Monday, May 01, 2017

Of soundbites and buffer crude producers

If sounbites were the sole influencers of the oil market direction, Brent ought to be near $60 per barrel. (see chart on the left, click to enlarge

The fact that it isn’t, and couldn’t be any further from that promised level despite OPEC cuts tells you that verbal quips from oil producers matter little when the market is trying to readjust to a new normal; i.e. the impact of a buffer producer in the shape of the US of A.  

When OPEC and 11 non-OPEC producers came together last December to announce a headline production cut of 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd), it was done in the knowledge that inevitably US shale producers would benefit from higher prices too. 

However, the economic paradox of that was additional US barrels replacing barrels taken out by the OPEC and non-OPEC agreement. In March, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih ensured that the OPEC put unravelled by quipping that his country would not subsidise non-OPEC margin plays by supporting an extension of the OPEC and non-OPEC agreement, due to expire in June. 

The result was a near instantaneous drop in both benchmarks as the market factored in the possibility of more OPEC barrels. Soon thereafter, on witnessing the ensuing oil price slide, ministers of several OPEC member nations, including Al-Falih himself, issued soundbites claiming an extension to the cut was in fact possible. However, in the Oilholic’s humble opinion, the damage had already been done by that time. 

This blogger's interaction with the wider market – whether we are talking spot or futures traders – leads one to believe that sentiment is in favour of higher US production, with each OPEC and non-OPEC barrel taken out of the market subsidising an American barrel. Of course, it’s not as linear or simple but the market’s reasoning isn’t flawed.  

All OPEC soundbites in favour of extending the cartel’s cut further are fuelling such sentiment further. Should OPEC extend its cut, the artificial support to the oil price would again be short-lived, as US barrels will continue to flood into the market. 

Finally, the Oilholic believes the market is showing signs of rebalancing unless it is artificially tampered with, and there could be some semblance of normalcy by September-end. So as such neither is an OPEC cut needed nor are the soundbites in its favour. Perhaps the cartel might consider keeping mum for a change! That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2017. Graph: Oil benchmark prices year to date © Gaurav Sharma 2017.

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