Bullish Predictions for Oil Tempered by Possibility of Near-Term Prices in the Low $40s

Tuesday April 18, 2017

Despite many nations pumping full out and numbers that suggest the supply and demand market is far from balanced, Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclays, told Bloomberg television that "we see further upside" in prices "during this quarter."

However, he added that expectations of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will lead to temporary pain for many market players: "In the very short term, what we've said is that given the alignment of views around an OPEC rollover - or in other words an extension of the [production] cuts - we think there's an opportunity to see a short term downside correction just because everyone believes they're going to roll over, so any doubts around that by any of the OPEC ministers, or the Saudis, or Iranians, could lead to a correction lower, and our analysis shows that it could be in the mid $40s or even to the low $40s."

Cohen added that for the most part, OPEC ministers "are trying to ensure they protect the floor going into the summer ... it's hard to see prices stay at a low level in the $40s, but it's definitely something we could see for a short period of time."

Short term pain notwithstanding, Barclays is one of several respected venues leaning towards a bullish forecast for oil: Jason Schenker, president of Prestige Economics LLC, said, "The outlook is improving regardless of the high level in overall inventories"; he bases his optimism on "an increasing likelihood that on May 25 OPEC will agree to extend production cuts" and the fact that "the OPEC meeting will take place just before the Memorial Day holiday, which is the start of the summer driving season."

John Kilduff, founding partner of Again Capital, agrees: "There's renewed faith that OPEC and non-OPEC will be able to get global inventories lower," he told Bloomberg, adding, "we're also looking forward to the ramp-up of refineries before the summer driving season, which will also help lower crude inventories."

While the alternation between bullish and bearish forecasts now occur almost daily and are frequently spurred by rumour instead of fact, at least one analyst has his eye glued firmly on the rock solid reality of fundamentals - and on that score, he doesn't like what he sees.

Julian Lee, oil strategist for Bloomberg First Word, notes that "the grand re-balancing of supply and demand has yet to take place" and that "the OPEC output cut was also meant to usher in a period when demand would start running ahead of supply, and when inventories would be reduced."

But OPEC data shows global inventories increasing by 430,000 barrels per day (bpd)in the first quarter of this year: "The world is still over-supplied with oil, according to its biggest producer nations," Lee writes.

Moreover, "OPEC sees a world with supply still running ahead of demand, which will add about 280,000 bpd more to inventories."

Lee concedes that If the six-month output cut is extended, inventories could be drawn down at a rate of about 1.2 million bpd in the third quarter of 2017; "But extending the cuts will be painful for producers.

"Many, within OPEC and outside, have brought forward planned maintenance (which involves shutting production) to help reach their targets: they won't be able to repeat that trick later in the year."

In terms of prices, most experts maintain that we'll be rangebound for the rest of the year: such is the view of Phillip Streible, senior marker strategist at RJO Futures, who recently remarked, "I think $54 is going to be the high end of the range; $47 if we just see the floor drop."