Thursday, July 16, 2015

Crude take: $60 Brent price is (still) about right

Does the Iranian nuclear settlement make a $60 per barrel Brent price seem too optimistic as a median level for the current year - that's the question on most oil market observers' minds. Even before delving into City chatter, the Oilholic believes the answer to that question in a word is ‘no’.

For starters, the settlement which had been on the cards, has already been priced in to a certain extent despite an element of unpredictability. Secondly, as yours truly noted in a Forbes column - it will take better parts of 12 months for Iran to add anywhere near 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), and some 18 months to ramp up production to 500,000 bpd.

Following news of the agreement, Fitch Ratings noted that details of the condition of Iran's production infrastructure might well be sketchy, but with limited levels of investment, it is likely that only a portion of previous capacity can be brought back onstream without further material reinvestment. 

“We would expect to see some increases in production throughout the course of 2016 but that this would be much less than half of the full 1.4 million bpd that was lost,” said Alex Griffiths, Managing Director at the ratings agency.

“It will require significant investment and expertise - for which Iran is likely to want to partner with international oil companies. These projects typically take many months to agree, as oil companies and governments manoeuvre for the best terms, and often years to implement.”

Thirdly, it is also questionable whether Tehran actually wants to take the self-defeating step of ‘flooding’ the market even if it could. The 40 million or so barrels said to be held in storage by the country are likely to be released gradually to get the maximum value for Tehran’s holdings. Fourthly, the market is betting on an uptick in demand from Asia despite China's recent woes. The potential uptick wont send oil producers' pulses racing but would provide some pricing comfort to the upside.

Finally, IEA and others, while not forecasting a massive decline, are factoring in lower non-OPEC oil production over the fourth quarter of this year. Collectively, all of this is likely to provide support to the upside. The Oilholic’s forward projection is that Brent could flirt with $70 on the right side of Christmas, but the median for 2015 is now likely to come in somewhere between $60-$62.5

Yet many don’t agree, despite the oil price returning to largely where it was actually within the same session's trading itself on day of the Iran announcement. For instance, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch still feel Iran could potentially raise production back up by 700,000 bpd over the next 12 months, adding downside pressure on forward oil prices of $5-$10 per barrel. 

On the other hand, analysts at Barclays don't quite view it that way and the Oilholic concurs. Like Fitch, the bank’s team neither see a huge short-term uptick in production volumes nor the oil price moving “markedly lower” from here as a result of the Iranian agreement.

“We believe that the market will begin to adjust, whether through higher demand, or lower non-OPEC supply in the next couple years but only once Iran’s contribution and timing are made clear. For now, OPEC is already producing well above the demand for its crude, and this makes it worse,” Barclays analysts wrote to their clients. 

“We do not expect the Saudis to do anything markedly different. Rather, they will take a wait and see approach.”

One thing is for sure, lower oil prices early on in the third quarter would have as detrimental an effect on the quarterly median, as early January prices did on the first quarter median (see above right, click to enlarge). End result is quite likely to ensure the year-end average would be in the lower $60s. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

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