The Edge

OPEC‘s challenge in 2020: balancing an oversupplied oil market

Will fundamentals or geopolitics determine price?

1 minute read

What steps should OPEC, and its non-OPEC partners, take to keep the market in balance in 2020? Ahead of OPEC’s meeting in Vienna on 5 and 6 December, I turned to Ann-Louise Hittle, Vice President Macro Oils, for answers.

What does good look like for OPEC in 2020?

Given the uncertainty around global supply growth, demand and geopolitics, OPEC will do well to get an outcome like 2019. Brent will average US$64 in 2019, down on last year’s US$71, but still the second-highest annual price since 2014. It’s a measure of OPEC’s success so far in balancing what is a fundamentally an oversupplied market.

Will demand recover in 2020?

We think so. This year has disappointed because of a series of one-off factors and the slowing global economy. The 0.6 million b/d outcome will be well down on the 1.1 million b/d we forecast back in January 2019. Sanctions-related demand destruction in Venezuela and Iran, plus warm weather in Europe shouldn’t feature next year. We think annual growth will double in 2020 to 1.4 million b/d. China will be key – we expect growth there to double to 0.6 million b/d, buoyed by strong demand for marine gasoil, as bunker volumes move in response to the new low-sulphur IMO regulations on shipping fuels.

Is global supply still growing rapidly?

Yes, we expect an increase of 1.8 million b/d in 2020 –assuming OPEC+ maintains its current production cuts. What’s changing is the mix, and for the first time in years, the US L48 won’t dominate as much. US is about half the 2020 growth, with the rest coming from other non-OPEC producers including Guyana, Brazil and Norway. The giant Norwegian field, Johan Sverdrup, onstream since October, will add 0.3 million b/d in 2020.

So, US tight oil is still growing?

Yes, but at a much slower rate. We expect an increase of 0.5 million b/d, well below the 2018 annual peak of 1.5 million b/d. The rig count is down by 18%, or almost 200 rigs from the November 2018 high, across all tight oil plays. Monthly production growth year-on-year peaked at 1.8 million b/d in August 2018 and could slip to just 0.4 million b/d by end 2020.

Did we anticipate that?

We expected 2018 to be the peak year of US tight oil growth – but not the rate of slowdown we’re seeing unfold. Investors are forcing US independents, which account for 80% of tight oil production, to pare back spend on growth and generate cash flow. What growth there is by end 2020 will come mostly from the Majors (ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell) whose plans are unaffected by capital constraints. There’s a certain irony that the free market, through shareholder influence, is succeeding in slowing growth – to OPEC’s advantage. Time will tell how long it lasts – we think we’ll see tight oil growth recover in 2021 though not back to peak rates.

What about OPEC production?

A lot of OPEC oil is off the market – volumes are 2.5 million b/d below a year ago. Around half of that is involuntary, due to US sanctions on Venezuelan and Iranian exports. The other 1.2 million b/d are deliberate cuts by OPEC+. Admirable adherence by key producers in the OPEC+ group has been instrumental in balancing the market and holding Brent above US$60 this year. Without cuts, prices would be much lower.

What does OPEC need to do in December?

The current agreement on cuts expires in March 2020. OPEC+ needs to rollover through to the end of 2020. But with global supply growth outpacing demand in 2020, we’ll need further cuts if demand growth disappoints again. OPEC will have to move promptly, in this case, and take out additional production if it wants to support price.

Will fundamentals or geopolitics drive the market in 2020?

A bit of both. Tension in the Middle East and US global influence are risks again next year. US foreign policy has been emboldened by the rise of tight oil in 2019, indirectly affecting export sanctions – on Venezuela and Iran – and the attack on the giant Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia in September. None of the geopolitical challenges of 2019 has gone away. But we can see signs already that the US is refocusing on domestic policy in the run-up to the presidential election next November.

Supply grows more rapidly than demand in 2020 – even with a rollover of OPEC+ production cuts