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Oil Update—April 2021

I am keeping my April West Texas Intermediate oil price forecast to range between $60 to $70 per barrel for May 2021.

As I expected, oil prices rose throughout April. As I am composing this post, WTI is near $65 per barrel.

Although the US is doing well with its vaccination program, some other countries are still struggling. I hope, though, that they will make considerable progress soon. None of us is safe until all of us are safe.

As we emerge from the pandemic with the easing of curbs and restrictions, people are going to consume more oil by traveling and meeting with friends and family. People are anxious to resume a more normal lifestyle.

The Financial Post article “Goldman sees commodities rallying over next six months on strong demand” suggests that Brent and WTI may hit $80 and $77, respectively, within six months. While I am bullish on oil prices, I am not sure if I am that bullish. Six months, however, is a long time, and I may increase my forecasts as we progress through the summer months.

U.S. bank Goldman Sachs expects commodities to rally another 13.5% over the next six months on a worldwide reversal of coronavirus curbs, lower interest rates and a weaker dollar, its commodities research team said on Wednesday.

The bank now sees Brent prices rising to $80 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices to $77 a barrel over the six month period.

“We expect the biggest jump in oil demand ever, a 5.2 million barrels per day (bpd) rise over the next six months,” Goldman said, citing acceleration of vaccinations in Europe and an unleashing of pent-up travel demand.

OPEC+ has shown strong cohesion and discipline, and I expect that behavior to continue. Its next meeting is in early June.

In summary, prices should continue to strengthen as countries around the globe make progress against COVID-19. Goldman Sachs believes that Brent may reach $80 within six months. While I am optimistic that oil prices will go higher, I will reassess my forecast each month.

I hope everyone remains safe and well.

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Oil Update—March 2021

I am increasing my March West Texas Intermediate oil price forecast by $2.50 to range between $60 to $70 per barrel for April 2021.

Last month was a particularly volatile month. Oil prices fell below and rose above, at least on an intraday basis, my March forecast of $57.50 and $67.50. And in the last few days of trading, oil prices have been bouncing around between $57.50 to $61 per barrel. I would not be surprised if that pattern continues into early April.

But as time marches forward, I continue to expect that prices will move higher. As vaccinations increase and warmer weather encourages people to spend more time outdoors, the number of COVID-19 cases should at least stabilize, if not decrease, and people will likely grow increasingly confident of the future where they begin making plans to travel.

COVID-19 cases are still a concern. This past weekend, the Financial Times (subscription required) ran an article “Europe warns hospitals at ‘breaking point’ as third Covid wave hits” where several countries, including Germany, Poland, and France, are struggling to contain the latest outbreak.

European governments have warned that their hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases as leaders struggle to get a grip on the pandemic after a week of ill-conceived lockdown measures and recriminations over the EU’s slow vaccine rollout.

German health authorities on Friday warned that the third wave of coronavirus infections could be the worst, pushing intensive care units to “breaking point”.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, the government agency leading the fight against the pandemic, said stopping the wave was impossible but he called on people to reduce contacts to prevent spiralling infection rates.

So the path forward will not be smooth sailing. Although progress will be made, setbacks are bound to occur. That notwithstanding, countries in the northern hemisphere are likely to be in a better position a month from now than they are today.

Do not forget, too, that the markets are forward looking. So even if the progress is marginal, the general public and investors will be looking toward summer when they expect people to be more active.

OPEC+ has its meeting on April Fool’s Day. While I expect it to roll over its current quotas, there is always the potential for a surprise.

Wrapping up, while I would not be shocked to see some weakness in prices in early April, I expect prices to firm as the month progresses. If countries make significant progress in vaccinating their populations, then higher prices may be warranted toward the end of April.

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Oil Update—February 2021

I am increasing my February West Texas Intermediate oil price forecast by $10 to $57.50 to $67.50 per barrel for March 2021.

I was too conservative in my prior estimate. Oil prices moved faster and more aggressively than I expected.

The reason for my latest increase is that COVID-19 cases are coming down quickly and warmer weather will mean that people will be spending more time outdoors where they are less likely to contract the illness.

A lot of forecasters have become bullish on oil and are now predicting strong prices for the remainder of the year. A good example is Simon Flower’s February 26 article “Will oil companies start spending again” posted on Wood Mackenzie’s site.

We think a fall below US$55/bbl is unlikely this year with the global economy recovering and oil market fundamentals continuing to improve.

I agree with his position that companies will be using surplus cash flow to pay down debt and strengthen their financial capacity. Companies know that the world has changed over this past year. More people will be working from home and there is a greater focus and emphasis on environmental, social, and governance measures.

Having said that, I expect that there is a lot of pent-up demand for traveling. People will want to visit those that they have not seen for a long time, venture out with family and friends as well as exploring new places. Even so, society has changed, and companies must adapt.

I am deliberately ignoring the chatter surrounding the potential Iranian negotiations. OPEC+ has the necessary flexibility to address the Iranian situation in whichever way it goes. Instead, I am more focused on the global recovery.

To reiterate, I forecast that WTI prices will range between $57.50 and $67.50 per barrel for March. If vaccinations go exceedingly well and the number of COVID-19 continues to diminish more quickly than expected, then there is some risk to the upside.

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Oil Update—January 2021

I am increasing my January West Texas Intermediate oil price forecast by $5 to $47.50 to $57.50 per barrel for February 2021.

Back in September of 2020, Prince Abdulaziz said that those who wanted to gamble on the direction of the oil market would be “ouching like hell.” Early this year when OPEC+ was expected to agree to a small increase in production, Saudi Arabia surprised the market by cutting output by a million barrels per day in February and March. That caught the oil market off guard and drove prices higher. Those that were short on oil learned what “ouching like hell” meant.

A Financial Times article “Saudis pledge to cut oil output despite Russian increases” (subscription required) captures the developments.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to slash an extra 1m barrels a day of oil output in February and March even as Russia moves to increase production, with the kingdom moving to keep the Opec+ group’s fragile alliance intact in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the end of an extended two-day meeting, Saudi Arabia›s oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman announced the “voluntary” reduction after convincing most countries in the 23-member alliance to hold output steady, fearful of unleashing more barrels on to a crude market still roiled by travel restrictions and lockdowns.

Prince Abdulaziz said the unilateral cut was a “sovereign political decision” by his half brother Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. It was taken with the purpose of “supporting our economy, the economies of our colleagues in Opec+ countries, to support the industry”, the Saudi oil minister said.

On the coronavirus front, we are witnessing more variants that appear to be capable of spreading more easily and that may or may not be more harmful. General comments in the media suggest that the variants can be treated with current vaccines, though the South African variant may be more resilient. While this development is worrisome, vaccination efforts around the globe are picking up steam and countries are imposing stricter measures to help combat the spread of the virus.

I expect that the pandemic will ease in the coming months as more people are vaccinated. As life slowly ebbs back toward normalcy over the next several months, oil prices will continue to firm. Some are calling for oil prices to hit much higher levels later this year, but before making such dramatic statements, I want to learn more how the combination of variants and the rollout of vaccinations plays out.

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Oil Update—December 2020

I am increasing my December West Texas Intermediate oil price forecast by $2.50 to $42.50 to $52.50 per barrel for January 2021.

Oil prices have been range bound in the upper $40s throughout December. OPEC+ has been cooperative, and many expect it to increase production by up to 500,000 barrel per day for February. The Financial Post has a Bloomberg article “Russia’s Novak Backs Further OPEC+ Oil-Output Hike in February” on December 25 by Olga Tanas (Twitter link) stating the following:

“To restore our output, that we’ve reduced a lot, the price range of $45 to $55 a barrel is the most optimal,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told reporters in Moscow. “Otherwise we’ll never restore production, others will restore it.”

“If the situation is normal, stable, we will support the increase,” Novak said, when asked if Russia wants a further hike of 500,000 barrels a day in February. “We must reach levels that were envisaged earlier, from Jan. 1, gradually, without pulling the market too much.”

Please note that Novak is referring to Brent prices in the above quote. Brent prices are typically about $3 higher than WTI prices.

While there is concern that rising COVID-19 cases in January and possibly February might damp oil prices, especially with the new UK strain, vaccinations should accelerate from their slow start, which ought to help support prices. As we roll further into 2021, I expect more progress in controlling the pandemic and more optimism toward higher oil prices.

Furthermore, I expect oil equities to move higher with rising oil prices, though not to the same levels they were at prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. With the worldwide movement to consume less fossil fuels, many investors will avoid the oil and gas sector.

I have not mentioned the change in the US administration in deliberating my forecast because I do not believe it will have any immediate effect. Further out in time, I will weigh its policies and how they may affect oil prices. One policy change, of course, that everyone is watching is how the US will address the Iranian situation. My intuitive guess is that, by the time the issues are resolved, the world may be able to accommodate the additional production. In general, though, until we learn more how the new administration repositions its policies, I am taking a wait-and-see approach.

I want to wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!

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Oil Update—November 2020

When I announced my forecast last month, West Texas Intermediate was hovering close to $35 per barrel. As I prepare this post, WTI is slightly above $45 per barrel.

So what has changed? Pfizer’s and Moderna’s announcements of their vaccines changed the outlook for oil prices. Also, OPEC+ is expected to roll over its production quotas for another three months when concludes its meeting tomorrow, December 1.

Because of the vaccine announcements and the expected OPEC+ rollover, both of which will lead to an increased investor risk appetite for oil, I am increasing my WTI price forecast to range between $40 to $50 per barrel for December.

Cumulative Number of COVID-19 Cases in Alberta

On the negative side, COVID-19 will continue to spread. In my province of Alberta, cases are increasing at an alarming rate. The same applies for much of the United States and Europe. On the positive side, vaccinations should begin shortly. I hope by late summer or early fall, all those who want vaccines will have had an opportunity to be vaccinated. And as mentioned, I expect OPEC+ to roll over its production quota for another three months, which should provide support while COVID-19 continues to spread.

As seen during the past month, oil prices and oil equities have spiked. I expect further gains for equities in the months ahead. As investors become more comfortable that the pandemic will recede in the months ahead, I expect more confidence in oil equities. That said, the path forward may continue to be volatile. If you do plan to invest in oil equities, I encourage you to look at those equities with financial and managerial strength. Investors are still wrestling with how much society will change on the other side of the pandemic.

Number of COVID-19 Cases in Alberta per Day

Because of the surging number of COVID-19 cases, I will reiterate my advice from last month. Because COVID-19 is a serious illness that can lead to serious complications and in some cases death, especially for those with compromised immune systems or advanced age, I encourage everyone to wash their hands frequently, wear a mask when in public, maintain a safe distance from others, and limit contact with others. Also, keep a record of activities and contacts over the past fourteen days, so that if you if you do fall victim to the coronavirus, you can provide contact tracers with good information. If we take those measures, then there is a greater likelihood that shutdowns will not be required.

I included two charts showing the number of cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.

I hope everyone remains safe and well.

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Oil Update—October 2020

I am keeping my October price forecast for West Texas intermediate oil to range between $35 and $45 per barrel for November.

Increasing COVID-19 cases throughout the world, increased production from Libya, and the upcoming US election have dominated the news recently. While increasing coronavirus cases are a definite negative, I am hoping that people take the necessary measures to help flatten the curve in the upcoming weeks and months. That said, I do expect more bad news in the next few weeks. Libya’s increased production has surprised some. When OPEC+ meets at the end of November and early December, the increased COVID-19 cases and increased Libyan production will most likely cause it to delay its tapering of planned production cuts, assuming there is agreement. The original plan was to increase production by about 2 million barrels per day starting in January. That date is likely to be pushed back. Once the US election has been decided, regardless of the outcome, investors will likely feel more comfortable making decisions with more certainty.

Regarding COVID-19, there is hope that vaccines will be available within a few months. Of course, it will take several months before vaccines are widely available to all. Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, was quoted in an online Wall Street Journal article dated October 27, 2020, “Pfizer Says Covid-19 Vaccine Late-Stage Trial Almost Fully Enrolled.”

“We have reached the last mile,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on a conference with analysts discussing earnings. “Let’s all have the patience required for something so important for public health and the global economy.”

Mr. Bourla reiterated the time line he laid out earlier this month for the vaccine’s potential rollout. He said Pfizer could file for an emergency authorization to put the vaccine into initial public use in late November, assuming positive trial results—suggesting shots could be made available in the U.S. before the end of the year.

Mr. Bourla said that Pfizer, which is ramping up manufacturing capabilities, will be able to meet its commitment to provide 100 million doses in the U.S. by March, and to deliver about 40 million by the end of this year.

Other manufacturers, including AstraZeneca PLC, Moderna Inc., and Johnson and Johnson, are also in advanced development.

The good news is that it appears we are much closer to the end than we are to the beginning of the pandemic. When the pandemic broke out in March or April, many news reports suggested that no vaccines would be available for at least twelve-to-eighteen months. Now, we have hope that a few vaccines will be available within twelve months.

Because COVID-19 is a serious illness that can lead to serious complications and in some cases death, especially for those with compromised immune systems or advanced age, I encourage everyone to wash their hands frequently, wear a mask when in public, maintain a safe distance from others, and limit contact with others. Also, keep a record of activities and contacts over the past fourteen days, so that if you if you do fall victim to the coronavirus, you can provide contact tracers with good information. If we take those measures, then there is a greater likelihood that shutdowns will not be required.

I hope everyone remains safe and well.

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Oil Update—September 2020

I am lowering my price forecast for West Texas Intermediate oil to range between $35 and $45, a decrease of $2.50 per barrel from last month.

Just as I released my forecast last month, the bottom dropped out. Oil prices plunged into the high $30s. Rising COVID-19 cases, cheating by UAE and Iran, strengthening US dollar, British Petroleum’s bearish forecast, major traders growing more cautious, Libya resuming production, and a few other factors all contributed to oil weakness. The coronavirus situation, however, continues to weaken demand and hamper oil’s price recovery. That said, oil will continue to recover as the supply glut is exhausted and demand increases.

Even though I have reduced my forecast, I expect WTI to hover close to $40 throughout the next month. I do not think it will go much below $40 because of the Saudi threat to hurt those who short oil. Similarly, because of the rising number of coronavirus cases throughout the world, oil prices will have difficulty rising too much.

I am hoping that I will raise my range again soon.

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Oil Update—August 2020

For September, I am raising my forecast for West Texas Intermediate oil prices to range between $37.50 to $47.50 per barrel.

For the past two months, WTI prices have been stuck in the low $40s range. For the most part, I expect that range to continue for September. I do not expect WTI prices to stay below $40 for an extended period.

Many pundits and forecasters expect a continued strengthening of oil demand. In OPEC’s latest “Monthly Oil Market Report,” it expects oil demand to reach 90.6 million barrels per day in 2020 and 97.6 million barrels per day in 2021. Of course, these assumptions are predicated on COVID-19 not making a vigorous comeback.

The overall mood toward oil and oil stocks is pessimistic. The Wall Street Journal article “Exxon’s Departure From Dow Highlights Market’s Retreat From Energy Bets” (subscription required) highlights how far energy companies have fallen out of favor.

It is also a reminder of Exxon’s fall from the top echelon of American industry. As recently as 2013, Exxon was the largest U.S. company with a market value above $415 billion. It has since shrunk to less than $180 billion and has been eclipsed by the technology giants such as Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. that now drive the American economy.

“Exxon, that used to be a behemoth in the U.S. markets, and now it’s dropped out of the Dow,” said Matt Hanna, portfolio manager at Summit Global Investments. “That just goes to show how quick things can change and how far energy has fallen as a sector.”

Usually, market contrarians say a sector that is so beaten down should be ripe for bargains. But many investors remain skeptical of an energy rebound, pointing to muted expectations for global growth and spotty earnings.

As oil prices creep up, oil stocks should begin to show some signs of life. Right now, however, technology stocks are sucking all of the oxygen out of the investment arena.

For those that are brave enough to invest in energy companies, I suggest sticking with strong, well-capitalized companies that can withstand lower prices for longer periods. If oil prices were to spike, then the higher leveraged oil companies would outperform, but with the present slow upward movement in oil prices, a more cautious approach may be more appropriate.

Regarding the upcoming US election, I believe it’s a nonissue. The economy will continue to recover over the next several months provided that there are no COVID-19 setbacks.

In summary, I expect slow, steady economic progress with WTI prices staying in the low- to mid-$40s price range for most of September.

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Oil Update—July 2020

For August, I am extending my July forecast for West Texas Intermediate of $35 to $45 per barrel.

I was hoping the world environment would encourage a higher forecast for August, but, with the increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases worldwide, I decided to be cautious. As stated last month, I expect governments and people will learn to cope with the coronavirus, numbers have increased faster than I expected. The question is whether people will adopt measures to help reduce the spread of the virus—such as social distancing and wearing masks. If so, I hope further lockdowns are unnecessary. According a Wall Street Journal article “U.S. Leads the Globe as Coronavirus Deaths Pass 150,000, Hospitalizations Rise” (subscription required), new cases might be declining.

“Where you limit transmission, you’re going to limit the death toll,” Dr. Fortune said Wednesday.

The U.S. seven-day average of deaths is about 1,019, according to the Journal’s analysis, but the 14-day average is lower, at around 914. For new cases, the seven-day average is about 64,684, less than the 14-day average of around 65,745, suggesting that new cases are on the decline.

The deaths haven’t mounted as quickly during the latest surge in cases as they did during the initial wave in the spring. The U.S. went from a handful of deaths to 100,000 deaths from late March to late May—and topped 125,000 (subscription required) a little over a month ago. The country ranks 10th in the world in deaths per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins.

As an aside, I enjoy following the travails of Mark Wallace, an excellent photographer, as he treks about the world on his motorbike. In a recent blog post “Quarantined in Argentina,” he detailed how he was affected by their protocols. While I enjoyed reading about his experiences, I also enjoyed viewing his photography.

I hope that the worst of the coronavirus is behind us and that we can begin to meaningfully progress to bringing the number of cases down across the globe. If that situation occurs, then oil might continue its upward path.

To reiterate, I expect West Texas Intermediate oil prices to range between $35 and $45 per barrel for August.

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