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USD 85/b or USD 110/b is up to Saudi/Russia to decide

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The market is bewildered and cannot quite figure out whether the latest extension of Saudi Arabia’s unilateral cut to the end of the year is 1) A reflection of weakness to come and an effort to preemptively trying to avoid the oil price from falling below USD 85/b amid coming weakness, or 2) An effort do drive the oil price to USD 100-110/b by the end of the year. If the IEA’s latest calculations for global demand in Q3 and Q4 are correct and Saudi sticks to its cuts then global inventories will indeed decline by 250 million barrels by year end and Brent crude will rally to USD 100-110/b. And Saudi Arabia will get a lot of blame. One thing which is very clear though is that Saudi Arabia together with Russia is in comfortable control of the oil market and we’ll just have to accept the oil price they are aiming for.

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

OPEC produced 27.8 m b/d in August. The IEA in its latest OMR has calculated call-on-OPEC to be 30 m b/d in Q3-23 and 29.8 m b/d in Q4-23. So on paper the global market is running a deficit of 2.2 m b/d or 15.4 m b per week. If so we should see a decline in US oil inventories as they are impacted by the global balance. Maybe on par with US oil demand share of the world being close to 20%. I.e. we should expect to see an inventory decline in the US of at least 3 m b per week. Maybe more. And indeed that is also what we have seen. Ydy the US API released partial US inventory data indicating that US crude inventories declined 5.5 m b last week while gasoline inventories declined 5.1 m b. That is big and a clear signal that the market today is running at a significant deficit. Other signs of a tight market is the elevated level of backwardation in crude and oil product forward curves, rising official selling prices by Saudi and also the fact that Dubai crude is trading at a premium of close to USD 1/b versus Brent crude rather than the usual discount of USD 1-2-3/b.

In this perspective the extension of Saudi Arabia’s unilateral production cut to the end of the year is shocking. If the IEA is correct in its assessments then we would get a global inventory draw of about 250 million barrels from now to the end of the year. And if so the Brent crude oil price would indeed move to USD 100 – 110/b by the end of the year. Speculators can then doubt the market as much as they want. But such a physical deficit would most definitely drive the price up, up, up.

This deliberate action of driving the oil price to USD 100 – 110/b can then squarely be blamed on Saudi Arabia’s unilateral production cuts. Together with Russian export curbs of 0.3 m b/d of course. Everyone can accept that the oil price rallies to USD 100/b and higher due to unforeseen events. But here we are talking about deliberate action of driving the oil price higher in the face of a western world fighting hard to curb inflation while the Biden administration is also preparing for a re-election in 2024. Gasoline prices higher and higher. Hm, that is not at all what the US consumers wants, what Biden wants or what the Fed wants. So the latest action from Saudi Arabia, if it drives the oil price to USD 100/b or higher must indeed lead to political heat from the US.

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But there is a possible excuse. We know that interest rates have been lifted rapidly over the past 12-18 months and that this is leading to global economic cooling for the year to come. Add China’s struggling housing market to this. Western consumers are buying less stuff from China. Chinese consumers are buying less stuff because they fear the economic situation. Chinese exports are down 8.8% YoY and imports are down 7.3% YoY.

Saudi Arabia has one of the biggest physical oil books in the world. As such it can see the cards of its oil purchasing clients on a 1-2-3 months forward basis. It can see what they are booking and ordering for the coming 1-2-3 months. IEA’s calculations is the global balance on paper. It is a static snapshot. But the world is dynamic and changing all the time. So it is possible that the extension of Saudi Arabia’s unilateral cut is a counter to weakness to come and an effort to avoid the oil price from falling below USD 85/b rather than an effort to drive the oil price to USD 100/b or higher. It is impossible to know for sure. What we can be pretty confident about however is that Saudi Arabia together with Russia are comfortably running the show.

Another twist here is also that even if Saudi Arabia now has pledged to keep its production at 9 m b/d (vs. normal 10 m b/d) to end of December, it always has the option to change the course in October and November. I.e. if it turns out that the cuts are too deep and the market is overly short oil, then it can lift production November and December if need be.

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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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SEB - analysbrev på råvaror

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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