Oil Market Report: Taking a breather


12 September 2019

Topics, Energy Security, Topics, Oil

Saudi Arabia produced less than allowed under the OPEC+ agreement (Photograph: Shutterstock)

The oil market focus recently has been on demand as growth weakens amidst uncertainty around the global economy, and particularly trade. In this month's OMR, we maintain our growth estimate for 2019 at 1.1 mb/d, even though June data show that demand increased year-on-year by less than 0.2 mb/d. For the second half of 2019 we retain the view that with oil prices currently about 20% lower than a year ago there will be support for consumers. Early data for July suggest that global demand grew by 1.3 mb/d year on year.

In recent weeks, tensions in the Middle East Gulf have eased and oil industry operations appear to be normal. The major political event that has taken place is a personnel change in Saudi Arabia with the appointment as energy minister of Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who is a well-known and experienced figure. An early event for him is a meeting of the OPEC+ agreement monitoring committee that takes place in Abu Dhabi as we publish this Report. To date, support for the agreement rate has been high, but ahead of the meeting data for August show the compliance rate slipping to 116 per cent. In August, three major countries Russia, Nigeria and Iraq, produced 0.6 mb/d more than their allocations. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, produced 0.6 mb/d less than allowed, and it is clearly the lynchpin of the whole deal. A reminder to the producers that competition for market share is getting tougher comes from preliminary data showing that in June the US momentarily overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s number one gross oil exporter.

Our balances for 2H19 imply a stock draw of 0.8 mb/d, based on the assumption of flat OPEC production, stronger demand growth and weaker non-OPEC supply growth. However, this is only really a breather: the 2H19 non-OPEC growth, although modest by recent standards at “only” 1.3 mb/d, is measured against the high base set by the enormous production surge seen this time last year. So far in 2019, US crude oil production growth has stalled with June output only 45 kb/d higher than in December. Even so, output is still growing strongly on an annual basis, rising this year by 1.25 mb/d, with 1 mb/d of growth to come in 2020. In Norway, long-awaited projects are coming on stream earlier than expected and may ramp up to peak production ahead of schedule. Oil production in Brazil is growing fast, reaching 3 mb/d in August, 0.4 mb/d higher than just two months earlier.

While the relentless stock builds we have seen since early 2018 have halted, this is temporary. Soon, the OPEC+ producers will once again see surging non-OPEC oil production with the implied market balance returning to a signifcant surplus and placing pressure on prices. The challenge of market management remains a daunting one well into 2020.

Finally, in January the International Maritime Organisation’s new marine fuel regulations are being introduced. In Oil 2019, published in March, we concluded that markets will be generally prepared for the shift, assuming a certain initial level of non-compliance. In this Report, we have looked at the latest developments in demand and refining and we reaffirm our view of a relatively smooth start for the new rules. In line with this view, markets are not currently signalling significant increases in diesel prices, but this is an issue that will be monitored closely.

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