Oil prices have risen far higher and faster than most analysts expected, with major banks now changing their forecasts as a perfect storm of factors forms around oil markets.
“The latest Brent rally has brought prices to our peak forecast of $67.5/bbl, three months early,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a note. The investment bank said that “resilient demand growth” and supply outages could push prices up to $70 per barrel in the near future. It’s a perfect storm: “supply loses are exceeding our expectations, demand growth is beating low consensus expectations with technicals supportive and net long positioning still depressed,” the bank said.
The outages in Venezuela could swamp the rebound in supply from Libya, Goldman noted. But the real surprise has been demand. At the end of 2018 and the start of this year, oil prices hit a bottom and concerns about global economic stability dominated the narrative. But, for now at least, demand has been solid. In January, demand grew by 1.55 million barrels per day (mb/d) year-on-year. “Gasoline in particular is surprising to the upside, helped by low prices, confirming our view that the weakness in cracks at the turn of the year was supply driven,” Goldman noted. “This comforts us in our above consensus 1.45 mb/d [year-on-year] demand growth forecast.”
Demand in China is growing at a stronger rate than expected, while other emerging markets are set to shake off a rough 2018 that saw a strong dollar, rising interest rates and high oil prices.
Meanwhile, other analysts are also similarly bullish. “As risky assets focused on macro concerns, oil markets have largely overlooked supply-side tightness in 1Q19 that has helped global oil markets to rebalance since the end of 2018,” JPMorgan Chase said in a report. “With a potential for a US-China trade talk resolution emerging, oil prices should finally break out of the narrow trading range and should be supported in the very near-term due to policy-driven supply-side tightness.”
A supply deficit could become rather significant, the bank said, with total oil products demand growth at 1.03 mb/d against supply growth of only 0.3mbd. The second quarter is particularly tight. “As OPEC+ cuts begin to bite and non-OPEC supply tightens in 1H19, due to Canadian curtailments, a temporary US production growth slowdown, and maintenance in some of the key global oil fields (Kashagan particularly), we expect 2Q19 to have a theoretical tightness of over 1.2mbd in global balances.” A supply deficit of 1.2 mb/d is rather notable given the roughly 1.5 mb/d surplus in the fourth quarter of last year, the bank said.
Both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan see the supply deficit fading in the second half of the year unless OPEC+ continues to over-comply with the production cuts. US shale could rebound from the current lull, while the fate of OPEC+ compliance is up in the air. “Hence, we think OPEC+ cuts will need to be extended not just to the end of 2019 but also into 2020 if they want to avoid another oil price crash,” JPMorgan wrote.
Of course, there is no shortage of uncertainty to these – or any other – price scenarios. In particular, the Trump administration will have a lot of influence over what unfolds this year in the oil market. Trump has helped exacerbate the crisis in Venezuela, where the output declines had somewhat stabilized late last year. Venezuela’s production fell by 142,000 bpd in February, while the losses this month have the potential to be even worse.
The US is also weighing the expiration of sanctions waivers on Iran, and the tight oil market could force Trump to extend some of them. The Department of Energy could also release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, while the US Congress is working on NOPEC legislation, which could threaten OPEC coordination. Moreover, it is unclear how OPEC+ might respond to any of those actions. For instance, Saudi Arabia could ramp up supply to crash prices in response to NOPEC being signed into law. Or, they could continue to over-comply with production cuts after making the mistake of abandoning them too early last year. The permutations are endless, so take each price forecast with a grain of salt.