Oil Market Analysis

Brent oil futures hit a three year high on January 16th touching around USD 70.30 before falling back down to around USD 68.60 at the time of this publication, the former figure being the highest it has seen since December 2014.

According to Allied’s Research Analyst Gerry Lathrop, this has been in part due to the weakened US dollar, a massive decrease in the total global crude storage, as well as the highest rate of OPEC conformity to their oil production cuts, which was announced this past week in the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC), in Muscat, Oman. The committee is made up of OPEC and non-OPEC member states, and although its primary goal was not to discuss further production cuts, the question was on the table as to whether they would continue their plan through to 2019.

The answer to that is very much like a social media relationship status, “Its Complicated”. As previously mentioned, oil prices are hovering around a 3-year high, having increased by at least 10% since OPEC’s last meeting in Vienna this past November, and more than 50% from 6 months ago.

On the supply side, Gerry Lathrop said, the number of US oil rigs in 2017 and 2018 reached a new high, surpassing the number of rigs operating in 2016, and leading to a 16% rise in US oil production which peaked at around 9.75m b/d. The International Energy Agency on Friday raised its forecast for US production growth to 1.35m b/d for this year, making up by far the biggest chunk of supply growth outside of OPEC countries. The IEA then went on to say, US crude production is on course to overtake Saudi Arabia and rival Russia, as it made an upward revision on its 2018 growth forecast and stressed that “explosive” expansion in shale was offsetting OPEC-led supply cuts. The IEA, which is the latest body to raise US estimates, following the US energy department’s statistics arm and OPEC’s own research unit, has said: “This year promises to be a record-setting one for the US.”US growth of nearly 1.4m barrels a day, to a record 10.4m b/d, will help propel non-OPEC supply by 1.7m barrels a day in 2018 (Total output from outside the cartel is forecast to reach 59.8m b/d), dwarfing the level of supply cuts in OPEC crude output.

Gerry Lathrop further commented, but it’s not all smooth sailing for people in the downstream oil market, the recent OPEC-led rally in crude prices is hitting refinery profits hard, flashing warning signs over oil’s Bull Run. Higher oil prices typically quench consumption and squeeze profit margins at refiners that convert the feedstock into products. Benchmark profit margins in key refining hubs dropped sharply in recent weeks – by over 50% in the U.S. Gulf Coast and northwest Europe, Reuter’s data shows – increasing expectations that some refiners will reduce operating rates. However, a wave of refinery maintenance scheduled in spring could eventually put a downward pressure on crude itself. According to the IMF’s most recent upward revisions on its estimates for global economic growth, we are currently witnessing some of the strongest growth figures in years and these (relatively) low oil prices could well boost global oil consumption by a further 1.3m b/d this year, a number the IEA acknowledges is “conservative” compared with other forecasts. Others have predicted demand growth could approach 2m b/d this year, more than double the rate of 2011-2014. Given the above, 2018 could well prove to be the turning point in the tanker market that all of us have been hoping for or at least the spark that sets it in motion.


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