OPEC Wants to Avoid a "Taper Tantrum"

July 13, 2020 07:38 AM
OPEC+considers raising output by 2 million BPD in August.
Baker Hughes report shows U.S. active oil rigs down to 181
Rbob Gasoline futures are bottoming
Energy Report

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The Phil Flynn Energy Report 

The Road Back

As global oil demand starts to recover, OPEC+ has a problem. How do they increase production to maintain market share and at the same time, not crash the market in a sea of oversupply? The Wall Street Journal, in an exclusive, suggests that OPEC+ is getting ready to raise output by 2 million barrel of oil a day in August. Bloomberg News says that they want to do this in a way that doesn’t create a taper tantrum. Talk of an increase in production is seeing oil dip on this talk.

Bloomberg wrote that, “Saudi Oil Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman likes the idea of OPEC+ acting as the central bank of oil. And he expresses admiration for Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The challenge now confronting the oil producers’ club is one that’s all too familiar to the Fed: how to avoid a ‘taper tantrum,’ the market panic that ensued when the institution proposed tightening monetary policy in 2013.”

OPEC, as I have written many times before, fancies itself as the central bank of oil. The reality is they have proven to be a less than credible steward as proven with Saudi Arabia starting a price war in the throes of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Regardless, the worries of the taper tantrum is a real concern for a cartel that wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Yet in the big picture from an economic perspective, Covid-19 is no match for the amount of global economic stimulus that is over $9 trillion. China is promising more stimulus. China’s Premier Li said that China will ramp up credit supply and lower financing costs. This has led oil away from the depths of total demand devastation to a trajectory that is getting oil demand almost back to normal despite the fact that the global economy is not back to normal. So talk of a production rise is a threat to the market at least psychologically. 

The sell off in oil on the return of Libyan oil was perhaps a bit too optimistic. Reuters reported that, “Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) on Sunday accused the United Arab Emirates of instructing eastern forces in Libya’s civil war to reimpose a blockade of oil exports after the departure of a first tanker in 6 months. The UAE, along with Russia and Egypt, supports the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar, which on Saturday said the blockade would continue despite it having let a tanker load with oil from storage. ‘NOC has been informed that the instructions to shut down production were given to (the LNA) by the United Arab Emirates,’ it said in a statement, resuming force majeure on all oil exports. There was no immediate comment on NOC’s accusation from either the LNA or the UAE.”

The rig count is continuing to fall but that can’t take away the fact that the U.S. produced a record amount of natural gas in 2019. Baker Hughes, on Friday reported that the number of active U.S. rigs drilling for oil edged down by 4 to 181 this week. That followed a decline of 3 oil rigs a week earlier. The number of oil rigs hasn’t seen an increase since the week ended March 13. The total active U.S. rig count, meanwhile, fell by 5 to 258, according to Baker Hughes. The EIA reports, "Natural gas is one of the main sources of energy in the United States. In 2019, U.S. production of dry natural gas increased to almost 34 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) and consumption increased to 31 Tcf — both values were records. 

U.S. natural gas production has increased in the past decade because the widespread adoption of horizontal drilling. Hydraulic fracturing techniques has allowed operators to more economically produce natural gas from shale formations. In each year since 2017, on an annual basis, production of dry natural gas has exceeded consumption within the United States.

In 2019, gross U.S. withdrawals of natural gas and other compounds extracted at the wellhead totaled nearly 41 Tcf, and most came from shale natural gas wells. Marketed natural gas production, which excludes natural gas used for re-pressuring wells, vented and flared gas, and non-hydrocarbon gases, totaled more than 36 Tcf. U.S. marketed natural gas was further processed into about 34 Tcf of dry natural gas and about 3 Tcf of natural gas plant liquids, such as ethane and propane.

As natural gas production has increased in the U.S., exports of natural gas have also increased, surpassing natural gas imports in 2017 for the first time since 1957. In 2019, the U.S. exported a record of nearly 5 Tcf of natural gas, mostly by pipeline to Mexico and Canada or shipped overseas as liquefied natural gas. Natural gas imports in 2019 were less than 3 Tcf, the lowest level since 2015. Most U.S. natural gas imports originate in Canada.

In the U.S., significant amounts of natural gas are also added to or withdrawn from underground storage throughout the year. Natural gas is added, or injected, to storage during periods of low consumption, typically during the spring and fall, and is withdrawn from storage during periods of high consumption, typically in the winter and summer. While gasoline demand is coming back, prices in many parts of the country are at around the lowest level for July since 2004. Still Rbob Gasoline futures are bottoming and we should be buying breaks.

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About the Author

Phil Flynn is a senior energy analyst at The PRICE Futures Group and a Fox Business Network contributor. Phil is one of the world's leading market analysts, providing individual investors, professional traders, and institutions with up-to-the-minute investment and risk management insight into global petroleum, gasoline, and energy markets.