(Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia’s warning to OPEC+ cheaters and short-sellers alike helped oil prices stage their biggest weekly rally since June, despite a grim start to the week as industry heavyweights painted a troubling demand picture for the petroleum complex.
Futures in New York rose 10% this week following a show of determination by Saudi Arabia, the most influential nation in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, to defend the market on Thursday. The Saudis hinted they’re prepared for new production cuts, and lambasted OPEC+ members that have cheated on production quotas.
Prices briefly fell as much as 1.6% on Friday following an announcement from Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar that he will allow crude production and exports to resume. But while Haftar reached the agreement with the country’s deputy premier, it was unclear whether the deal that excluded the National Oil Co. would actually restart exports.
“Depending on Libyan oil supply coming online seems like it’s a pretty risky bet,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research, so traders likely aren’t willing to make sizable wagers on it heading into the weekend. Saudi Arabia’s unambiguous comments on Thursday, though, give market participants the confidence they can “rely on OPEC to keep the taps turned off for a bit longer,” said Lynch.
Haftar controls most of eastern Libya and has halted operations and shipments from his territory as part of a campaign against the internationally recognized Tripoli government. The OPEC member is pumping just 80,000 barrels a day, but produced 1.2 million a day last year.
Oil reversed last week’s losses, which pushed West Texas Intermediate futures toward $37 a barrel amid a slew of downbeat demand forecasts from the International Energy Agency to Trafigura Group and BP Plc. Helping support prices this week, U.S. government data showed crude and gasoline stockpiles declining. American oil stockpiles are now at their lowest since April.
But crude may not be out of the woods just yet, with distillate supplies at record highs and refining margins for the fuel deteriorating in the U.S. and Europe. Meanwhile, rising coronavirus infections in Europe raise the specter of a return to tighter restrictions that have crippled consumption.
“The oil markets have made a nice recovery from their lows,” helped by the decline in American crude supplies, said Bill O’Grady, executive vice president at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis. “But the demand data just doesn’t look all that good.”
- West Texas Intermediate for October delivery rose 14 cents to settle at $41.11 a barrel
- Brent for November settlement lost 15 cents to end the session at $43.15 a barrel. The contract rose 8.3% this week, its largest weekly gain since June.
There is ongoing debate over the state of the global supply picture heading into the end of the year. Among the latest voices to chime in, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said global oil inventories should draw down this month and the market is likely to see a deficit of 3 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter. That comes after conflicting views this week out of Vitol Group and Trafigura about whether supplies will shrink or head back into surplus by year-end.
On a positive note, the spread between WTI’s nearest contracts strengthened to its narrowest contango structure in roughly a month. A narrowing contango signals easing concerns of oversupply.
The spread “tends to either blow out or tighten as you approach expiration, but it’s supported by the fundamentals here,” said Bob Yawger, head of the futures division at Mizuho Securities. “When you have the contango start to narrow, owners of crude oil are going to be less likely to stuff barrels into storage.”
Companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico may see further storm-related disruption, even as the region still recovers from Hurricane Sally with over 21% of oil production shut in. Among companies preparing for the tropical depression heading for the region, Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it is shutting its Perdido oil and natural gas production hub in the western Gulf of Mexico.
Other oil-market news:
- A hedge fund betting on the decline of fossil fuels has made a 25% gain this year after oil’s historic crash sent energy stocks plummeting. Now it expects them to fall further if Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidential election.
- Russian oil refiners halted more primary capacity for a third week in a row, according to an emailed report from the Energy Ministry.
- Petroleos Mexicanos expects a drastic drop in oil exports over the next three years as the company faces the twin challenges of declining output and supplying crude to a controversial new $8 billion refinery championed by the country’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
–With assistance from Grant Smith and James Thornhill.
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.