Global Market Quick Take: Europe
Commodity Weekly: Crude production curbs and dollar strength in focus
Commitment of Traders: Crude long jumps on Saudi production cut; Dollar bears on the run
Brent crude oil has reached a fresh ten-month high near $93 while WTI is approaching $90 as OPEC+ production cuts continue to tighten the market thereby raising questions about the group's true intention. Saudi Arabia’s ‘stable and balanced market’ reason for cutting production rings increasingly hallow after OPEC in their monthly report said the market may experience a shortfall of 3.3m b/d in the fourth quarter, potentially driving the biggest deficit in more than a decade. With the EIA meanwhile only predicting a 230 kb/d shortfall, OPEC may find themselves being accused of trying to inflate prices to meet big spending plans among its members
While the IEA, just like the EIA saw a somewhat more moderate but still worrying supply deficit during the fourth quarter, the outlook for crude prices has turned decisively more supportive as it has became increasingly apparent that the main objective of successive OPEC+ production cuts in recent months has been in order to seek higher prices instead of their continued claim that the cuts are in order to keep the market stable and balanced.
Cuts have been led by Saudi Arabia which including its June 1 mb/d “lollipop” has cut its production by around 2 mb/d since last September, and at current export levels the Kingdom would need around $110 per barrel for its revenues to match what they generated before they started cutting production in June. So far this year, according to the IEA, OPEC+ production has fallen by 2 mb/d with overall losses being tempered by sharply higher Iranian flows. Rising prices have supported a production boost from non-OPEC+ suppliers by 1.9 mb/d to a record 50.5 mb/d.
The IEA also highlighted the current tightness is being felt even harder across refined fuel products: “Refinery margins hit an eight-month high in August as refiners struggled to keep up with oil demand growth, especially for middle distillates (diesel and jet fuel). Product cracks and margins reached near-record levels due to unplanned outages, feedstock quality issues, supply chain bottlenecks and low stocks. Sub-optimal crude allocations following embargoes on Russian crude and products and OPEC+ oil supply cuts have kept European and OECD Asian refinery runs well below year-earlier levels”.
Our price outlook needs to reflect the fact that the OPEC+ focus is more about price optimisation than price stability, and with that in mind, the short-term risk of a Brent move above $95 cannot be ruled out. However, while OPEC can control supply, they have limited influence on demand, and with inflationary pressures from higher energy prices on the rise again, the timing of peak rates may suffer another delay while later rate cuts may end up being less than expected. All developments that carry the risk of stagflation, i.e. low growth and stubbornly high inflation.
With OPEC production declining while the estimated production capacity holds steady, the available spare capacity has risen above 6 million barrels per day (Source: Bloomberg). Rising spare capacity and rising crude oil prices rarely go hand in hand that well, but given the current adherence by the major producers to the agreed production limits, the temptation to increase production seems limited at this stage. The high level also reflect the fact that the current tightness is driven by political decisions, not because the world is running out of oil.