In the past two weeks, crude oil futures took a beating; WTI futures ended last week at $46.47 per barrel while futures for Brent crude, the global benchmark, closed at $49.47 per barrel. Both WTI and Brent contracts have now concluded a 15% and 16% fall from their respective peak prices, closing at their lowest point since the deal between OPEC oil producers and 13 non-OPEC oil producers was signed. And the outlook for oil is not encouraging as a broader analysis of both the fundamentals and technical at play reveal a worrisome pattern—a pattern of an oversupplied oil market, ready to nose dive, as it did in 2014.
At the heart of the matter, as in 2014, is the US shale oil industry. Only this time around the US shale industry is significantly more competitive. According to Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council quoted by Reuters, “the cost of extracting oil at Dunn County, North Dakota, is as low as in Iran” and “the cost of producing a barrel of oil is at $15 and falling" That figure is truly nothing short of dramatic! True, the production cost at Eagle Ford and Permian Delaware facilities is higher than Dunn country. And yet this figure underpins a very important change. In the next oil slump, shale producers won't be under the same pressure to cut production. Meanwhile, oil production in America has risen to 9.29 million barrels a day and is expected to surge to 10 million barrels a day by 2018. All the while, crude oil inventories are stubbornly high. The latest data from the EIA shows crude oil inventories were at 527.8 million barrels, at the higher end of the 5-year range. In fact, as the EIA chart below shows, US crude oil inventories have been persistently above the 5-year range for some time, suggesting demand for crude in the United States is too weak to accommodate the rising supply from shale oil. Continue reading "Oil: Is It 2014 All Over Again?"