At the time of writing, crude oil is trading at USD 32.51/bbl and USD 29.04/bbl on the Brent and WTI spot markets respectively. Both oil benchmarks have lost around 14% and 22% respectively year to date and have dropped to their 2004 levels.
Towards the end of January and in early February, oil markets registered a brief rally. It has now expired despite the encouraging news that US unconventional oil production is falling and discussions between OPEC and Russia to reduce oil supply, with the publication of new OECD data showing higher oil & distillates inventories and rising risks of global recession. This sent spot oil markets plummeting 8% in London and 12% in New York in the first two weeks of February.
The oil market imbalance is set to persist throughout the year, though easing gradually in the second half of 2016.
The latest news of the talks between Saudi Arabia and Russia is that they have agreed to freeze their oil production if they are joined by other major producers. Subject to a broader and more definite agreement, we forecast that Brent crude oil will average USD 40/bbl in six months’ time.
In terms of demand, despite mounting concerns surrounding Europe and emerging markets, the three forecasters (EIA, AIE, OPEC) that the market follows stand by their expectations for 2016. Global demand should increase by 1.2 MMbbl/d to 95.6 MMbbl/d following stellar growth of 1.9 MMbbl/d in 2015.
Emerging countries represent more than 52% of global demand. They have been the drivers of global demand for the last ten years, and should remain so despite the weakness of China’s demand. The IEA expects oil demand to increase in 2016 by 1.1 MMbbl/d (2.3%) to 49.4 MMbbl/d for non-OECD countries and by 3.1% (vs. 5.6% in 2015) to 11.6 MMbbl/d only for China.
The IEA expects OECD demand to remain flatwhile the EIA and OPEC are forecasting a rise of just 0.2% y/y. In the US, total liquid fuel consumption is forecast by the EIA to increase by 0.8%, compared to 2015.
As for the supply, after expanding by 2.6 MMbbl/d in 2015, global oil supply should increase only slightly, by 0.5 MMbbl/d to 96.8 MMbbl/d, in 2016.
In 2016, non-OPEC supply should decline by around 0.7 MMbbl/d to 57 MMbbl/d. The global downside will be driven by lower US unconventional supply and complemented by decreasing production in China, Norway and the North Sea area. Crude oil production by the seven major US shale players is expected to fall in February by 116,000 bbl/d to 4.83 MMbbl/d, according to the EIA.
Lastly, OPEC production in 2016 should increase by 0.9 MMbbl/d to 32.9 MMbbl/d, up from 30.9 MMbbl/d in 2015. Iran might also increase its supply by 0.5 MMbbl/d following the lifting of the sanctions.
Opinion column by Erasmo Rodriguez, Equities Analyst at Union Bancaire Privée (UBP), specialiced in Energy and Utilities sectors.