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Now it’s up to OPEC+

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All eyes are now back at OPEC+ after the recent fall in oil prices along with weakening crude curve structures and weakening economic statistics. OPEC+ will have to step up the game and give solid guidance of what it intends to do in 2024. If Saudi Arabia is to carry the burden alone (with only a little help from Russia) it will likely need to keep its production at around 9.0 m b/d on average for 2024 and drop it down towards 8.5 m b/d in Q1-24. This may be too much to ask from Saudi Arabia and it may demand some of the other OPEC members to step up and join in on the task to regulate the market in 2024. More specifically this means Iraq, Kuwait and UAE. The oil market will likely be quite nervous until a firm message from Saudi/Russia/OPEC+ is delivered to the market some time in December.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities at SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Saudi Arabia may get some help from President Joe Biden though as his energy secretary adviser, Amos Hochstein, has stated that the US will enforce sanctions on Iran on more than 1 m b/d. 

Brent crude fell 4.6% ydy to USD 77.4/b and over the last three trading sessions it has lost USD 5.1/b. This morning it is trading only marginally higher at USD 77.6/b which is no vote of confidence. A good dose of rebound this morning would have been a signal that the sell-off yesterday possibly was exaggerated and solely driven by investors with long positions flocking to the exit. So there’s likely more downside to come.

In general there is a quite good relationship between net long speculative positions in Brent crude and WTI versus the global manufacturing cycle. Oil investors overall typically have an aversion of holding long positions in oil when the global economy is slowing down. As of yet there are few signs that the global economic cycle is about to turn. Rather the opposite seems to be the case. Global manufacturing fell in October and yesterday we saw US industrial production fall 0.6% MoM while continued jobless claims rose more than expected and to the highest level in two years. This matches well with the logic that the strong rise in interest rates since March 2022 is inflicting pain on the economy with more pain ahead as the effect comes with a lag.

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Most estimates are that the global oil market is running a solid deficit in Q4-23. The IEA has an implied deficit in the global oil market of 1 m b/d in Q4-23 if we assume that OPEC will produce 28 m b/d vs. a call-on-OPEC at 29 m b/d. But prices in the oil market is telling a different story with weakening crude curves, weakening refining margins and a sharp sell-off in oil prices.

For 2024 the general forecasts are that global economic growth will slow, global oil demand growth will slow and also that the need for oil from OPEC will fall from 28.7 m b/d to 28.4 m b/d (IEA). This is a bearish environment for oil. The average Brent crude oil price so far this year is about USD 83/b. It should essentially be expected to deliver lower in 2024 with the negatives mentioned above.

Two things however will likely counter this and they are interconnected. US shale oil activity has been slowing with falling drilling rig count since early December 2022 and that has been happening at an average WTI price of USD 78/b. The result is that total US liquids production is set to grow by only 0.3 m b/d YoY in Q4-24. This allows OPEC+ to support the oil price at USD 80-90/b through 2024 without fear of loosing a significant market share to US oil production. Thus slowing US liquids production and active price management by OPEC+ goes hand in hand. As such we do expect OPEC+ to step up to the task.

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So far it has predominantly been Saudi Arabia with a little help from Russia which together proactively have managed the oil market and the oil price through significant cuts. Saudi Arabia produced 10.5 m b/d in April but then cut production rapidly to only 9.0 m b/d which is what it still produces. Its normal production is about 10 m b/d.

What has made the situation more difficult for Saudi Arabia is the combination of solid growth in non-OPEC supply in 2023 (+2.1 m b/d YoY; IEA) but also a substantial revival in production by Venezuela and Iran. The two produced 660 k b/d more in October than they on average did in 2022. So the need for oil from Saudi Arabia is squeezed from both sides.

All eyes are now back at OPEC+ after the recent fall in oil prices along with weakening crude curve structures and weakening economic statistics.

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OPEC+ will have to step up the game and give solid guidance of what it intends to do in 2024. If Saudi Arabia is to carry the burden alone (with only a little help from Russia) then it will likely need to keep its production at around 9.0 m b/d on average for 2024 and drop it down towards 8.5 m b/d in Q1-24. This may be too much to ask from Saudi Arabia and it may demand some of the other OPEC members to step up and join in on the task to regulate the market in 2024. More specifically this means Iraq, Kuwait and UAE.

The oil market will likely be quite nervous until a firm message from Saudi/Russia/OPEC+ is delivered to the market some time in December.

Saudi Arabia may get some help from President Joe Biden though as his energy secretary adviser, Amos Hochstein, has stated that the US will enforce sanctions on Iran on more than 1 m b/d.

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Analys

Crude oil comment: Lack of clear direction

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SEB - analysbrev på råvaror

This week, Brent crude prices have declined by USD 2.3 per barrel (2.8%) since Monday’s opening, driven by fundamental market factors. The current price is near its weekly low at USD 81.8 per barrel, down from Monday’s high of USD 84.5 per barrel.

Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB
Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB

The price has fallen by nearly USD 1 per barrel since yesterday afternoon. This week’s downward trend can be attributed to three main factors:

1. Upcoming OPEC+ Meeting:

OPEC+ is scheduled to meet on June 1st for the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC). Initially planned as a physical meeting in Vienna, it will now be fully digital, suggesting no major discussions or changes. We anticipate that the meeting will result in the extension of current production cuts into Q3 2024. OPEC+ aims to signal a tight yet well-supplied market, maintaining the status quo and minimizing significant market reactions.

2. U.S. Inventory Report:

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Wednesday’s U.S. inventory report had a bearish impact on the market, showing a build in commercial crude inventories (excl. SPR) by 1.8 million barrels, contrary to the expected 1.9-million-barrel draw. This was slightly more bullish than the American Petroleum Institute (API) forecast of a 2.5-million-barrel increase released on Tuesday.

Commercial crude inventories now stand at 458.8 million barrels, about 3% below the five-year average for this time of year. This build is counter-seasonal, as we usually see a draw at this time of the year. Gasoline inventories decreased by 0.9 million barrels, less than the anticipated draw of 1.2 million barrels. Distillate (diesel) inventories increased by 0.4 million barrels, against a consensus expectation of a 0.3-million-barrel draw, further defying typical seasonal trends and adding a bearish tone to the market, even though they remain about 7% below the five-year average. Overall, total inventories (crude + gasoline + distillate) rose by 1.3 million barrels.

Additionally, U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 16.5 million barrels per day last week, an increase of 227 thousand barrels per day from the previous week. Refineries operated at 91.7% of their operable capacity, the highest since mid-January, as they ramp up following maintenance. Gasoline production averaged 10 million barrels per day, while distillate fuel production averaged 5.1 million barrels per day. A marginal improvement in refinery margins indicates healthier demand prospects leading into the driving season.

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3. FOMC Minutes and Economic Concerns:

The continued decline in oil prices can also be attributed to bearish pressure from hawkish Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) minutes, which raised concerns about persistent inflation. This could result in prolonged higher U.S. interest rates, potentially limiting future oil demand growth.

In summary, the combined effect of the upcoming OPEC+ meeting, the U.S. inventory report, and economic concerns highlighted in the FOMC minutes has contributed to the weakening of Brent crude prices this week.

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Analys

German solar power prices are collapsing as market hits solar saturation

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German solar power producers got a price haircut of 87% over the past 10 days. German solar power producers have over the past 10 days received a volume weighted power price of only EUR 9.1/MWh. The average power price during non-solar-power-hours was in comparison EUR 70.6/MWh. Solar power producers thus got an 87% cut in the power price they get when they produce vs. the power price during non-solar-power-hours. This is what happens to power prices when the volume of unregulated power becomes equally big or bigger than demand: Prices collapse when unregulated power produces the most.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Massive growth in solar power installations in Germany in 2023 is leading to destruction of solar hour prices and solar profitability. Germany installed a record 14,280 MW of solar power capacity According to ’PV Magazine International’. That is close to twice as much as in 2022. Total installed solar capacity reached 81.7 GW at the end of 2023 according to ’Renewables Now’. Average German demand load was in comparison 52.2 GW. So total solar capacity reached almost 30 GW above average demand. Solar power produces the most during summer when demand is lower. The overshoot is thus much larger than the 30 GW mentioned when it matters.

The collapse in solar-hour-power-prices implies a collapse in solar power producer earnings unless the earnings of the installations are secured with subsidies or by PPAs. It also means that there is a sharp reduction in the earnings potential for new solar power projects. The exponential growth in new installations of solar capacity we have seen to date is likely to come to an abrupt halt. There is however most likely still a large range of solar power projects under construction in Germany which will be finalized before growth in new capacity comes to a halt. The problem of solar power production curbs (you are not allowed to produce at all) and solar power price destruction is likely to escalate yet higher before new growth in supply comes to a halt. 

Focus will now shift from solar production capacity growth to grid improvements, batteries and adaptive demand. All consumers are of course happy for cheap power as long as they are able to consume it when it is cheap. At the moment they can’t. But the incentive to be inventive is now super high. The focus will now likely shift from solar power production growth to grids, batteries, adaptive demand and all possible ways to utilize ”free power”. This will over time exhaust the availability of ”free power” and drive solar-hour-power-prices back up. This again will then eventually open for renewed growth in solar power capacity growth.

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It is probably much worse down in the grid. What is worth noting is that these numbers are for all of Germany average. Solar power congestion is much worse in the local grids all around Germany along with local grid capacity constraints ect.

The problem of solar power is high concentration of production: 80% of German solar production was produced during 22.3% of the hours in the year in 2023. What is also worth mentioning is that solar power production is extremely concentrated in relatively few hours per year. It produces in the middle of the day and during summer. In 2023 German solar power produced 80% of its production in only 22.3% of the hours of the year. This basically implies that once solar power production reaches 22.3% of total power supply (without batteries), then solar-hour-power-prices will likely collapse. Solar power production reached 55 TWh in 2023. That’s a lot but it is still only 12% of total demand of 458 TWh in 2023. What it means is that the acute problem of solar-hour-power-price-destruction sets in much before the ”theoretical 22.3%” mentioned above.

On the 21 Feb 2024 we wrote the following note on this issue: ”The self-destructive force of unregulated solar power” where we highlighted these issues and warned that this will likely be a process of ”First gradually. Then suddenly”.

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German solar power capacity makes a big leap upwards in 2023 as the energy crisis hurt everybody. Demand went down. Now there is a large overcapacity in installed solar effect vs. demand load.

German solar power capacity makes a big leap upwards in 2023 as the energy crisis hurt everybody. Demand went down. Now there is a large overcapacity in installed solar effect vs. demand load.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, PV Magazine, Wikipedia, Blberg data on German power demand

German solar power producers got an 87% price haircut on average during last 10 days vs. those who produced during non-solar-power hours.

German solar power producers got an 87% price haircut on average during last 10 days vs. those who produced during non-solar-power hours.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.

Volume weighted solar power prices vs. non-solar-hours. Bigger and bigger discount.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Solar power production and German power prices over the past 10 days.

Solar power production and German power prices over the past 10 days.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg

Solar power production and German power prices on 27 April 2024.

Solar power production and German power prices on 27 April 2024.
Source:  SEB calculations and graph, data by Blbrg
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Analys

Firm at $85

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This week, Brent Crude prices have strengthened by USD 1.2 per barrel since Monday’s opening. While macroeconomic concerns persist, market reactions have been subdued, with price fluctuations primarily driven by fundamental factors. Currently, the oil price stands at its weekly high of USD 84.4 per barrel, with Wednesday’s low recorded at USD 81.7 per barrel, indicating relatively normal price movements throughout the week.

Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB
Ole R. Hvalbye, Analyst Commodities, SEB

The upward trajectory since Wednesday afternoon can be attributed to two main factors:

Firstly, Wednesday’s US inventory report, though mixed, conveyed a bullish sentiment to the market due to an overall decline in commercial inventories. The report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) revealed a draw in US crude inventories of 1.4 million barrels last week, surpassing consensus estimates of a 2.0-million-barrel draw –  the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) forecast of a 0.5-million-barrel build on Tuesday.

Additionally, a marginal improvement in refinery margins hints at healthier demand prospects leading up to the driving season. While commercial crude oil inventories (excluding Strategic Petroleum Reserve) decreased, standing approximately 3% below the five-year average for this period, total gasoline inventories saw a notable increase of 0.9 million barrels compared to the consensus forecast of a decrease of 1.1 million barrels. Distillate fuel inventories experienced a more moderate increase in line with expectations, rising by 0.6 million barrels but remaining approximately 7% below the five-year average. Overall, total inventories (crude + gasoline + distillate) showed a marginal increase of 0.1 million barrels, coupled with a 1% improvement in refinery utilization to 88.5% last week (see pages 11 and 18 attached).

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The substantial draw in commercial crude inventories, particularly compared to the typical seasonal build, has emerged as a key price driver (see page 12 attached).

Secondly, the third consecutive day of oil price gains can be attributed to renewed optimism regarding US rate cuts, supported by positive US jobs data suggesting potential Federal Reserve rate cuts this year. This optimism has boosted risk assets and weakened the dollar, rendering commodities more appealing to buyers.

In a broader context, crude oil prices have been moderating since early last month amidst easing tensions in the Middle East. Attention is also focused on OPEC+, with Russia, a key member, exceeding production targets ahead of the cartel’s upcoming meeting. Expectations are widespread for an extension of output cuts during the next meeting.

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Conversely, providing support to global crude prices is the Biden administration’s intention to increase the price ceiling for refilling US strategic petroleum reserves to as much as USD 79.99 per barrel.

With geopolitical tensions relatively subdued, but lingering, the market remains vigilant in analyzing data and fundamentals. Our outlook for oil prices at USD 85 per barrel for 2024 remains firm and attainable for the foreseeable future.

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