Saudi Arabia is spearheading oil output cuts agreed by OPEC last year, having disclosed this week that it is cutting November crude allocations to 7.15 million barrels per day (bpd) despite “very strong demand” for 7.7 million bpd.
The cut of about 560,000 barrels per day, revealed on Monday by the Saudi Ministry of Energy, reflects OPEC’s determination to support the oil price by reducing surplus inventories and reining in production.
Brent crude was up 52 cents at $56.31 in Europe on Tuesday afternoon following the release of the data.
Cuts in production agreed by OPEC members last year have helped to support the oil price. Although that agreement expires in March 2018, it could be extended further, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking during last week’s historic visit to Moscow by Saudi King Salman.
Richard Mallinson, an oil analyst at Energy Aspects in London was upbeat about the outcome of the production cut deal. “We’re seeing a market shift as stockpiles begin to clear, and there will be more demand,” he told Bloomberg.
Abhishek Kumar, a senior energy analyst at Interfax’s Global Gas Analytics (GGA), said Saudi Arabia’s action underlines its determination to balance supply and demand going forward.
But oil exports from the US were rising as well, said Kumar.
“The price differential between Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate (WTI, used as a benchmark for US oil prices) was widening,” he told Arab News.
Put simply, if WTI’s discount to Brent is deep enough to cover shipping and transportation costs, it could be an opportunity for US companies to seek higher prices outside North America via exports — although that is not a given.
But Kumar said that if US crude becomes more competitive, “there is a danger Saudi export cuts may benefit the US.” However that may not become clear for a while, said another observer.
Kumar said there was a delicate balance to be struck when it comes to cutting production, as an upshot could be a sharp fall in export revenue for producers. That issue would be debated at the OPEC meeting in Vienna next month when members will decide whether to extend last year’s accord on production cuts, or deepen them.
Kumar said: “Extending is easier as there will be wider support, whereas deepening is more difficult because it means several countries (including Iran) will have to cut their output by much more than they are already doing. And that’s not good for their exports.”
“You may see objections from the Iranian side.”
Observers said Saudi Arabia had put in place the deepest cuts of all OPEC countries, to about 10 million bpd, with exports well below their 2012-2016 average, according to the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI).
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in May the country would “markedly” reduce exports to the US in an effort to cut crude inventories. Shipments to the US dropped from March through August, when they reached the lowest this year, according to tanker data. Overall Saudi exports plunged to the lowest in 34 months in July, and were about 1 million less than a year earlier, according the Riyadh-based JODI, which collects data including production and exports directly from countries.
A recent note from broker RBC Capital Markets said the challenge was to move crude from the oversupplied Atlantic Basin to undersupplied areas like Asia. It said a positive signal on that front emerged recently when Saudi Aramco announced hikes to official selling prices for light crudes into Asia for November to the highest price level since the downturn kicked off in 2014.
JP Morgan said in a note that, on balance, there was upside potential for prices despite the danger production cuts and price rises would incentivize supply, particularly from US shale producers.
The US bank said: “Concerns that OPEC compliance would fade into the fourth quarter of 2017 now appear unfounded. Furthermore, stronger-than-assumed economic growth offers the potential for tight market conditions to continue if OPEC extends the current deal for another nine months.”
JP Morgan added that US recertification of Iranian compliance with its nuclear agreement obligations could trigger upside price risks as well.
“The potential for deeper cuts from OPEC as Nigeria, Libya and possibly Iran accept new production targets could all improve 2018 market balance projections,” it said.
Morgan Stanley said its view of the market was not strong enough to send oil prices on a structural path higher, but nevertheless the new mood supports Brent at about $55 a barrel.
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