Another Weekly Gain for Crude Prices Due to Perceived Market Tightening

Thursday April 18, 2019

The crucial question of whether the global crude supply is tightening or flowing over cannot be decided with any degree of authority by analysts, and as a result traders, swayed by conflicting headlines, have created a seesaw in pricing, with Thursday producing a very modest increase due to a drawdown in exports from Saudi Arabia.

More frustrating than fluctuating prices is the fact that the experts can't even seem to agree on the biggest risks facing the crude market; however, they concede that the market is becoming more sensitive to sudden or unexpected disruptions.

Key disruptions moving forward include fighting in Libya: Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, said, "Oil production in the country has yet to be disrupted however I suspect it is a matter of when not if; General Haftar and his eastern Libyan forces are determined to seize Tripoli, and with it comes the inevitable risk of supply outages."

Other disruptors include the U.S. sanctions against Iran, the current unpredictable nature of U.S. foreign policy, and ongoing concerns about the economy in China and its relations with the Americans.

But even so, some of the geopolitical tensions may have been oversold, for example, the widespread consensus is that the U.S. will never be able to force Iranian crude exports down to zero, thus putting into question whether the barrel losses will be big enough to counter massive production elsewhere in the world.

As demonstrated by Venezuela, U.S. sanctions can be circumnavigated: in the Bolivian republic's case, president Nicolas Maduro is reportedly funneling cash flow from Venezuelan oil sales through Russian state energy giant Rosneft, and for its part, Russia has publicly said the U.S. sanctions are illegal and it would work with Venezuela to mitigate them.

Crude analytical expertise for the foreseeable future seems to be confined to discussing daily trading influences, and on that score Thursday saw Brent settling up 35 cents at $71.97 per barrel (a weekly gain of 0.6 percent and the fourth consecutive weekly rise), while West Texas Intermediate settled up 24 cents to $64.00 per barrel - a weekly gain of just under 0.2 percent and its seventh consecutive weekly gain.

The gains were prompted by Saudi Arabia's crude oil exports falling by 277,000 barrels per day (bpd) to just under 7 million bpd in February from the month before; and by U.S. crude inventories unexpectedly declining this week, the first in four weeks, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Gene McGillian, vice president of market research at Tradition Energy, said, "I think it's pretty clear that tightening supplies and receding fears of demand growth is a boost to the market to these five month highs."