Where will petroleum prices voyage over the next several months? Although it is a difficult call benchmark NYMEX and Brent/North Sea crude oil prices probably are establishing a broad range. For NYMEX crude oil (nearest futures continuation), the range is roughly between $40-$45 and $65-$75 per barrel. On balance, crude oil prices probably will venture more to the middle to lower section of that range.
Petroleum’s supply/demand scene appears especially unsettled and uncertain. Navigating through that territory is challenging. However, “by itself (all else equal)”, the oil picture nowadays and for the near term looks bearish. Is OPEC’s new policy of reducing high-cost (non-OPEC) production succeeding? Not much so far. Despite the dive in drilling rig counts, OECD days coverage levels and the worldwide supply/demand balance for 2015 reveal plentiful petroleum.
Worldwide petroleum inventories generally are lofty and likely to remain so for the next several months. Though global oil consumption will edge up alongside rather modest economic growth, supply probably will exceed demand. Suppose benchmark Brent/North Sea prices (spot; or nearest futures continuation) sustain levels over $50 (and perhaps even $45) per barrel. Suppose non-OPEC production remains relatively high. Then OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, probably will not alter its current output policy aimed at capturing market share and reducing actual and planned high-cost production in the United States and elsewhere.
Within OPEC, and apart from the policies of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf States allies, production developments from several important nations remain conjectural. Consider Iran, Iraq, and Libya. For example, predicting the outcome of the Iranian nuclear negotiations is hazardous. But even if the talks drag out beyond the end of June 2015, they probably will have a relatively successful conclusion resulting in increased Iranian crude oil production. Iraqi output, despite its civil strife, probably will keep rising. Due to the Libyan civil war, production there currently has little room to fall further. Might it spout higher if a peace agreement is reached? Will Nigeria and Venezuela maintain their current production levels?
Noncommercial participants in petroleum playgrounds also influence oil price trends. Over the past several months, a substantial increase in the net noncommercial long position has helped to propel petroleum prices upward. However, given the oversupply situation in the petroleum battlefield, the net noncommercial length arguably is vulnerable. Its liquidation consequently will pressure oil prices lower.
Uncertainties for marketplace variables “outside” the oil patch of course intertwine with those inside it. These factors appear particularly tumultuous and complicated nowadays, making it especially difficult to forecast petroleum price trends and levels. Petroleum supply/demand and prices are hostage not only to economic growth trends, but also to movements in interest rates, stocks, and foreign exchange. Policies of the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank (currently engaged in massive money printing) and other major central banks matter. Will the Fed ever raise interest rates? What if American stocks ever slump more than ten percent? US dollar weakness in the past few weeks probably has supported oil prices. What if the broad real trade-weighted dollar renews its bull move?
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Oil's Troubled Waters (5-18-15)