End to Oil Collapse in Sight for BofA, BNP Paribas

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Libya's Oil Output
Pipes and fuel storage tanks are seen at the Zawiya oil refinery near Tripoli. Libya's oil output climbed by 280,000 barrels a day to 780,000, the fifth straight increase. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

Some of the world’s biggest banks say the collapse in oil is just about over.

Bank of America Corp. and BNP Paribas SA predict prices will hold above $80 a barrel. Commerzbank AG also sees that level as a possible low for Brent crude. They’re in part counting on OPEC cutting output -- some say as soon as next month -- to compensate for recent declines in demand.

North Sea Brent, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, has slid by more than $30 a barrel from its June high to below $83 a barrel today amid a supply glut and slower global growth. Ministers from the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will meet in Vienna on Nov. 27 to discuss production and price levels.

“We are almost at the floor,” Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas in London, said by phone yesterday. He estimates that Brent will be supported at $80 to $85 a barrel and could rebound to $95 by year-end. “It’s not in OPEC’s interest to see prices too low for too long a period.”

That banks’ forecasts hinge so much on OPEC’s decision next month underscores the pivotal role the group, and especially Saudi Arabia, still plays even as production surges everywhere from the U.S. to Russia to Canada. Analysts surveyed Oct. 9 by Bloomberg were split on whether the group will cut its oil-production target for the first time since 2008.

The oil-price floor of $80 a barrel may shift if OPEC rejects cuts next month, said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research for Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt.

Extreme Nervousness

“Given the extreme nervousness of the market, we might even drop below this level should OPEC do nothing,” Weinberg said by phone yesterday. Brent crude rebounded from the lowest level since November 2010 to settle 69 cents higher at $84.47 on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London.

OPEC pumped 30.935 million barrels a day in September, the most since August 2013, according to a Bloomberg survey. The gain was led by Libya, where output climbed by 280,000 barrels a day to 780,000, the fifth straight increase.

The biggest producers in the group have responded to the drop in futures by cutting their official selling prices, sparking speculation they will compete for market share rather than trim output. Kuwait deepened the discount for its crude to Asian customers, two people who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public, said yesterday. That follows similar moves by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.

OPEC Meeting

“OPEC is going to cut output with the help of some others when they gather next month,” Mike Wittner, head of oil market research at Societe Generale SA in New York, said by phone yesterday. “The Saudis want others to make cuts. This is a significant change over recent years when the Saudis would just adjust production according to market conditions.”

The world’s largest oil exporter is able to protect its market share by keeping production steady even as prices hit a four-year low, while producers such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela stand to lose the most from the drop in prices. Saudi Arabia increased September output 0.5 percent to 9.65 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The Saudis are trying to protect their patch in Asia,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said by phone from Sydney yesterday.

The kingdom needs to start worrying about the decline in prices, billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud said in a letter dated Oct. 13 to oil minister Ali Al-Naimi.

While U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate may drop to $75 a barrel, Brent crude has “a lot of support” at $85, Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America in New York, said by phone yesterday. WTI, which closed at a two-year low of $81.78 a barrel yesterday, rebounded to $82.70 today.

Rebound Coming

“You have to believe there’s a cyclical rebound coming in the next three months,” Blanch said. “A lot of emerging economies are going to benefit from a strong dollar, strong U.S. economy and lower energy prices. The drop in prices will be pretty stimulating for demand.”

OPEC last cut output quotas in December 2008 at a meeting in Oran, Algeria, amid the global financial crisis. The group trimmed its target by 2.46 million barrels a day, responding to the crisis that sent WTI prices tumbling from a record $147.27 a barrel in July 2008 to a low of $32.40 in December the same year.

“It’s very difficult to say what the target will be until we know what the real purpose of the price war is,” Weinberg said. “Saudi Arabia is trying to test not only the other OPEC members but the likes of U.S. shale and Russia.”

Any support for Brent prices will have to come from the supply side as demand in the fourth quarter probably won’t move significantly higher, Miswin Mahesh, an oil analyst at Barclays Plc, said by phone from Singapore yesterday. At least 1 million barrels a day of supply needs to be cut, he said.

“It will be increasingly challenging for OPEC to resist action, be it in the form of communication or eventually with a decision on production,” Tchilinguirian said. “The price floor is a lot closer now than it was a couple of weeks ago.”

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