OPEC+ expected to delay planned production increase
Oil rose for a fourth straight week, buoyed by optimism over COVID-19 vaccine progress ahead of an OPEC+ ministerial gathering next week.
Futures in New York advanced 8 per cent this week, despite edging lower on Friday. The shape of the oil futures curve firmed over recent sessions with some nearer-dated futures contracts rising above later-dated ones. It’s a sign of how the market has dramatically repriced the increased likelihood of a vaccine rollout jumpstarting a stronger demand rebound next year.
Meanwhile, informal talks between an OPEC+ panel will take place on Sunday after previously being scheduled for Saturday. That will precede the formal ministerial meetings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, where producers will decide whether to postpone a planned output hike.
“With three vaccine candidates at least close to deployment, a material recovery in economic activity and oil consumption in the next six months is on the horizon,” said Erduan Reid, head of crude swaps at Eagle Commodities in London. If OPEC+ extends its current output cuts, “most balance estimates assume a first-quarter 2021 global draw driven by Asia, even if Europe and the U.S. build on mobility restrictions.”
While most analysts surveyed by Bloomberg are forecasting OPEC+ will postpone the planned increase by three months to March, oil’s recent rally may further complicate the decision amid growing tension with some member countries. Meanwhile, Algeria, which holds the rotating OPEC presidency this year, said the group must remain cautious because the organization’s internal data point to the risk of a new oil surplus emerging next year. That’s if the cartel and its allies go ahead with a supply hike.
“Some of OPEC’s members like the UAE and Iraq have expressed misgivings around the course of supply policy, and in part, we view this early meeting as a means to keep them in the OPEC+ fold and maintain group cohesion” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA. “If the news that filters out over the weekend leans towards OPEC+ considering a delay to the tapering of its cuts, then we are likely to see the oil market continuing its advance.”
- West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery lost 18 cents to settle at US$45.53 a barrel
- Brent for the same month gained 38 cents to end the session at US$48.18 a barrel. The contract rose 7.2 per cent this week
The OPEC+ alliance’s agreement is expected to be in place throughout 2021 and the group will delay its planned tapering by three months, JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts including Natasha Kaneva wrote in a report. The bank says inventories will decline by 1.2 million barrels a day on average next year, though demand still won’t reach normal levels until 2022.
Alongside strong demand from Asia, there are signs consumption is also gradually improving elsewhere. Foot traffic in U.S. airports hit the highest since March before the Thanksgiving holiday, though it remains about 1.5 million people lower year-over-year, according to data from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
Still, in the near-term, there is the lingering threat of further lockdown measures due to the pandemic. Refiners globally will have to keep runs low until at least the second quarter of next year to prevent significant gasoline stockpile builds as lockdowns result in reduced mobility and weaker demand, according to a note from FGE. That’s as refiners continue to contend with razor-thin margins. The combined refining margin for gasoline and diesel is at its lowest seasonally since 2009.
Other oil-market news
- Output from Norway’s giant Johan Sverdrup oil field will reach a record 510,000 barrels a day in January, according to a loading program seen by Bloomberg.
- Lunar New Year may be more than two months away but one Chinese fuel supplier is already gearing up for an expected surge in air travel.
- Iran said Israel and the U.S. were likely behind the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists on Friday and vowed revenge, sharply escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf in the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
--With assistance from Alex Longley and Jeffrey Bair.