Many analysts (including yours truly) expect 2013 to be a rare stretch in which the global oil market is extremely well supplied. Thanks to a sluggish global economy, growth in non-OPEC oil production is expected to outpace growth in global oil demand, reducing reliance on OPEC countries. Meanwhile, OPEC production capacity is expected to increase, contributing to healthy (but almost certainly temporary
) boost in spare capacity.
Of course, markets are constantly evolving, and as we reach the end of the second quarter, now is as good a time as any to take stock of directional developments in the market. Following on the heels of the May 31 OPEC meeting, this week saw the release of two official market updates that contained some important data shifts. The first was the release of the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) June Short Term Energy Outlook
and the second was the release of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) June Oil Market Report
You can download the EIA’s full report here
and its complete data set here
. The IEA does not make its full report available to subscribers for another two weeks, but the highlights can be found here
The EIA report has attracted some attention among market analysts, because the agency revised downward its summer outlook for OPEC spare capacity—an important measure of market tightness. Revisions affected the entire period from April through September, but the peak reductions are seen in July and August. In those months, EIA now expects OPEC spare capacity (essentially all in Saudi Arabia in EIA’s view) to average 2.5 million barrels per day (mbd), down from 3.0 mbd in the agency’s previous report—a reduction of more than 16 percent.
This is an unusually large change on a month-over-month basis barring some kind of catalyzing event (such as a major supply interruption). Some analysts have taken the EIA revision as an indication that oil markets are set to significantly tighten this summer, a prospect which would have notable implications for oil prices. However, we don’t think this is necessarily the case.
A few additional data points from the EIA analysis are worth considering.
First, the June EIA report did not significantly change their year-over-year estimates for global oil demand growth. In most months, it was almost exactly the same. Second, the June report showed a significant increase in Y-o-Y global oil supply, particularly from OPEC. In other words, demand stayed the same, but supply levels actually increased.
Why would this be?
Our bet is that the EIA had previously assumed that OPEC would cut supplies by now, which of course they have not. With OPEC producing well above the expected “call on OPEC” so far this year, it would have made sense for the cartel (mainly Saudi Arabia) to cut production in May. Instead, they increased production. So rather than seeing a big increase in spare capacity due to production cuts, we are seeing less spare capacity and more oil in the market.
Of course, this oil has to go somewhere. So where is it going? Well, it looks like it is going into inventories. In its June report, the EIA increased its global inventory activity by a positive 430,000 b/d in July and 330,000 b/d in August, which would account for the bulk of the reduction in spare capacity (See Figure 2 above). In other words, while spare capacity is not building, inventories are getting a short-term bump compared to the May report.
This does not seem to imply a “tightening” of the market compared to last month, and in fact it doesn’t appear that EIA thinks so either. The agency actually reduced its forecast for global oil prices in the second half of 2013, from $104/bbl to $102/bbl.
More Detail from IEA
The analysis above focuses on the future. But what about the downward revisions for April-June. For that, we turn to the International Energy Agency, which this week reported a 0.2 mbd drop in OPEC spare capacity for the month of May to about 3.2 mbd. Analysts rightly note that this is the largest month-over-month drop in about a year.
Interestingly, the vast majority of the drop in spare capacity reported by IEA comes as Saudi Arabia pumped more oil to compensate for production declines totaling 0.2 mbd in other OPEC members Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, and Nigeria. So while the IEA estimate for the call on OPEC remained unchanged, Saudi Arabia had to step in to meet the balance of the call, thus eroding spare capacity last month.
Here, it is worth noting the great risk (bordering on futility) in any oil market forecasting exercise.
These kinds of supply disruptions are the nature of the global oil market.
With trouble back on the horizon in Sudan, the Gulf hurricane season approaching, and the usual menu of potential instability in Iraq, North Africa, Venezuela, etc., it is quite possible that more interruptions (and nagging draws on Saudi spare capacity) await us throughout the year. Yet one would certainly much rather be dealing with such challenges in an environment where global demand growth is heavily muted (pick your regional economic basket case) and where oil production outside of OPEC (USA, USA, USA) is surging.