As of May 9, 2017, the price of WTI Crude oil sat at $46.08 per barrel, while Brent Crude was selling at $48.89 per barrel. Just the week before, the price of crude had sunk below $46 a barrel.
OPEC has been trying to respond to this decrease in oil prices by cutting production, but that hasn’t stopped the fall. Why? For one thing, the United States is back in the oil game, in a big way. Shale oil producers have doubled the number of rigs in operation, and years of low oil prices have forced them to become leaner and more agile.
Analysts at UBS say that U.S. producers can make money as long as the price of oil remains above $40 per barrel.
OPEC clearly can’t control American oil producers, so that excess supply could remain a thorn in OPEC’s side for the foreseeable future.
However, OPEC could respond paradoxically to the increase in U.S. production by increasing their own production in an effort to bring the price of oil below the $40 per barrel benchmark, thereby squeezing American producers out of the market.
But most analysts think OPEC will stand pat and extend their production cuts in hopes that stronger demand in the second half of the year will reduce the extra supply.
“They have got themselves between a rock and a hard place, because they have now talked about extending the agreement so much,” Tom Pugh, a commodities economist at Capital Economics, told CNN. “If they don’t do it, we could see prices drop to the low forties again.”
Russia and Nigeria, other big players in the oil game, are not OPEC members and therefore are not required to maintain any production cuts. However, as of May 1, Russia had cut its output by more than 300,000 barrels per day. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in written comments that the nation is likely to extend its output cuts.
OPEC was once the only significant player in the oil game, but that’s no longer true. “At some point, the market should recognize OPEC isn’t the most important player in the market any more,” Commerzbank’s Eugen Weinberg told CNBC. “That is non-OPEC, and, above all, U.S. shale.”
Despite all this news about oil gluts and price cuts, some say the price of oil may not just rally, but reach an unbelievable high.
Bill Strazzullo, chief marketing strategist at Bell Curve Trading, believes the price per barrel is due for a major reversal.
“I think over the next [few years], it’s not out of the question that you push $80 to $90” per barrel on oil, Strazzullo told CNBC. “The whole pricing structure has shifted lower. But when you look at the new structure, the bottom is still around $30 a barrel. We think fair value is up around $60, and probably the upper end of the range is $80 to $90.”
Strazzullo correctly predicted crude’s plunge to the $30 range in 2013, so his current prediction may have gotten investors thinking.
Goldman Sachs has also said that the big picture for oil “remains supportive” of higher prices, despite the fact that the demand for crude in China—arguably one of the biggest energy consumers on earth—is going down. US gasoline demand is also down by nearly a quarter-million barrels.
Given the more positive economic outlook, it wouldn’t be surprising to see oil prices rebound as demand increases.
“When you look at a bigger picture, you still have a situation where you have recovering economies in Europe, and we have a stable economy here that should be on the mend,” Strazzullo said. “So you still have pretty good demand going forward.”
Nonetheless, OPEC will have a lot to discuss at its meeting on May 25 in Vienna. There is growing support within the organization to extend oil production cuts by another three to six months.
How do you think oil prices will trend over the next few months to year? Please share your thoughts in the comments.