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Oil Update—May 2020

For June, I expect West Texas Intermediate oil prices to range between $30 to $40 per barrel. If oil prices go below $30, I do not expect them to stay there long. Furthermore, I expect oil prices to drift upward over time. So if oil prices surpasses $40, they might stick. I am not overly confident of my forecast, even though it covers a wide range.

The Financial Times article “US shale industry braces for wave of bankruptcies” (subscription required) suggests hard times remain for the shale industry.

Analysts predict 250 companies could go bust before the end of next year unless oil prices rise fast enough to start generating cash for producers wilting under punishing debt loads.

A recent rally has taken the price of West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, back above $30 a barrel, having traded in negative territory last month. But it remains down by half since January — and well beneath average break-even oil prices in the shale patch — leaving many more producers teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal article “Coronavirus Threatens to Hobble the U.S. Shale-Oil Boom for Years” (subscription required) continues with that same theme.

While oil prices have rebounded in recent days and are above $33 a barrel, U.S. output is still poised to fall because companies aren’t drilling enough wells to make up for production declines from existing wells. Shale wells produce a lot of oil and gas early on, but quickly lose steam. Without investing in new wells, many companies’ output would decline by 30% to 50% in just a year, research firm Wood Mackenzie says.

In a recent Bloomberg article “Global Oil Demand Has Yet to Peak, Energy Watchdog Predicts,” (subscription might be required) IEA’s Faith Birol suggests that new demand from India and Africa will not offset potential reduction in consumption from the US.

“If there’s a strong economic recovery, American business consultants using Zoom will not compensate for 150 million new urban residents in India and Africa traveling, working in factories and buying products transported by trucks,” Birol said.

With most regions within the US now opening up and social distancing decreasing, oil demand and consumption are picking up. For those interested, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas provided an interesting article “New Dallas Fed Social Distancing Index Gives Insight into COVID-19’s Economic Impact.” The article states that its index is tightly correlated with Google COVID-19 Mobility. I would assume that it also correlates well with Apple Maps Mobility Trend Reports.

While I believe that the oil industry still faces a challenging period, market forces along with OPEC+ are helping to bring the supply-demand dynamic into balance. Furthermore, once we are past COVID-19, the demand for oil may surpass prior levels.

For these reasons, I still maintain that buying well-managed and capitalized oil companies may be a prudent investment decision for those with a long-term horizon. And as stated last month, I am not providing any investment advice or guidance, and you and your adviser are responsible for your investments.

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