A Bullish Demand Forecast From The IEA Suggests Oil Prices May Soon Break Out Of Their Month-Long Trading Range

April 14, 2021 01:00 PM
Oil prices might be breaking out of their month-long wicked trading range, as the normally-pessimistic IEA is sounding bullish
Global refineries caught up with year-earlier levels in March for the first time since 2019
Natural gas may have finally bottomed
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The Phil Flynn Energy Report 

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If the International Energy Agency (IEA) sounds bullish, then oil bears had better get out of the way. Oil prices might be breaking out of their month-long wicked trading range, as the normally-pessimistic IEA is sounding pretty darn bullish. Not only are they raising their demand forecast, they’re also calling on OPEC to increase output by almost 5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd)!

The IEA says that oil demand in 2021 is forecasted to reach 96.7 million bpd, an increase of 5.7 million bpd from 2020. Despite weaker-than-expected data for Q1 2021, annual growth has been revised up by 230,000 bpd on average to take account of better economic forecasts and robust prompt indicators. 

The IEA says that the world oil supply rose 1.7 million bpd in March to 92.9 million bpd after the shut-in U.S. output recovered from a cold snap. Further gains from the U.S., Brazil, and biofuels are set to lift global supply in April, while producers taking part in OPEC+ cuts continue to limit flows. Non-OPEC+ will see gains of 610,000 bpd in 2021 after a 1.3 million bpd drop in 2020. U.S. supply is set to fall 100,000 bpd after a 600,000 bpd loss in 2020.

Global refineries caught up with year-earlier levels in March for the first time since 2019, rising by 1 million bpd MoM on a strong recovery in the U.S. following February’s freeze. At 75.9 million bpd, global refinery runs were nevertheless 4.4 million bpd below March 2019. Crude throughput is forecasted to rise by 6.8 million bpd from April to August, resulting in average annual growth of 4.5 million bpd.

OECD industry stocks fell for the 7th consecutive month in February, by 55.8 million barrels or 2 million bpd, led by a sharp draw in product inventories (-66.8 million barrels). At end-February, total oil stocks stood at 2.977 million barrels, reducing the overhang versus the 2016-2020 average to 28.3 million barrels. March data for the U.S., Europe, and Japan show that industry stocks were built by a combined 15.3 million barrels in total.

Crude prices rose about $3.35/barrel MoM in March and were up a steep $32/barrel on year-ago levels. Stronger economic prospects have steadily boosted prices from November. They hit a 22-month high in mid-March, before easing on plentiful supplies. Brent currently trades around $63/barrel and WTI $60/barrel. Ample supply has also weighed on physical crude price differentials for many grades.

Yet the IEA says that the market doesn't face an impending supply crunch. By July, OPEC+ will still have close to 6 million bpd of effective spare production capacity, excluding some 1.5 million bpd of Iranian crude now shut in by sanctions. The bloc’s monthly calibration of supply may give it the flexibility to meet incremental demand by ramping up production. IEA, I wouldn't bet on that.

The API reports also showed a big drop in crude supply, yet a surprisingly large increase in gasoline supply. The API showed that crude was down by 3.608 million barrels as Cushing, Oklahoma rose by 917.00 barrels. More than likely, a flood of gasoline imports caused an increase of 5.565 million barrels of supply. Yet a -3.006 drop in distillates gave the report an overall bullish tilt.

Natural gas may have finally bottomed. Andrew Weissman of EBW Analytics says that the May natural gas contract closed at $2.619/MMBtu on Tuesday—up 16.6¢ (6.8%) from last Tuesday’s intraday low—as rising spot market demand and bullish weather shifts helped reverse the meek narrative of the past 6 weeks. While momentum may carry the front-month higher later this week, challenges remain next week as heating demand relaxes, record pipeline exports to Mexico weaken, and LNG flows dip on maintenance. 

Still, rising planned injections by local distribution companies and modestly supportive weather reduce the likelihood of any significant price declines. By the 30-to-45-day window, bullish demand catalysts abound for natural gas. The mere absence of the bearish weather that hung over the market for most of the past 6 months could make way for strong core fundamentals to drive futures higher.

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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.