Analysts See Oil Prices "Lower For Longer"

The oil industry had hoped this would be the year the prices finally start to firm up. But the industry is having to once again get used to the idea of “lower for longer.”

For the second month in a row, major investment banks are lowering their price forecasts. A Wall Street Journal survey of 14 investment banks finds an averaged predicted price for WTI at $52 per barrel for 2017, a decline of $2 from the same survey in May. The banks also now see WTI averaging $55 per barrel in 2018, again, down $2 from the May results. “Disappointment about the slower-than-expected market rebalancing will keep prices depressed well into next year,” Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank, told the WSJ.

Goldman Sachs made some headlines when it decided to dramatically lower its oil price forecast for 2017, dropping its prediction by $7.50 per barrel to $47.50. “But this still leaves the question of how did we get it so wrong?” analysts from the bank lamented in a research note Thursday. The investment bank cited higher-than-expected production from Nigeria, Libya and a swift rebound in U.S. shale output. Goldman said it is also getting a little late in the game to hope for inventories to balance by the end of the OPEC compliance period in March 2018. The steady rise in the U.S. rig count kind of bakes in further production increases this year, leaving little time left for inventories to normalize.

At the same time, Goldman says that oil prices could see some gains this year, potentially having recently bottomed out in the low-$40s. There are several reasons to expect some short-term price gains, the bank says: Even if inventories are falling too slowly, they are still falling; there is room on the upside for speculative bets after investors staked out a near record bearish positioning; demand is rising; OPEC could still do more to cut; and price inflation in the shale sector could lead to lower-than-expected production results.

“This leaves us cyclically bullish within a structurally bearish framework: then near-term price risks are now increasingly skewed to the upside while the low velocity de?ationary forces of the New Oil Order are still at play,” Goldman analysts wrote. Translation: Oil prices might move up in the short-run, but shale productivity gains and efficiencies could still keep a lid on prices over the long-term, keeping prices at $50 per barrel.

In addition to Goldman, a slew of other banks lowered their forecasts, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Societe Generale. Goldman’s $7.50 per barrel reduction pales in comparison to Bank of America, which predicted as recently as April that Brent prices would rise to $70 per barrel by the summer. In a dramatic climb down, Bank of America now concedes that Brent will average just $47 per barrel in the third quarter.

Lower oil prices are dragging down energy stocks. The MSCI World Energy Index, which includes 90 oil and gas companies, saw its value drop for the second straight quarter. Of course, that is entirely due to the decline of oil prices. Bloomberg reports that the 90 companies included in the index have shed $115 billion in value since April. Only 17 of the 90 companies in the index have seen gains in their share prices in the second quarter, so it comes as no surprise that energy is the worst performer in the MSCI World Index.

The industry has become a lot more efficient over the three-year downturn, cutting costs and lower breakeven prices. Nevertheless, their health hinges very heavily on the trajectory of oil prices, which, for now, doesn’t look very encouraging.

With all of that said, oil prices have staged a rally since hitting ten-month lows a little over a week ago. There is dispute over whether or not the gains are sustainable. Dennis Gartman, founder of the Gartman Letter, argued on CNBC that the latest rally is a “dead cat bounce” that will dissipate in the near future.

But others are hoping that the recent selloff had gone too far and that the gains are here to stay. “There is cause to be confident that the long-awaited oil market rebalancing is fast approaching,” Stephen Brennock, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd., told Bloomberg. However, he conceded that “doubts will linger over the staying power of this rally.”

Michael Cohen, Barclays head of energy commodities research, is a bit more bullish, predicting “severe” inventory declines later this year, which could lead to a more sustained rally above today’s prices.

Still, the sentiment across the analyst community is much more negative than it was a few weeks ago. Everyone has lowered their predictions, expecting oil prices to remain “lower for longer.”

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc. is the leading online energy news site. We have extensive coverage of all energy sectors from crude oil and natural gas to solar energy and environmental issues. Our analysis covers energy technology, finance & trading, geopolitics and sector news. We also have detailed oil prices.

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