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The US oil and gas rig count fell by eight this week, according to Baker Hughes, adding to months of losses, as US oil production falls to its lowest level since October 2018. The total number of active oil rigs in the United States fell by three, according to the report, reaching 776. The number of active gas rigs decreased by 5 to reach 169.
After six days of steady price drops that took prices down about $5 a barrel, oil rebounded about 1 percent on Friday. The rebound came on news that Iran had seized a British registered tanker while sailing in Omani waters through the Straits of Hormuz. Oil closed out the week at $55.63 in New York and $62.47 in London.
The storm in the Gulf of Mexico and geopolitical tensions in the Middle East pushed New York oil futures above $60 a barrel last week, with NY closing at $60.31 and Brent at $66.86. Nearly 70 percent or 1.3 million b/d of the Gulf’s oil production was shut in as oil producers evacuated 283 platforms in the northern Gulf. Natural gas production from the Gulf was cut by 56 percent. The slow-moving storm is producing unprecedented flooding, and it may be the middle of the week before the extent of the damage to onshore oil and petrochemical facilities is known.
Concerns about the weakening global economy and oil demand growth trumped Middle Eastern tensions and the OPEC+ rollover of the production cuts into 2020, sending oil prices lower for most of last week. Prices rebounded on Friday by a dollar or so with London futures closing out the week at $64.27, down about $2.50 from the week’s high on Tuesday, and New York closing at $57.61. Now that the OPEC+ efforts to force up oil prices are out of the way for another nine months, attention is focusing on US shale oil production, the slowing global economy, the US-China trade dispute, and the increasingly serious effects of climate change.
After a week of rampant speculation about what could happen at the G20 summit that would affect oil prices, the announcement on Saturday that the US and China have agreed to keep the current tariffs in place for now and would resume trade negotiations left the situation about where it has been for months. President Putin announced that Russia and its friends would join Saudi Arabia in extending the OPEC production cut for another six to nine months eliminating the drama from the formal OPEC+ meeting that will take place early this week. Oil prices were up a bit for the week settling at $64.74 in London and $58.47 in New York.
Until last Thursday, the oil markets largely ignored the increasing tensions between the US and Iran, including the attacks on six oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Then Iran downed an unmanned US surveillance drone, and oil prices soared on the possibility that a war which could potentially halt the 18 million b/d of oil exports was imminent. After a day of vacillation, Washington backed off a retaliatory attack on Iran, allowing the situation to cool. By week’s end US crude was up 10 percent closing at $57.43 in New York and $65.20, or about 5 percent, in London.
Brent futures dropped steadily for the first three days last week, falling to a low below $60 on Wednesday before the attack on two oil tankers just south of the Straits of Hormuz. Prices then rebounded to close the week at $62.01. New York futures performed similarly, closing out the week at $52.51. Many observers commented on the relatively mild market reaction to the tanker attacks. Considering that a third of the world’s seaborne exports (some 18 million b/d) pass through the straits, many expected to see prices move much higher. The US and the Saudis already are saying that Iran was responsible for the attacks, while Tehran denies any involvement.
US oil prices sank into bear market territory on Wednesday, falling more than 20 percent below the April peak. Traders were concerned that a 6.8-million-barrel build in US crude stocks indicated lower prices ahead. The markets rebounded on Thursday and Friday on news that a settlement in the Mexican border dispute was in the offing and that the OPEC+ production cut was likely to be extended for six months. London futures closed at $63.29 and New York at $53.99. London, however, is trading about $10 below where it was in the middle of May. As has been the case for months, the markets are caught between sagging economic growth, which would hurt demand, and production outages in Venezuela, Iran, and potentially in Libya.
Oil prices fell on Friday posting their biggest monthly drop in six months, after President Donald Trump threatened tariffs on imports from Mexico. Unless the Mexican government stops people from illegally crossing into the US, he would impose a 5 percent tariff on imports starting on June 10th that would increase monthly, up to 25 percent on Oct. 1. Following the threat Brent crude futures fell $2.38, or 3.6 percent, to settle at $64.49 a barrel and New York futures fell $3.09 to $53.50 a barrel, a 5.5 percent loss. Brent touched a session low of $64.37 a barrel, lowest since March 8. WTI hit $53.41 a barrel, weakest since Feb. 14. During May Brent futures posted an 11 percent slide and WTI 1 percent, their largest monthly losses since November.
Oil prices plunged on Friday with New York futures falling about $5 a barrel. Precipitating the fall were concerns that there is no end in sight to the US-China trade war and that the global economy could slow by enough to affect oil demand. Prices rebounded about 1 percent on Friday but closed out the week at $58.62 in New York and $68.20 in London for their biggest weekly drop of the year. US crude oil inventories rose by 4.7 million barrels the week before last, hitting their highest levels since July 2017, mainly due to abnormally low refinery runs (89.9 percent of capacity) for this time of the year.
The struggle between fears that the US sanctions will lead to an oil shortage and the intensifying US-China trade war will lead to a depression continued last week. Oil prices fell on Monday, climbed smartly for three days, and then fell again on Friday as the trade war took a turn for the worse. The week ended with prices higher — $62.76 in New York and $72.21 in London.
Uncertainty was the watchword of the week as oil traders juggled the faltering US/China trade deal, increasing tensions in the Middle East, and falling US crude stocks. Oil futures gyrated in a narrow range closing at $70.62 in London and $61.68 in New York with a small weekly loss. The EIA reported a 4-million-barrel drop in US crude inventories the week before last, and there remains a question as to how fast US oil production is increasing. Brent crude futures have opened up a steep backwardation, evidence that the physical market for crude is tightening. Given that Iranian exports are plunging, Russia’s are temporarily lower due to contaminated oil, and the future of Libyan and Venezuelan oil exports is cloudy, higher oil prices would seem to be coming. Some financial institutions are bullish for oil.
After climbing more than $20 a barrel from $52 in late December to nearly $75 on April 23rd, prices have fallen back so that Brent closed at $70.85 on Friday. Despite threats to the oil supply from the geopolitical situations in Iran, Libya, Venezuela, and Nigeria, prices have been falling for the last two weeks. Last week prices fell to recent lows after the US stocks’ reports showed unexpected crude oil builds for two weeks in a row and EIA said that US oil production was growing again after holding steady for two weeks. It takes about 60 days to compile accurate US production data. EIA estimates and forecasts of US production have been a bit shaky of late so we will not know if the prediction that US shale oil output grew by 84,000 b/d to a record of 8.4 million in March is correct until the end of this month.
Last week began with oil prices continuing to climb on concerns that tightening sanctions on Iran would cut oil supplies. Brent crude touched $75 for a short time after Moscow announced that it was halting some crude shipments to Europe due to contaminated pipelines. Thursday afternoon market sentiment reversed, and prices plunged circa $3 a barrel to close at $62.86 in New York and $71.61 in London on Friday. The price drop was helped by a presidential tweet that said “Spoke to Saudi Arabia and others about increasing oil flow. All are in agreement.”
Oil prices continued to climb slowly last week with Brent closing just below $72 a barrel, a new high for the year, and New York futures closed $8 a barrel lower at $64. Prices are still about $13 a barrel below the 2018 high of $85 set last October. The news last week was generally bullish with the Saudis reporting an official 277,000 b/d drop in February, Iran having trouble selling its oil, Venezuela’s production continuing to fall, and the prospect that the civil war in Libya seems likely to reduce its exports. China reported that its massive dose of pump priming appears to have stabilized its economic slowdown for now and Washington keeps talking about an end to the China-US trade dispute.
Oil prices continued to creep up last week closing out at $71.55 in London and $63.89 in New York, making the sixth consecutive week of gains. If you have been watching your gas pumps lately, you have noted that regular is up 30 cents a gallon in the last month to average $2.83 in the US. In California, however, regular is just about $4 a gallon and is going for $4.62 in one county.
Prices have climbed steadily for the last three months closing on Friday above $60 a barrel in New York and $67 in London. The combination of slowing US shale oil drilling and the Venezuela, Iran, and the OPEC+ situations continue to outweigh the bad economic news that may someday lower demand. The situation in Venezuela gets worse every day, and it seems likely that the country will see a significant drop in production and exports during March.
“This [Exxon] is the company that denied the [climate] science, despite knowing the damage their oil exploitation was causing; which funded campaigns to block action on climate and now refuses to face up to its environmental crimes by attending today’s hearing. We cannot allow the lobbyists from such corporations free access to the corridors of the European parliament. We must remove their badges immediately.”
Molly Scott Cato, member of EU parliament
Prices climbed for the first three trading days last week on the perception that oil supplies were tightening due to the OPEC+ cuts, the US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, and a 9.6-million-barrel decline in US crude stocks. Prices in London closed on Wednesday at $68.50 — a four-month high. However, market sentiments changed on Thursday and Friday as fears of an economic slowdown hit the equity and oil markets. Signals from the Federal Reserve that there may not be any more interest rate increases this year contributed to the idea that harder economic times are ahead. A report on Friday showed factory output in the eurozone fell in March at the fastest pace in nearly six years, while US manufacturing activity slipped to its lowest level in almost two years.
“Total open interest has fallen by twenty percent, as can be seen from the figure [below]. Swap dealer short positions have also contracted. The message is clear: producers are hedging less, and they are hedging less because they expect to produce less. The statistics point to a one to two-million-barrel decline in production from the frackers. Some but not all this loss may be made up by the increased activity of firms such as Exxon. In short, the growth in US oil output is about to be reversed.
Philip Verleger, energy analyst
The struggle between a weakening global economy and the shrinking availability of oil supplies seems to be tipping in favor of the latter as oil prices slowly make their way higher. The electric power disruption in Venezuela has combined with the US sanctions on Iran and Venezuela and reports that the rapid increase in US shale oil production to add a bullish tone to the oil markets. Last week oil prices climbed $1-2 a barrel to close at $67 in London and $58 in New York. Last week a new EIA forecast cast doubt on the optimistic projections for US shale oil production which was slated to increase from 11.9 million b/d at the end of 2018 to 13.5 million by the end of 2020.
“All the climate arguments are real, urgent and important.”
Spencer Dale, group chief economist at supermajor BP, told the Washington Post.
The struggle between declining economic growth and falling oil supplies continued to affect oil prices last week. The failure of a significant portion of Venezuela’s electricity grid has already been a significant blow to the country’s roughly 1 million b/d of oil production, and the situation seems likely to get worse. However, part of this decline could be offset by the return to production of Libya’s 300,000 b/d Sharara oilfield after being offline for three months.
“The once-powerful partnership between fracking companies and Wall Street is fraying as the industry struggles to attract investors after nearly a decade of losing money. Frequent infusions of Wall Street capital have sustained the US shale boom. But that largess is running out. New bond and equity deals have dwindled to the lowest level since 2007. Companies raised about $22 billion from equity and debt financing in 2018, less than half the total in 2016 and almost one-third of what they raised in 2012.
Bradley Olson and Rebecca Elliott, Wall Street Journal, 2/24/19