Oil in 2016 Posted Best Showings Since 2009; But Storm Clouds Loom in the New Year

Friday December 30, 2016

Although Brent on Friday closed 3 cents lower at $56.82 per barrel and West Texas Intermediate closed down 5 cents to $53.72, overall in 2016 oil futures made their biggest annual gain since 2009.

Brent futures rose by over 52 percent in 2016, while WTI futures climbed 45 percent on the year, the best gains since the 2009 rally when Brent and WTI rose 78 percent and 71 percent respectively.

And despite growing apprehension that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia will not abide by their production cutback commitments, thus sabotaging oil's further climb in the New Year, Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group, told Bloomberg, "What a difference a year makes."

He added that compared to the end of 2015, the market is now "probably the most optimistic we are looking going into a new year in energy in many, many years."

Igor Yusufov, founder of the Fund Energy investment firm, called the rise in prices "proof of international credibility," for OPEC and partners.

But the credibility seems to be limited to the cartel's much-ballyhooed achievement earlier this year of agreeing to reduce output; next week it must begin delivering on its promise, and in this regard only the most optimistic observers - a tiny minority who also have forecast $100 oil in the near-term - think members and non-members will fully comply.

The general consensus is that many of the players will simply cook the books and state that they are complying when in fact no reductions are being enacted (Saudi Arabia's huge build-up of production in advance of the January start of the cutbacks has most frequently been cited as a possible example of paving the way for false claims).

Another crucial market element in 2017 is demand growth, and as is the case with forecasting what OPEC members will do, the experts diverge in their opinions of what the growth will be: analysts for JBC Energy said in a note to clients, "We see a big variation in demand growth assessments for 2017, ranging from plus 1.22 million barrels per day (bpd) ... to  plus 1.57 million bpd"; however, they agree that Asia will be the main engine for demand growth.

In contrast to Flynn and Yusufov, Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB Markets, is more reserved in his outlook for the New Year: "2016 was a dramatic oil year: [it] started very bearishly and ended very bullishly; 2017 is likely to be the opposite, but not quite as dramatic."