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USD 100/b in sight but oil product demand may start to hurt

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Some crude oil grades have already traded above USD 100/b. Tapis last week at USD 101.3/b. Dated Brent is trading at USD 95.1/b. No more than some market noise is needed to drive it above USD 100/b. But a perceived and implied oil market deficit of 1.5 to 2.5 m b/d may be closer to balance than a deficit. And if so the reason is probably that oil product demand is hurting. Refineries are running hard. They are craving for crude and converting it to oil products. Crude stocks in US, EU16 and Japan fell 23 m b in August as a result of this and amid continued restraint production by Saudi/Russia. But oil product stocks rose 20.3 m b with net draws in crude and products of only 2.7 m b for these regions. Thus indicating more of a balanced market than a deficit. Naturally there has been strong support for crude prices while oil product refinery margins have started to come off. Saudi/Russia is in solid control of the market. Both crude and product stocks are low while the market is either in deficit or at best in balance. So there should be limited down side price risk. But oil product demand is likely to hurt more if Brent crude rises to USD 110-120/b and such a price level looks excessive.

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

Crude oil prices have been on a relentless rise since late June when it became clear that Saudi Arabia would keep its production at 9 m b/d not just in July but also in August. Then later extended to September and then lately to the end of the year. On paper this has placed the market into a solid deficit. Total OPEC production was 27.8 m b/d in August and likely more or less the same in September. OPEC estimates that the need for oil from OPEC in Q3-23 is 29.2 m b/d which places the global market in a 1.4 m b/d deficit when OPEC produces 27.8 m b/d.

The proof of the pudding is of course that inventories actually draws down when there is a deficit. A 1.4 m b/d of deficit for 31 days in August implies a global inventory draw of 43.4 m b/d. If we assume that OECD countries accounts for 46% of global oil demand then OECD could/should have had a fair share of inventory rise of say 20 m b in August. Actual inventory data are however usually a lagging set of data so we have to work with sub sets of data being released on a higher frequency. And non-OECD demand and inventory data are hard to come by.

If we look at oil inventory data for US, EU16 and Japan we see that crude stocks fell 23 m b in August while product stocks rose 20.3 m b with a total crude and product draw of only 2.7 m b. I.e. indicating close to a balanced market in August rather than a big deficit. But it matters that crude stocks fell 23 m b. That is a tight crude market where refineries are craving and bidding for crude oil together with speculators who are buying paper-oil. So refineries worked hard to buy crude oil and converting it to oil products in August. But these additional oil products weren’t gobbled up by consumers but instead went into inventories.

Rising oil product inventories is of course  a good thing since these inventories in general are low. And also oil product stocks are low. The point is more that the world did maybe not run a large supply/demand deficit of 1.5 to 2.5 m b/d in August but rather had a more balanced market. A weaker oil product demand than anticipated would then likely be the natural explanation for this. Strong refinery demand for crude oil, crude oil inventory draws amid a situation where crude inventories already are low is of course creating an added sense of bullishness for crude oil.

On the one hand strong refinery demand for crude oil has helped to drive crude oil prices higher amid continued production cuts by Saudi Arabia. Rising oil product stocks have on the other hand eased the pressure on oil products and thus softened the oil product refinery margins.

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The overall situation is that Saudi Arabia together with Russia are in solid control of the oil market. Further that the global market is either balanced or in deficit and that both crude and product stocks are still low. Thus we have a tight market both in terms of supplies and inventories. So there should be limited downside in oil prices. We are highly likely to see Dated Brent moving above USD 100/b. It is now less than USD 5/b away from that level and only noise is needed to bring it above. Tupis crude oil in Asia traded at USD 101.3/b last week. So some crude benchmarks are already above the USD 100/b mark.

While Dated Brent looks set to hit USD 100/b in not too long we are skeptical with respect to further price rises to USD 110-120/b as oil product demand likely increasingly would start to hurt. Unless of course if we get some serious supply disruptions. But Saudi Arabia now has several million barrels per day of reserve capacity as it today only produces 9.0 m b/d. Thus disruptions can be countered. Oil product demand, oil product cracks and oil product inventories is a good thing to watch going forward. An oil price of USD 85-95/b is probably much better than USD 110-120/b for a world where economic activity is likely set to slow rather than accelerate following large interest rate hikes over the past 12-18 months.

OPEC’s implied call-on-OPEC crude oil. If OPEC’s production stays at 27.8 m b/d throughout Q3-23 and Q4-23 then OPECs numbers further strong inventory draws to the end of the year.

OPEC's implied call-on-OPEC crude oil.
Source: SEB graph and calculations. Call-on-OPEC as calculated by OPEC in its Sep report.

Net long speculative positions in Brent crude and WTI. Speculators have joined the price rally since end of June.

Graph of net long speculative positions in Brent crude and WTI.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

End of month crude and product stocks in m b in EU16, US and Japan. Solid draw in crude stocks but also solid rise in product stocks. In total very limited inventory draw. Refineries ran hard to convert crude to oil products but these then went straight into inventories alleviating low oil product inventories there.

End of month crude and product stocks
Source: SEB table, Argus data

ARA oil product refinery margins have come off their highs for all products as the oil product situation has eased a bit. Especially so for gasoline with now fading summer driving. But also HFO 3.5% cracks have eased back a little bit. But to be clear, diesel cracks and mid-dist cracks are still exceptionally high. And even gasoline crack down to USD 17.6/b is still very high this time of year.

ARA oil product refinery margins
Source: SEB graph and calculations

ARA diesel cracks in USD/b. Very, very high in 2022. Almost normal in Apr and May. Now very high vs. normal though a little softer than last year.

ARA diesel cracks in USD/b.
Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

US crude and product stocks vs. 2015-2019 average. Still very low mid-dist inventories (diesel) and also low crude stocks but not all that low gasoline inventories.

US crude and product stocks vs. 2015-2019 average.
Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data feed

US crude and product stocks vs. 2015-2019 averages. Mid-dist stocks have stayed persistently low while gasoline stocks suddenly have jumped as gasoline demand seems to have started to hurt due to higher prices.

US crude and product stocks vs. 2015-2019 averages.
Source: SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data feed.

Total commercial US crude and product stocks in million barrels. Rising lately. If large, global deficit they should have been falling sharply. Might be a blip?

Total commercial US crude and product stocks in million barrels.
Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data feed, EIA data

Analys

Metals rallied ahead of spot fundamentals, but better times are indeed ahead

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Industrial metals rallied close to 25% from 1 Dec-2023 to 20 May-2024 as marginal optimism replaced recession fears. But prices have pulled back a bit since then as economic growth optimism has run ahead of spot fundamentals. Industrial metals prices rallied close to 25% from 1 Dec-2023 to 20 May-2024. A solid gain on the back of reviving optimism as global manufacturing PMI’s rose from depressed levels in December to now just above the 50-line. Speculative money rolled into the space to catch a ride on economic revival as well as wanting to hold commodities as a sort of protection against inflation. But the actual state of the global economy isn’t all that strong yet.

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

Rather it is quite weak in absolute terms with the global manufacturing PMI barely just above the 50-line and barely in expansionary territory. Thus, prompt weaknesses can be seen in many places in both metals and energy with rising inventories and weakening curve structures and premiums. The price rally has thus been on a collision course with spot fundamentals. And that eventually helped to bring metals prices back down a bit since 20 May.

That said we do hold the view that there are better times ahead. Consumer prices are cooling, Covid-19 induced inflation is fading and central banks across the world are set to lower policy rates over the coming year. The ECB just cut its policy rate by 0.25% which is the first cut in 5 years. We think other central banks will follow suite as inflation cools around the world. And that is the real start of economic revival. The global economy will then shift from current patchy growth here and there to a more broad-based upturn. And as such the investors who have driven the bull-train so far will likely be right in the end. It is just a bit early.

Brent Crude. Steady as we go: OPEC+ keeps on holding large volumes off market to support prices. The group has flagged that it wants to return volumes to market but is in no hurry to do so. Fading shale oil growth is shifting market power back to OPEC+.

Nat gas TTF. Crisis behind us but still some tightness. The crisis is now clearly behind us, but the market is still on the tight side with some need for demand destruction as the global LNG market has not yet fully managed to compensate lost Russian gas.

EUA carbon. The trough is behind us. Back to EUR 100/ton in 2025. The EUA price crashed to EUR 49.54/ton intraday on 23 Feb depressed by a crash in nat gas prices, low emissions and front-loading of supply. Prepare for EUR 100/ton or more in 2025.

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Aluminum 3mth. Too far, too fast. Back to USD 2400/ton before gains in 2025. Aluminum has rallied more than USD 400/ton since February to now USD 2613/ton without support from a comparable gain in coal prices or drawdown in inventories. Helped higher by speculative appetite and increased friction in global trade flows due to new sanctions on Russian metals.

Copper 3mth. Prompt market not that tight. Back above USD 10,000/ton in 2025. The LME 3mth rallied to USD 10,889/ton (LME 3mth) and US Comex copper rallied to USD 11,285/ton. Rally was driven by tightness in the US (IRA++) and speculators frontrunning economic acceleration and global copper deficit. But signs of physical weaknesses many places to be seen in premiums and curves. Flat price now coming back off.  But back up above USD 10,000/ton in 2025 and later as market tightens.

Nickel 3mth. Dragged along with the copper rally but Indonesia still looking to grab more market share. The LME 3mth nickel price rallied to USD 21,615/ton in May, dragged along with the industrial metals rally. But decline has been sharp since then. We are not very bullish on Nickel going forward as Indonesia seems to focus on growing market share rather than profits.

Zinc: Joined the rally. Now back down to USD 2800/ton which could be fair price nearest years. The zinc price spent a long time around USD 2500/ton before rallying to USD 3139/ton. But USD 2800/ton will likely be a fair price for zinc the nearest years.

SEB commodities price outlook
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Analys

ECB rate cut and assurances from OPEC+ lifts Brent back to 80

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Back up to the 80-line. Brent crude rose to a close of  USD 79.87/b yesterday and recovered another 1.9% of its recent losses. This morning Brent crude is trading just above the 80-line (+0.2%) aligning well with some smaller gains in industrial metals as well as gains in Asian equities. Market focusing on US payrolls later today. Too hot or too cold?

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

Reassurances from OPEC+ helps to drive Brent back up. Brent dropped to USD 76.76/b (intraday) on Tuesday following the OPEC+ meeting last Sunday. That was the lowest since early February this year. Shocked by the price drop, OPEC+ was propelled to issue statements with assurances that they didn’t really mean what they said or say what they meant and that they in no way is shifting away from ”price over volume” with a shift to an aggressive claw-back of market shares. At least not yet. And yes, the group did state explicitly last Sunday that they would only put the 2 m b/d of voluntary cuts back into the market from Q4-24 to Q3-25 if market circumstances would allow it. And no one really believes that there will be room for the return of that volume to the market in that period. So basically it won’t happen. But the issued statements last Sunday still rings very clear to the market: The current production cuts by OPEC+ are not forever. So to all non-OPEC+ producers: Do prepare, do make room, for the return of these volumes. in the years to come. The frustration among the member states of the cartel must be rising steadily as quarter after quarter is passing by and yet again there is no room to return their cuts back into the market. 

ECB rate cuts gives hopes for economic acceleration and oil demand growth. ECB yesterday reduced its policy rate for the first time since 2016 as inflation is coming under control. The hope is that this is the beginning of further rate cuts across many central banks around the world as inflation is coming under control not just in Europe but also across most of the world. And of course further that this will be the start of a more broad based economic acceleration and thus stronger oil demand growth. That is for sure what OPEC+ is hoping for. That stronger oil demand growth will make room for a return of the group’s cuts.

US crude oil production rises to 13.18 m b/d in March, a mere 77 k b/d MoM gain. The US EIA projected in its May report that US crude oil production will continue to rise to 13.9 m b/d by Dec-2025. A slower, but still steady going growth in supply. The latest gains could however indicate that US crude production may flatten totally rather than rise further as current oil prices have done nothing to stimulate further drilling activity in US oil production since November last year. The official monthly US crude oil production for March came in at 13.18 m b/d. It is a recovery following a hard winter with difficult drilling conditions. But it is still below the Dec production level. Nothing would be sweeter news for OPEC+ than seeing US crude production fully flatten here onward. And it would indeed be the correct choice of action by US shale oil producers given that non-OPEC+ producers now has gotten notice: Cuts are not forever.

US crude oil production rises to 13.18 m b/d in March and a mere gain of 77 k b/d MoM and still below Dec-2025.

US crude oil production rises to 13.18 m b/d in March and a mere gain of 77 k b/d MoM and still below Dec-2025.
Source: SEB graph, Blbrg data feed, US EIA data

US EIA is projecting that US crude production will continue to rise and rise though more gradually

US EIA is projecting that US crude production will continue to rise and rise though more gradually
Source: SEB graph, Blbrg data feed, US EIA data
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Analys

Crude oil comment: Fundamentals are key – more volatility ahead

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This week, Brent Crude prices have declined by USD 2.5 per barrel (3%) since the market opened on Monday. The key driver behind this movement was the OPEC+ meeting last Sunday. Initially, prices fell sharply, with Brent touching USD 76.76 per barrel on Tuesday (June 4th); however, there has been a slight recovery since, with current trading around USD 78.5/bl.

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

Despite ongoing macroeconomic concerns, price movements have been relatively subdued in the first half of 2024, largely driven by fundamental factors—specifically, concerns around supply and demand, where US DOE data and OPEC+ strategy, remain central to price dynamics.

The US inventory report on Wednesday contributed to bearish market sentiment due to an overall increase in commercial inventories. Following the report, prices dipped approximately USD 1/bl before returning to earlier levels in the week.

According to the US DOE, there was a build in US crude inventories of 1.2 million barrels last week, totaling 455.9 million barrels—around 4% below the five-year average for this period, yet significantly less than the 4.1 million barrels anticipated by the API on Tuesday (see page 11 attached). Gasoline inventories also rose by 2.1 million barrels, slightly less than API’s 4 million barrel expectation, and remain about 1% below the five-year average. Meanwhile, distillate (diesel) inventories saw a substantial increase of 3.2 million barrels, maintaining a position 7% under the five-year average but exceeding the expected 2 million barrels projected by API.

Globally, bearish to sideways price movements during May can be attributed to a healthy build in global crude inventories coupled with stagnant demand. US DOE data exemplifies this with both an increase in commercial crude inventories and rising crude oil imports, which averaged 7.1 million barrels per day last week—a 300k barrel increase from the previous week. Over the past four weeks, crude oil imports averaged 6.8 million barrels per day, reflecting a 3.5% increase compared to the same period last year.

Product demand shows signs of weakening. Gasoline products supplied to the US market averaged 9.1 million barrels a day, a 1% decrease from the previous year, while distillate supplied averaged 3.7 million barrels a day, down a significant 3.4% from last year. In contrast, jet fuel supply has increased by 13% compared to the same four-week period last year.

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OPEC+ Strategic Shifts

OPEC+ has markedly shifted its strategy from focusing solely on price stability to a dual emphasis on price and volume (more in yesterday’s crude oil comment). Since the COVID-19-induced demand collapse in May 2020, OPEC+ has adeptly managed supply levels to stabilize the market. This dynamic is evolving; OPEC+ no longer adjusts supplies solely based on global demand shifts or non-OPEC+ production changes.

Echoing a strategic move similar to Saudi Arabia’s in 2014, OPEC+ has signaled a nuanced approach. The alliance has planned no production changes for Q3-24 to align supply with expected seasonal demand increases, aiming to maintain market balance. Beyond that, there’s a plan to gradually reintroduce 2 million barrels per day from Q4-24 to Q3-25, with an initial increase of 750,000 barrels per day by January 2025. However, this plan is flexible and subject to adjustment depending on market conditions.

The IEA’s May report forecasts a decrease in OPEC’s call by 0.5 million barrels per day by 2025—a potential loss in market share, which OPEC+ finds unacceptable. The group has openly rejected further cuts, signaling an end to its willingness to lose market share to maintain price stability.

This stance serves as a clear warning to non-OPEC+ producers, particularly US shale operators, that the market shares gained since 2020 are not theirs to keep indefinitely. OPEC+ is determined to reclaim its volumes, potentially influencing future production decisions across the global oil industry. Producers now face the strategic decision to potentially scale back on production increases for 2025.

The confluence of a continuing build in US inventories and OPEC+’s strategic shifts has led to market reactions. In the wake of OPEC+ rhetoric, evaluating the fundamentals is now more important than ever, and increased volatility is expected.

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Even though OPEC+ has signaled its intention to reclaim market share, it plans to maintain current production levels for the next three months while continuously evaluating the situation. Today, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi Energy Minister, spoke at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg. He highlighted that Sunday’s agreement, like many before it, retains the option to ’pause or reverse’ production changes if deemed necessary. This statement subtly emphasizes that maintaining oil price stability and market balance remains a primary focus for OPEC+. Such rhetoric introduces a new dimension of uncertainty that market participants will need to consider going forward.

If the price continues to fall, OPEC+ remains intent on reclaiming ’their volumes,’ betting on a decrease in non-OPEC supply later this year and into 2025. A potentially weaker oil price, within the USD 70-80/bl range for the remainder of 2024, could help alleviate current inflationary pressures. This in turn may lead to earlier central bank rate cuts and a quicker economic recovery in 2025, thereby reviving global oil demand to the benefit of OPEC+.

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