Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus lockdowns & crude oversupply

What a week it has been for humankind in general, let alone the commodities and equities market. Since the Oilholic arrived back to London from Houston on March 14, in a matter of days whole towns, cities, metropolitan areas, regions and countries have gone into lockdown mode around the world, with the coronavirus or Covid-19 having spread to over 100 countries.

After China, where the outbreak originated at the start of the year, now Iran, Italy, Spain and South Korea are in its grip. Heightened alarm about the spread of the coronavirus has seen European Union nations, Canada and the US close borders. Whole airlines are grounded, restaurants, pubs, bars and shops are shut, and workers in many sectors in several nations have been advised to work from home with restrictions slapped on venturing out.

Under similar circumstances and restrictions imposed in London (effective March 23) comes this missive from the Oilholic's living room. The last few weeks have alternated between how much of a demand slump the coronavirus would cause to what impact the collapse of OPEC+ would have over the near-term.

Such conjecture misses the wider point. Events have overtaken OPEC+ and are now largely beyond its control, and what we are witnessing is not just a demand slump but a total near-term collapse. Most oil demand forecasters are now predicting a 2020 demand shrinkage of around 155,000 barrels per day (bpd) instead of demand growth. Under the circumstances, that might be too optimistic.

From where the Oilholic sits, we could see a shrinkage of 250,000 bpd instead of a projected demand growth of 1.2 million bpd prior to the outbreak. Consider this - of the big five crude importers, China, which imports on average a whopping 14 million bpd, has had a lousy first quarter, and is likely to have disappointing or muted second and third quarters. Japan and South Korea are likely to import less, as will the US.

India, the one economy many were pinning their hopes, as a demand driver for 2020 prior to the coronavirus outbreak has also just gone into a lockdown effective Tuesday (March 24) for 21 days.

The country imports an average of 5 million bpd. So in three weeks alone, India won't be needing around ~ 100 million barrels with the negative impact spread over parts of the first and second quarters. Away from the big five, OECD demand remains as low as ever and is likely to head lower on temporary lockdowns from Poland to Australia.

And in the face of this demand crisis, is the issue of oversupply that has arisen in the wake of the collapse of the OPEC+ with Saudi Arabia, Russia and other OPEC and non-OPEC producers vowing to pump more. For now, after posting declines of 20-30% week-over-week, Brent and WTI futures have settled in the $20-30 range following US stimulus measures to combat the coronavirus.

That may well prove to be a temporary reprieve after the extent of the supply glut, somewhere in the region of 10 million bpd in unwanted crude oil, becomes clearer. As for what it means for oil and gas companies large and small - here is the Oilholic's take via Forbes, as players bunker down for $20 oil prices and prepare to write of 2020. That's all for the moment folks! Stay safe! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2020. Photo © Royal Dutch Shell, Oman.

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