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Oil Update—April 2019

My forecast for May is that the West Texas Intermediate oil price will range between $62.50 and $72.50 per barrel. The range is $5.00 higher than last month’s forecast.

After the US administration began the process of ending waivers on the Iran sanctions, prominent pundits have had a difficult time assessing the effect of the resulting loss of Iranian production. Part of the challenge is that no one knows with certainty just how much production will be lost.

A Wall Street Journal article titled “Oil Volatility Picks Up, Putting 2019 Rally Under Scrutiny” (subscription required) highlights the uncertainty.

Prices had climbed early last week after the Trump administration surprised some market participants by ending waivers on Iran sanctions that allowed some buyers to continue purchases from the Islamic Republic. Last week marked the first time in nearly two months that oil logged multiple moves of at least 2.5% in either direction.

The moves are putting investors on edge because of the narrow supply-demand balance heading into the U.S. summer driving season. The decision to end the sanctions waivers threatens to remove even more oil from global markets at a time when U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and a continuing conflict in Libya have already resulted in lower supply from those countries.

Even with the U.S. producing record amounts of oil, many investors remain unsure how quickly OPEC and its allies would fill any impending production gaps, opening the door to large price swings in either direction.

Because Saudi Arabia wants and needs higher prices to help balance its budget, I am assuming that the Brent oil price remains between $70 and $80 per barrel. Estimating that WTI prices are about $8 dollars lower, I arrived at my range for May of $62.50 and $72.50 per barrel.

Because the uncertainty surrounding production from Iran, Libya, and Venezuela is particularly high, I do not have great confidence in my range. Furthermore, the US China trade deal, with implications for global growth, has yet to be resolved. So, I would not be surprised if prices declined below or rose above my forecast.

Perhaps once the OPEC+ meeting in June has concluded and the driving season is in full swing, the outlook for oil prices will become clearer. Until then, though, I expect considerable uncertainty and, possibly, volatility.

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