The Bearish Case For Oil Prices

Blue barrels of oil stacked sideways on top of each other
Credit: Shutterstock

It is not only the slower-than-expected global oil demand recovery that is weighing on oil prices. Some major geopolitical events and the return of previously curtailed U.S. shale production are set to weigh on the price of oil in the near to medium term. On top of the coronavirus-related demand concerns, the oil market has to reckon with the possibility of more oil returning to the market from Libya, Iran, and the United States. 

In Libya, the UN-backed government announced a ceasefire on Friday, and the east-based rival administration also called for a truce in a move that could pave the way to reopening of Libya's oil terminals, if the ceasefire holds.  

However, the Libyan National Army (LNA), loyal to eastern Libyan strongman General Khalifa Haftar, said over the weekend that the proposed truce was "media marketing," without explicitly backing or rejecting the ceasefire. 

In response to the proposed reopening of oil terminals, Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) welcomed "the proposal to resume production and export of oil and to freeze sales revenues in NOC accounts in the Libyan Foreign Bank," the state oil firm said in a statement on Friday.

"NOC reiterates its call for all oil facilities to be freed from military occupation to ensure the security and safety of its workers. Once this has been done, NOC should be able to lift force majeure and re-commence oil export operations," the company said. 

If the rival factions reach some form of a lasting truce, the potential return of Libyan oil exports would weigh on oil prices as they would increase global supply at a time when demand recovery is very fragile. 

"The prospect of Libya, currently producing less than 100,000 barrels/day, now being able to increase production would add further delays to the rebalancing process and it helped to explain the weakness seen in oil prices ahead of the weekend," Ole Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank, said on Friday. 

Another geopolitical shift could occur early next year if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November. The U.S. presidential election could install a new administration in the White House that would be inclined to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal and potentially ease the current sanctions on Tehran's oil exports as part of the 'maximum pressure' campaign of the Trump Administration. Iran could suddenly turn from a bullish driver for oil prices into a bearish factor if it resumes up to 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil exports. 

According to Christophe Ruhl, senior research scholar of international and public affairs at Columbia University, the Iran sanctions could be the most significant impact and unknown to oil prices next year. 

"The US elections... to me that's still more risk than anything because we don't know what the incumbent is capable of doing and how long that will stretch out and in general just underlines the poor state of the US political society and the economy," Ruhl said on a webinar organized by Gulf Intelligence, The National reports

Over the next few months, prices could come under further pressure because the oil supply is also set to increase from the United States, where producers are restoring curtailed shale production. As per a Rystad Energy analysis of 25 listed oil firms' Q2 earnings statements, most U.S. operators are set to restore nearly all shut-in oil volumes by the end of the third quarter, with only a handful maintaining some level of curtailment for the rest of the year. 

Last week, the oil rig count in the United States saw its largest weekly increase since January, with most of the rigs added in the Permian Basin. 

This could be the sign that U.S. oil production is beginning a slow recovery. 

"It is difficult to take away too much from one data point, and clearly we would need to wait several weeks to see if this is a trend that continues," ING strategists Warren Patterson and Wenyu Yao said on Monday.

All these bearish supply factors could combine next year to weigh on oil prices, which could still be struggling with a bearish demand factor—slower-than-thought rebound in global oil consumption.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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