Virtual oil reality

Crude oil bears must face virtual reality as OPEC says that the global oil glut is “virtually” gone. Now there are reports that the Saudi oil minister Khalid al Falih wants to reduce stockpiles even further. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak is on board saying that Russia was committed to a deal on cutting oil supplies until the end of 2018, no matter what. The biggest oil glut of all time, which was close to 380 million barrels during the five-year average, has dwindled to a mere 12 million barrels, which is just about 8 hours of daily oil consumption. The glut is virtually gone and while OPEC is happy, President Donald Trump is not.

Trump tweeted ”Looks like OPEC is at it again. With record amounts of oil all over the place, including the fully-loaded ships at sea, oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” What he will do about it is a different question. 

Still, Khalid Al-Falih complains that oil inventories are still above where they were before the downturn, "The inventory drawdown needs to continue" but "we are not decided yet on precisely what is the target." He says that Saudi Arabia maintains 1.5-2 mil barrel a day of spare capacity, but others must help. "The kingdom cannot take on the burden single-handedly. We expect other countries to work with us to reciprocate the burden that the kingdom maintains on behalf of the industry." 

Yet, it is not just OPEC that has erased the glut. It has really been a demand story that has driven prices, we believe that major reporting agencies have been underestimating demand and demand growth. We believe that global demand is above estimates. Next year that demand growth should continue. We should see growth of well over two million barrels of oil a day, an amount that shale oil producers will be hard-pressed to raise production anywhere near those levels. Even then, there could be growing logistical issues and the light quality of the oil will keep us hard-pressed to meet demand.

WTI oil has weakened versus Brent after Genscape reported a rebound in Cushing, Okla., stocks. Oil could surge if OPEC and Non-OPEC announce an extension and even now the market is hoping for it, though it probably won’t happen today. If they do announce an extension, it is not really expected. Rig counts may give us a jump either way but there is still “the not wanting to be short over the weekend” trade.

This comes as Reuters and The Wall Street Journal report that hedge funds have never been more bullish on oil. The Journal also reported that hedge funds and other big money managers increased their net-long position—a bet on rising prices—in Brent to the highest level since records started in 2011, according to data from Intercontinental Exchange Inc. Bets on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil price gauge, are also near a record, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Some worry that may mean the oil is ripe for a correction. Others say that the funds have got it right as they see the historic supply slide continuing and global demand rising. Natural gas saw a draw of 35 bcf’ s as winter weather caught the supply side by surprise. Yet, even with the bullish drop., natural gas struggled as we may see some spring weather start to kick in. Thank God!

About the Author

Senior energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group and a Fox Business Network contributor.