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Oil Update—January 2019

My forecast for February is that the West Texas Intermediate oil price will range between $50 and $60 per barrel. The lower end of the range is five dollars higher than last month’s forecast.

As outlined by John Kemp, Senior Market Analyst for Reuters, there are five central elements when considering oil prices for the next several months:

  1. Global economy
  2. US shale production growth
  3. OPEC+ output reductions
  4. US sanctions on Iran
  5. US sanctions on Venezuela

I will provide a cursory comment on each item.

The outcome of the US China trade dispute will drive global growth. If trade talks fail, then global growth will obviously falter. If the trade talks make significant progress, then global growth is likely to at least muddle along. While some are pessimistic, I am optimistic that the two countries land on an agreement. Neither country wants a protracted trade war.

If WTI oil prices remain below $60 per barrel, US shale growth will be moderated because many companies have difficulty being profitable at those prices. OPEC+ output reductions will begin to bite more as time progresses. Because it takes time for reduced oil volumes to reach their destinations, the full impact of the reductions has yet to be realized.

Continued US sanctions against Iran and waivers for the sale of its oil are unknowable at this point. We will have to see how the world looks when it comes time to renew sanctions and waivers, including any possible further action against Iran.

Because Venezuela will have its own difficulties maintaining its production, I view any US sanctions against Venezuela as having minimal affect. Furthermore, there are always other potential buyers for Venezuela’s production. This evening, the US announced sanctions as outlined in the Wall Street Journal article “U.S. to Sanction Venezuela’s State-Owned Oil Giant” (subscription required). So far, the oil price reaction to those sanctions has been muted.

I believe the low oil price in December was an aberration. The oil supply and demand should be getting close to balancing. In my view, the top two items are most important. So, we need to watch to see how the US China trade talks develop and how US shale production performs.

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