Brent crude oil rises for a sixth day as supplies tighten amid strong demand

CNBC

  • Oil markets have been lifted by supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), but the potential of renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran is also pushing prices higher.

Brent crude oil rose for sixth day on Tuesday, passing $75 a barrel, on expectations that supplies will tighten because fuel is rising at the same time the United States may impose sanctions against Iran and OPEC-led output cuts remain in place.

Brent crude oil futures climbed to as high as $75.20 a barrel in early trading on Tuesday, the highest since Nov. 27, 2014. Brent was still at $75 a barrel at 0311 GMT up 29 cents, or 0.4 percent, from its last close.

Brent’s six-day rising streak is the most since a similar string of gains in December and it is up by more than 20 percent from its 2018 low in February.

Oil Russia

Sergei Karpukhin | Reuters

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $68.98 a barrel, up 34 cents, or 0.5 percent from their last settlement. On Thursday, WTI rose to as high as $69.56, the most since Nov. 28, 2014.

Markets have been lifted by supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which were introduced in 2017 with the aim of propping up the market.

The potential of renewed U.S. sanctions against Iran is also pushing prices higher.

Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia/Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA said new sanctions against Tehran “could push oil prices up as much as $5 per barrel.”

The United States has until May 12 to decide whether it will leave the Iran nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions against OPEC’s third-largest producer, which would further tighten global supplies.

“Crude prices are now sitting at the highest levels in three years, reflecting ongoing concerns around geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, which is the source of nearly half of the world’s oil supply,” ANZ bank said.

OPEC’s efforts to tighten markets are being led by top exporter Saudi Arabia, where state-controlled oil firm Saudi Aramco is pushing for higher prices ahead of a partial listing planned for later this year or 2019.

“Oil strength is coming from Saudi Arabia’s recent commitment to get oil back up to between $70 to $80 per barrel as well as inventory levels that are back in the normal range,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia’s Rivkin Securities.

OPEC’s supply curtailments and the threat of new sanctions are occurring just as demand in Asia, the world’s biggest oil consuming region, has risen to a record as new and expanded refineries start up from China to Vietnam.

One of the few factors that has limited oil prices from surging even more is U.S. production, which has shot up by more than a quarter since mid-2016 to over 10.54 million barrels per day (bpd), taking it past Saudi Arabia’s output of around 10 million bpd.

As a result of its rising output, U.S. crude is increasingly appearing on global markets, from Europe to Asia, undermining OPEC’s efforts to tighten the market.

Oil steady as US drilling tempers bullish sentiment

CNBC

  • Oil prices were steady on Monday.
  • A rising U.S. rig count pointed to further increases in the country’s output.
  • Prices are also being supported by the supply cuts led by OPEC that were introduced in 2017.

Getty Images

Oil prices were steady on Monday as a rising U.S. rig count pointed to further increases in American output, marking one of the few factors tamping back crude in an otherwise bullish environment.

Brent crude oil futures were at $74.07 per barrel at 0354 GMT, virtually unchanged from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 3 cents at $68.37 a barrel.

U.S. drillers added five oil rigs drilling for new production in the weekended April 20, bringing the total count to 820, highest since March 2015, according to General Electric’s Baker Hughes energy services firm.

The rising rig numbers point to further increases in U.S. crude production, which is already up a quarter since mid-2016 to a record 10.54 million barrels per day (bpd).

Only Russia produces more at almost 11 million bpd.

Despite the dips in crude oil on Monday, the overall market remains well supported, especially by strong demand in Asia, and Brent prices are up by 20 percent from their 2018 lows in February.

Prices are also being supported by the supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that were introduced in 2017 to prop up the market.

“Added price pressure comes from U.S. sanctions against the key oil exporting nations of Venezuela, Russia and Iran,” said J.P. Morgan Asset Management Global Market Strategist Kerry Craig. He was referring to action the U.S. government has taken on Russian companies and individuals, as well as on potential new measures against struggling Venezuela and especially OPEC-member Iran.

“Stay long oil,” U.S. bank J.P. Morgan said in a separate note to clients. The United States has until May 12 to decide whether it will leave the Iran nuclear deal and instead impose new sanctions against Tehran, including potentially on its oil exports, which would further tighten global supplies.

Trump shouldn't call on OPEC for lower oil

Trump shouldn’t call on OPEC for lower oil  

The U.S. trade action against Russia and, potentially, against Iran has resulted in a slump in Russia’s ruble and Iran’s rial.

This means costs for any imported goods become more expensive for its citizens or companies, but it has also pushed up the value of Russia’s and Iran’s oil sales as all of their production costs are in the local currencies, while foreign sales are virtually all made in the U.S. dollar.

The generally elevated oil prices have also sparked a spat between U.S. President Donald Trump and producer cartel OPEC.

Trump on Friday accused OPEC of “artificially” boosting oil prices, threatening on Twitter that this “will not be accepted”, drawing rebukes from several of the world’s top oil exporters within OPEC.

OPEC who? US oil producers are moving into the Asian market

CNBC

  • In a shakeup to the established order, U.S. crude oil exporters are moving more cargoes toward Asia
  • Exports from U.S. “tight oil” extracted from shale formations alone may swell to over 3 million barrels a day by 2022 — with a third of that volume absorbed by Asia, said one economist

Workers aboard a Shell platform in 2013 as it sails away for the Mars B Field in the Gulf of Mexico.

Eddie Seal | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Workers aboard a Shell platform in 2013 as it sails away for the Mars B Field in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mars and Poseidon are coming to Asia.

That is, those two varieties of U.S.-produced crude oil are spearheading American exporters’ direct challenge to OPEC for market share in Asia.

In a shakeup to the established order, U.S. crude oil exporters are moving more cargoes toward high-growth Asia as they capitalize on favorable price differentials and as supply curbs by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries force Gulf producers to withdraw from their traditional demand heartland.

That’s good news for Asian buyers who benefit from a more diversified basket of crude oil on offer and as competition between suppliers drives down prices.

“See it as a bigger buffet table for Asian refiners who have more supply options and sellers to engage with,” said John Driscoll, director of JTD Energy Services in Singapore and a former oil trader whose career spans nearly 40 years.

India received its first American oil cargo of 1.6 million barrels on Oct. 2, the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. in June where he negotiated contracts to supply three Indian refineries with nearly 8 million barrels.

‘Markets 101’

All of this change was kicked off when the Obama administration lifted a 40-year-old ban on exporting domestic oil in December 2015.

Now, more U.S. crude is on the way if market economics stay favorable.

One of the decisive factors dictating global oil flows is the price gap between two international benchmarks: Brent crude oil and U.S. counterpart West Texas Intermediate. Typically, the higher Brent’s premium is over WTI, the stronger the pull for lower-priced U.S. crude from outside buyers.

The gap between Brent and WTI hit its widest level in two years in early October at over $6.00 a barrel. That spread “is the one everyone hones in,” said Driscoll, though other differentials are also closely monitored by oil traders for clues generating possible arbitrage leads, as is the gap between U.S. Mars crude oil – increasingly seen as a key export grade – and WTI.

And exporting is an increasingly popular option: U.S. crude exports rose to a record 1.98 million barrels a day in the week ending September 29.

That’s “classic Oil Markets 101,” said Michael Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale, “too much crude in the U.S. and too little crude elsewhere means that U.S. prices weaken relative to global prices, and exports increase to address the imbalance.”

OPEC on notice

Exports from U.S. “tight oil” extracted from shale formations alone may swell to over 3 million barrels a day by 2022 — with a third of that volume absorbed by Asia — said Ed Rawle, chief economist at Wood Mackenzie.

That signals a change in the energy world order as OPEC influence wanes. Some energy commentators believe the fracking boom has helped the U.S. take the title of the world’s “swing” producer from Saudi Arabia. The Americans, it’s thought, now possess the capacity to respond to fluctuations in market demand.

As tankers laden with U.S. crude move eastwards, OPEC is sure to take notice.

“Traditional OPEC suppliers will need to watch this space and price their crude competitively as up to 50 percent of incremental crudes into Asia could come from non-OPEC,” Rawle said.

Whether more U.S. crude gets shipped east will hinge on how fast capacity can be added to key U.S. export terminals such as the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, America’s only deep-water tanker port in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The emergence of the U.S. as a significant exporter to Europe or Asia will only be progressive and contingent on the development of Gulf Coast export capacity and crude price differentials remaining favorable,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, global head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas. “For now, these exports remain opportunistic.”