- Brent crude oil trades near the top of its range ahead of today's EIA report
- Support from global growth, robust demand, high compliance and geopolitical risks
- However, a record fund long and fears of faster non-Opec production cap the upside
Crude oil price is riding high ahead of new EIA stats. Pic: Shutterstock
By Ole Hansen
Brent crude oil trades near the top of its range ahead of today's weekly stock report from the EIA
(14:30 GMT). Synchronised global growth, robust demand for oil, high compliance and geopolitical risks providing support. Capping the upside for now is a record fund long and concerns that current prices could accelerate non-Opec production further.
Brent crude is currently testing $58.50/b resistance ahead of the September top at $59.50/b.
The key level of resistance however is not the psychological $60/b level but instead $61/b which represents a 38.2% retracement of the 2014 to 2016 selloff.
Source: Saxo Bank
Synchronised global growth
Commodities are currently reacting to data showing strong and synchronised global growth. The latest manufacturing PMI data for September showed a broad-based rise, not least in key oil consuming economies such as Europe, China and the US.
Supply and demand
Opec and Russia's efforts to curb supply thereby help bring the market to a level of balance seem increasingly successful, not least helped by high compliance which according to Opec itself exceeded 100% during September. The group at this stage however cannot rest on their laurels as the current outlook, provided by the three major energy organisations, for demand and supply in 2018 leaves no room for Opec and Russia to increase output. Another year of strong demand growth is likely to be met by a similar increase in non-Opec production, not least from the shale oil fields across the US.
Source: Bloomberg, Saxo Bank
Geopolitical risks on the rise
Multiple supply disruptions following the Arab Spring in 2011 helped support the price of oil above $100/b up until 2014 when a major response from US producers help create a major shift towards an oversupplied market.
Just as these supply disruptions, according the below chart, hit a five-year low we are once again seeing risk of disruptions emerging. The conflict between the Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad has so far halved to 300,000 b/d the daily flows through the important export pipeline to Ceyhan in Turkey. President Trump's decision not to certify Iranian compliance with the UN agreement has increased the risk of a crisis which could see oil flows being negatively impacted. Elsewhere the fall in Venezuelan output continues to accelerate while downside risks to Libya and Nigeria production exists given continued political instability.
This rising risk of supply disruptions into a market that is moving towards a balance has left it more exposed than any time since 2014. On that basis we have probably witnessed a small geopolitical risk premium being added to the price. Not least in Brent crude, the global seaborne benchmark, which has left the premium to WTI close to $6/b.
Hedge funds have been active buyers of crude oil for the past couple of months and Brent crude, the global benchmark, has seen improved fundamentals due to dwindling stocks and now also due to rising risk of disruptions. The net-long stood at 729,000 lots in the week to October 17 with Brent crude accounting for a record 64% of this exposure. Improved Brent fundamentals and the mentioned risk of disruptions has seen investors flock to Brent at the expense of WTI where the gross-short has been rising for the past three weeks.
So why are we still trading below $60/b? The threat of an even bigger response from US shale oil producers following WTI's return above $50/b is likely to cap the upside for now. Unless supply disruptions increase and/or demand growth rises by more than expected the market still has to deal with the challenge of just how Opec and Russia can step away from their production cut agreement. Opec and Russia are in a similar situation to central banks. Finding the exit without disturbing the market will be very hard to achieve. For now, however, there is little or no room to increase production next year
EIA's Weekly Petroleum Status Report
But today the focus rests squarely on the weekly stock, trade and production report from the Energy Information Administration. The market traded higher overnight following the weekly report from the American Petroleum Institute which showed a small rise in oil stocks but a major decline in fuel.
What to look out for
Since August first Hurricane Harvey then Nate managed to cause havoc to the data. Crude oil production is expected to recover following the 1.1 million b/d slump last week caused by Nate. WTI's elevated discount to Brent has triggered a surge in exports which has left US net-imports at near record lows. Robust export numbers and a decline in stocks at Cushing, the delivery hub for WTI crude oil futures, will be needed in order for the spread to narrow. Refinery demand slowed by almost 600,000 b/d last week and if that trend continues, due to low seasonal demand oil may struggle.
– Edited by Clare MacCarthy
Ole Hansen is head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank