices continues apace. Those saying that prices will soon be higher are looking at the rapid decline of Venezuela’s oil production; the damage to Iran’s oil exports that could come from the new US sanctions; and the mounting obstacles to further rapid increases in US shale oil production. Those seeing lower prices ahead are citing the likelihood that OPEC+ will increase production later this month and the dangers to global demand stemming from the possible trade wars.
In a short trading week, oil prices closed mixed with London futures holding steady but New York declining on higher US oil output. US oil prices continue to fall well behind world prices, as booming shale oil production deals with pipeline constraints, leading to the biggest discount to North Sea Brent in three years. On Thursday, the discount climbed to over $11 a barrel. The weekly US stocks report showed that while oil production grew by 44,000 b/d, a drop in US imports and a surge in exports to 2.1 million b/d resulted in a decline in US commercial crude inventories of 3.6 million barrels from the week before last.
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Brent crude traded briefly at $80.18 a barrel on Thursday before slipping back to close the week at $78.51. This was the highest that London oil futures have traded since November 2014. New York futures closed the week at $71.28 which is more than $7 a barrel lower than London giving another push to US crude exports. The price jump came amidst a burst of bullish news including a larger-than-expected drop in US petroleum stocks of 1.3 million barrels of crude and a drop of 3.8 million barrels of gasoline. The short-lived spike also came just after a new Goldman report saying the US shale oil production can’t possibly make up for the potential loss of oil from the new Iran sanctions and that prices are likely to move higher.
Oil prices rose more than 3 percent last Wednesday after President Trump abandoned the Iranian nuclear deal and announced the “highest level” of sanctions against Tehran. The price surge stalled on Friday, however, after it looked likely that Europe would try to maintain the deal with Iran, which could keep that country’s crude exports on global markets. Crude futures closed the week just below multi-year highs with London at $77.12 and New York at $70.70, up 2.8 percent and 1.2 percent respectively.
Oil prices continued to climb last week and are now up nearly $8 a barrel in the past month with NY futures at $69.72 and London $74.87. US oil futures are now at their highest in more than three years, as global supplies remain tight and the market awaits new US sanctions against Iran which seem likely to be imposed later this week. According to the EIA, US domestic oil production continues to climb — up by another 33,000 b/d the week before last — and US drillers added nine oil rigs to the count last week. Thus the struggle between increasing US shale oil production and deteriorating geopolitical situations around the world continues.
With only two weeks to go before President Trump decides whether the US will withdraw from the Iran nuclear treaty, the oil market’s chief concern is about what could happen if the US reimposes sanctions. Even though Washington would have few, if any, allies helping to reimpose sanctions on Iran, the US carries considerable weight in the world banking system by threatening to deny access to the US to anyone doing business with Tehran. Conventional wisdom holds that renewed sanctions would slow Iranian oil exports and drive prices higher.
In the last two weeks, London oil futures have increased by $7 a barrel, closing last week at $74.06. New York futures closed circa $5.50 below London. This price differential is making US crude very popular on the world markets so that exports are setting records and drawing down US crude stocks. Behind the price surge is the steady drop in world crude stocks; strong demand from Asia as China’s economy grows faster than forecast; the likelihood that OPEC will continue its production cut on into next year; and the possibility that the Trump administration will abandon the nuclear treaty and impose new sanctions on Iran. There also are the deteriorating situations in Venezuela where production seems likely to drop by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day this year, and in Libya where the incapacitation of the country’s military strongman could result in a drop in oil production as local militias reassert themselves.
Oil prices rose by nearly $5 a barrel on concerns that a US and allied attack on Syrian military installations would lead to a wider war. Futures prices closed Friday at $67.39 in New York and $72.58 in London setting multi-year highs. After the markets closed, strikes on Syrian chemical facilities were launched. Initial reports suggest that considerable care was taken to avoid harming Syrian civilians or Russian and Iranian interests. A relatively benign response from Moscow suggests that this attack alone will not lead to more serious hostilities in the immediate future that could drive oil prices higher.
Oil futures have fallen about $3 a barrel from two weeks ago when London prices were close to $70. New York futures closed out last week circa $62 and London $67. Prices held steady until Thursday when President Trump announced another round of the tariff war with China sending prices down $1.50 a barrel on Friday. So far neither side has actually imposed any new tariffs, leaving observers to wonder whether Washington and Beijing are simply posturing before negotiations, or a major trade war is in the offing. Other than the possibility of a trade war, the trashing of the Iran nuclear treaty, increasing tensions in the Middle East, and the Korean situation, most of the news lately has suggested higher prices are in the offing.
After an up-and-then-down week, oil and gas markets closed slightly higher Thursday ahead of the Easter holiday weekend. All major U.S. and European stock exchanges and markets were closed Friday for Good Friday, which coincides with the Passover holiday that starts Friday at sundown.
The most significant news driving the oil markets last week came from Washington, where major policy and personnel shifts drove the markets down and up last week. Crude posted its biggest weekly gain since July on Friday as President Trump changed his national security team, fueling speculation sanctions on Iran will be re-imposed. Earlier in the week, the President’s imposition of new tariffs on imports had observers talking about a tariff war that could cut the demand for oil as economies slipped. Indications from the Saudis and Russians that the OPEC production freeze could be extended into 2019 helped lift prices earlier in the week.
Oil prices closed on Friday at $66.21 in London and $66.34 in New York. Prices are about in the middle of the trading range where they have been since mid-February. The markets, torn between increasing US shale oil production and what is thought to be increasing global demand, seem likely to stay within this narrow range until there is convincing evidence one way or the other. While prices have climbed by more than 40 percent since the middle of 2017, day-to-day volatility has fallen to its lowest level since 2014.