Why analysts are concerned about the short-term outlook for oil
We examine what a number of market commentators are saying about the current outlook for Brent and WTI.
Oil prices: the week that was
The current situation in global oil markets is a complex and bewildering one. All up, it’s been a disastrous week for the world’s most important commodity: with WTI plunging into negative territory on Monday and Brent futures also collapsing.
Firstly, although WTI’s May futures Nymex contract finished out last Friday’s session at US$18.27 a barrel, things quickly deteriorated over the next few sessions – with the contract closing out Monday’s session at negative US$37.63 a barrel.
As Pierre Andurand, CIO of Andurand Capital prophetically tweeted before that crash:
‘There is no limit to the downside to prices when inventories and pipelines are full. Negative prices are possible […] oil price is not like an equity price.’
Mind you, even as the WTI contract rolled over from May to June, things continued to fall apart, with the WTI June contract last trading hands at US$10.85 a barrel, down 6.22% for the session.
Brent futures weren’t spared from this carnage either: with the June ICE contract plunging US$2.47, or 12.78% to US$16.86 a barrel, at the time of writing.
Catalysts in focus
Specifically in the case of land-locked WTI, the primary catalyst behind its collapse is centrally focused on concerns around US crude storage capacity. For reference, the WTI Nymex futures contract mandates physical delivery be made to the Cushing, Oklahoma hub. Brent ICE futures contracts, by comparison, have the option to be cash settled.
Yet problematically, the Cushing hub is the ‘fullest’ in the US, currently sitting at 69% working storage capacity, according to the latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Overall, US crude stocks increased by 19.2 million barrels from 3-10 April, representing the largest week-over-week increase in at least two decades, according to JBE Energy.
The EIA is set to release its latest Weekly Petroleum Status Report on 22 April.
Demand, demand, demand
Though those storage problems may be specific to the WTI contract, the entire oil complex remains under intense pressure off the back of unprecedented demand destruction as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
News of production cuts from OPEC+, which will see a 9.6 million barrel per day cut across May and June – did little to bring balance to the oil markets, as evidenced by the historic crashes we have seen this week.
OPEC seems well aware of this fact, mind you, with a number of its members, Saudi Arabia included, speculated to be considering immediate production cuts ahead of the above specified May and June cuts, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The outlook for oil prices: WTI futures & Brent futures in focus
For those of the opinion that oil volatility has peaked, a number of market commentators believe that such a view may be overly optimistic at this point.
Looking at a worst case scenario for oil, Paul Sankey, a Managing Director at Mizuho Bank, on Wednesday told CNBC:
'Will we hit -$100 a barrel next month? Quite possibly.’
Here, Mr Sankey elaborated by saying:
‘If you had a stinking barrel of oil in your back yard, would you pay someone $100 to take it away? Yes, and you would probably be relieved you were not charged $300. That is the situation we are in.’
Elsewhere, former BP Chief executive John Browne recently told the BBC that he expected oil prices to remain low for some time, saying:
‘The prices will be very low and I think they will remain low and very volatile for some considerable time.’ Mr Browne added that, ‘There is still a lot of oil being produced that is going into storage and not being used.’
Looking at Brent ICE futures, while the international benchmark isn’t immune to steep price declines; at the very least, there is ‘no risk of going negative’, noted Reuters, given that the contract can be settled in cash.
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