Prepare for Oil to Keep Falling on Libya to U.S. SupplyMark Shenk
New U.S. pipelines and a revival in Libyan supply are increasing the likelihood that oil prices will slump through year-end after climbing in the first six months.
Wall Street analysts tracked by Bloomberg predict West Texas Intermediate oil will average $100 a barrel in the fourth quarter, down 5.1 percent from June 30, while Brent drops 4.8 percent to $107. Violence in Iraq sent Brent to $115.71 in June, its highest level since September, on concern supplies would be disrupted.
Brent is poised to decline in part on increased output in Libya as key export terminals were reopened. In the U.S., traders are focused on supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for the WTI futures contract. Tallgrass Energy Partners LP plans to complete the conversion of the Pony Express pipeline to carry crude to Cushing from Wyoming. Enbridge Inc.’s Flanagan South will connect to the hub from Illinois.
“Cushing is an island of scarcity in a sea of plenty,” Harry Tchilinguirian, the head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA in London, said by phone on July 2. “In the third quarter we’re looking at two new pipelines, the Flanagan and Pony Express, that will supply Cushing. There will then be a new equilibrium.”
WTI rose 7.1 percent in the first six months of 2014 on the New York Mercantile Exchange as Cushing supplies tumbled to a five-year low, with new lines carrying oil to the Gulf Coast. The U.S. grade fell $4.21 to $102.29 during the nine days ended July 9, the longest stretch of declines since 2009. It slipped 2 percent to $100.83 today, the lowest close since May 12.
Brent, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, gained 1.4 percent on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The North Sea oil decreased 1.8 percent to $106.66 a barrel today, the lowest settlement since April 7.
Brent was headed for a drop in the first half until the widening conflict in Iraq raised concern of a supply disruption. Prices fell after an Islamic insurgents’ advance stopped short of southern Iraq, home to most of the country’s crude output.
The spread between the contracts narrowed to as little as $3.59 in April from $14.95 on Jan. 13, before the opening of the southern leg of the TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL. Stockpiles have slipped 50 percent since the pipeline began moving barrels from Cushing to Texas on Jan. 22, Energy Information Administration data show. The spread closed at $5.83 today.
“We’re looking for a change in the balances with the opening of the Pony Express and Flanagan South pipelines,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America Corp. in New York, said by phone on July 7.
Cushing supplies began falling two years ago when the direction of the Seaway pipeline was reversed to move oil away from the hub. Enbridge and Enterprise Products Partners LP said July 3 that they completed a 512-mile (833-kilometer) loop that’s expected to boost Seaway’s capacity to 850,000 barrels a day from 400,000.
The additional supply coming out of Cushing is about half that of the new lines going in. Pony Express will open with throughput of 230,000 barrels a day and Flanagan South will be able to move 600,000, the lines’ owners said.
Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said by phone on July 2 that there were a lot of geopolitical issues affecting markets in the first half, but that the biggest factor was the opening of the southern portion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline because it resulted in a decline in Cushing stocks.
U.S. crude output rose to 8.514 million barrels a day in the week ended July 4, the most since October 1986, EIA figures show. Annual output is forecast to reach 9.28 million barrels a day in 2015, the highest since 1972.
“If not for the massive increase in U.S. production, we would be paying a significant premium to what we’re seeing today,” Adam Wise, who helps run a $6 billion oil and gas bond portfolio as a managing director at John Hancock in Boston, said July 2 by phone.
Global consumption is forecast to climb 1.2 percent to 91.62 million barrels a day this year, the EIA says.
“There will be a moderate rise in demand but supply will be enough to cover that,” Hans van Cleef, an energy economist at ABN Amro Bank NV, said by phone from Amsterdam on July 4.
Crude climbed in June after violence flared in Iraq, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
“Iraq has been the big surprise,” Amrita Sen, chief oil economist for Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said by phone on July 2. “The second quarter was very strong.”
Iraq concerns increased amid a drop in Libyan supply. Libya pumped 300,000 barrels a day in June, down 73 percent from a year earlier, according to a Bloomberg survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. Output has risen to 350,000 barrels a day, National Oil Corp. spokesman Mohamed Elharari said by phone yesterday.
Libya, holder of Africa’s biggest reserves, has 7.5 million barrels of oil stored at the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, which were reopened this month, Oil Ministry Measurement Director Ibrahim Al-Awami said by phone on July 7.
“Risk premiums linked to Libya and Iraq in particular will continue to dictate where Brent prices are,” Abhishek Deshpande, a crude markets analyst at Natixis SA in London, said by e-mail on July 8.
Iran is another possible source of increased crude as diplomats meeting in Vienna seek a permanent accord over the country’s nuclear work. If an agreement is reached, sanctions limiting Iranian exports could be eased.
Saudi Arabia has also added to supply, boosting output by 230,000 barrels a day to 9.9 million, the highest since September, when it pumped 10 million, the most in monthly data going back to 1989.
“The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have almost exclusively made up for the declines in Libyan and Iraqi output,” Katherine Spector, a commodities strategist at CIBC World Markets Inc. in New York, said July 2 by phone. “If the other shoe were to drop, there’s nobody to make up for the loss.”