OPEC’s New Swing Producer?

Between capacity at new fields and production cuts at mature fields, Russian producers have more than 500,000 b/d of spare capacity, much more than is needed to increase production by the 200,000 b/d implicit
in its latest agreement with Saudi Arabia. If Russia and the Saudis decide to further relax production limits, Russian oil producers will be ready and willing to expand output further.

North Korea Summit Reduces Tensions for Now

The summit between President Trump and the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, has come and gone in a flurry of photographs and a very short and very vague agreed statement. The meeting was largely symbolic and strict U.N. sanctions remain in place, but reduced tensions could eventually create an environment for stronger trade links between North Korea and China, Russia, and South Korea

Russian Refining Expansion Moves Ahead

The strength of Russian crude demand and improving notional refining margins contrast with reports of weak Russian refining margins. Despite the tax maneuver and other setbacks to refineries, annual crude demand will bounce back from its recent low of 5.6 million b/d in 2016 to 5.75 million b/d in 2018. Coupled with secondary unit investment, higher throughput assures growing gasoline and diesel exports.

Crude Oil Quality Threatens US Shale

In its May Global Crude Oil Outlook ESAI Energy points out that the growth in medium and heavy refiner demand was already pushing the OPEC+ deal towards an end by 2019. The U.S. request for more crude oil and Saudi Arabia and Russia’s apparent willingness to respond provides additional rationale. How this “end” is finessed remains to be seen, but clearly the medium and heavy producers of OPEC (besides Venezuela and Iran) will increase production in 2019.

What’s Next for Iran

Following President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the JCPOA, the response of Iran, Europe, Russia and China over the next several weeks will be closely watched. The U.S. and Europe are likely to continue discussions regarding joint action on Iran and the imposition of secondary sanctions on European companies. Whether China, Russia and, one day, Iran can be brought back to the negotiating table will depend on statements, actions and likely exogenous events over the wind down period. 

New York Drivers May Get More Russian Gas in Their Tanks

East Coast drivers could be putting Russian gasoline into their fuel tanks without even knowing it. Already strong imports of blending components like naphtha will be paired with gasoline after Soviet refining tax breaks and investments give Russia surplus fuel to sell. Exports into Europe and the U.S. Atlantic basins will rise by 75,000 barrels a day, Energy Security Analysis, Inc. principal Andrew Reed says.

Global Crude: Change Coming in 2019 and OPEC+ Deal Looks Vulnerable

The impact of perhaps a year and a quarter of OPEC+ production restraint has been impressive, and finally there is consensus that the oil market has returned to balance. Some believe that balance is precarious and vulnerable to decelerating demand and rising non-OPEC production in 2019. Others believe the balance is headed towards tightening in a way that will lift prices above $80. Add to that the possible end of the Iran nuclear deal and price expectations go even higher. Clearly with inventories way down, demand quite strong and the OPEC+ deal working with help from Venezuela’s production decline, it is quite easy to be bullish on 2018. We have revised our 2018 price forecast up, especially during the seasonally strong months of the year.

Does the market need more production restraint in 2019? There are two notable developments that will shape crude supply and demand. First, there is a tremendous volume of new distillation capacity coming online between now and the end of 2019. There is a little bit of splitter capacity in these volumes, but most of this increase in capacity is designed to run medium or heavy crude. Russian and Arab Gulf production, rather than U.S. shale, will meet this demand as it emerges. The second is the change in bunker specifications starting in 2020. Bunker suppliers will have to replace high sulfur product with lower sulfur product before January 2020. This will mean higher runs and sweeter crude input as a first response, lifting demand for U.S. shale in some locations, including the USGC and Europe.

Significant volumes of crude oil will chase quality-driven opportunities in 2019. Crude price differentials will be volatile and light sweet crude prices will find support despite weakening overall supply demand fundamentals in 2019.