Crude markets have seen a wave of bullish news in the last couple of weeks, and as tensions in the Middle East continue to rise and Venezuela falls further into crisis, upward pressure on prices is only increasing.
Iran continues to dominate the headlines, keeping WTI above $71 per barrel and Brent at $77 per barrel as of early trading on Friday. The exchange of airstrikes between Iran and Israel is also adding to the tension. Meanwhile, aside from the huge increase in U.S. oil production, the EIA reported some bullish figures this week – a decline in both crude oil and gasoline inventories by more than expected.
OPEC sees Iranian outage as not immediate. Any loss of supply from Iran due to U.S. sanctions will take time, and OPEC won’t rush to increase output in the interim, sources told Reuters. The steep losses from Venezuela combined with the potential disruption in Iran could force OPEC to adjust production levels earlier than it had expected. But because U.S. sanctions don’t really take effect until November, OPEC is not scrambling just yet. “I think we have 180 days before any supply impact,” an OPEC source said. They will meet in Vienna in a month to evaluate the current status of the oil market and the production limits.
Short-term supply glut eases Iran fears. Although supply outages from Iran could severely tighten the oil market, Bloomberg reports that there is currently a bit of a supply glut, which should prevent a sudden price spike. Oil traders have reported unsold cargoes in north-west Europe, the Mediterranean, China and West Africa. The sudden emergence of a temporary glut is reflected in the Brent timespreads, with the July-August spread falling from 63 cents per barrel last month to just 24 cents per barrel this week, a five-month low. The narrowing of the spread is a “sure sign of an oversupplied market,” Bloomberg reports. However, timespreads further out are widening, a sign that the market expects things to tighten up towards the end of the year.
What will top buyers of Iranian oil do? China is the largest single buyer of oil from Iran at about 700,000 bpd. South Korea comes in second at a little over 250,000 bpd. The Trump administration’s plan of squeezing Iran hinges on the decisions made by these buyers. They have until November to reduce their purchases, although the U.S. Treasury told them to begin immediately. Still, it will be tough for U.S. diplomats to convince them. A spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that “normal, transparent and pragmatic cooperation with Iran” would continue.
Global Energy Advisory May 11th 2018
The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is now a fact and the market has reacted as expected, namely with a knee-jerk reaction that saw Brent and WTI both jump by over 2 percent a day after President Trump made his announcement and continue climbing up.
The implications of the U.S. withdrawal are multi-faceted. That sanctions will return, cutting a portion of Iranian exports off global markets is only one facet. Another is that Trump’s decision sets U.S. Middle Eastern policy on a different course from the United States’ Western European allies, who are still committed to upholding the deal. A third, and perhaps the most serious, is that tensions in the Middle East will rise now.
With regard to oil prices and fundamentals, most analysts agree that the gravity of the effect U.S. sanctions against Iran will have is questionable. While some U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea will likely opt not to anger their Big Brother and stop importing oil from Iran, others, such as China and India, will continue buying Iranian crude as they are not dependent on the United States for their national security.
Yet interestingly enough, South Korea is now looking for ways to continue importing Iranian crude, its economic ministry said a day after Trump’s announcement. Japan, for its part, has joined the European signatories in the Iran deal in condemning the U.S. President’s decision.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has signaled it is ready to start pumping more oil again in order to prevent a shortage on oil markets caused by the reduction in Iranian exports. It is still too early, however, to talk about a shortage: there is a 30-million-barrel overhang in global crude supplies. It is obvious, though, how the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal will benefit Saudi Arabia, which has been sacrificing market share to prop up prices with deeper than agreed cuts under the OPEC+ agreement.