Head of Commodity Strategy, Saxo Bank Group
Summary: The oil market's attention has shifted from crude stocks to the dramatic political situation unfolding in Venezuela where opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself acting president with several countries including the US and Brazil recognising him as head of state.
The Energy Information Administration, the International Energy Agency and Opec all kept their 2019 outlooks for global demand growth stable in January's oil market reports. Downward revisions, however, are now likely to surface following the mentioned downgrade from the IMF and the OECD’s composite leading indicator, which in November dropped to 99.3 points, a six-year low and a level that has previously signaled recession.
While the weakness during the past 24 hours was driven by forecasts for rising crude and product stocks, the market's attention has since shifted to Venezuela. President Maduro’s dreadful regime, which has driven the population into poverty and misery, is finally seeing a strong challenge from Juan Guaido, the elected leader of the National Assembly. He has declared himself acting president under article 233 of the Constitution, which authorises him to become interim president in the event of “serious misconduct” on the part of the elected president. Shortly after declaring himself as head of state, the US and other nations, including Canada and Brazil, recognised him as the rightful leader.
Maduro responded by cutting diplomatic relations with the US and ordering all personnel to leave within 72 hours. This was rebuffed by the US State Department with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issuing the following tweet with a link to the official statement:
The outcome of this uprising could have a major impact on the global oil market. The deteriorating economic outlook and lack of foreign investments in its ageing oil industry have triggered a collapse in production during the past few years. Venezuela’s abundant heavy crude reserves are just what the world needs at a time where the US barrel is getting lighter and lighter due to rising shale production.
A political and potentially a military stand-off with the US could trigger another drop in production while raising geopolitical tensions, not least considering the support Maduro enjoys in Moscow and Beijing. The longer-term outlook, should Maduro be deposed, could see production eventually return to its former level and beyond. In the short-term, the US may respond to an escalated situation by cutting imports of Venezuelan crude, currently around 500,000 barrels/day.
The first month WTI to gasoline spread trades at $6.25/bbl, the lowest since October 2013 and well below the five-year seasonal average above $14/bbl.
Rising gasoline stocks and falling refinery margins at a time of seasonal slowdown in refinery demand could cause a price negative rise in crude stocks.
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