Yesterday, OPEC and the IEA provided their monthly reports on the oil industry. What got quite a bit of headlines was OPEC's forecast that crude demand would decrease during the remainder of the year. With both Brent and WTI below the $100/bbl mark, does this mean triple digit crude prices are a thing of the past?
Not necessarily, because the IEA and OPEC are somewhat contradicting themselves in their reports. While OPEC cut its outlook for demand, the IEA raised its outlook. So, who's right? Well, it could have more to do with the initial assessment and converging on a realistic number. And that's rather important, because it appears to coincide with expected supply, even with OPEC raising production.
Where this is going
The IEA had a more pessimistic outlook for crude demand this year, setting it at 99M bpd, while OPEC had a more optimistic assessment of over 101M bpd. Since then, however, both have been converging on the 100M bpd mark, with the IEA raising demand forecasts and OPEC lowering. But both agree in their forecast that production will be around 100.1M bpd.
Why the disagreement on one and agreement on the other? Because tracking production capacity is a lot easier. It's just a matter of counting all the wells and how much they produce. But how much people will decide to spend in a changing environment is a much harder thing to do. Furthermore, as the IEA noted in their report, there can be surprises. For example, Russian production has remained much higher than anticipated despite sanctions. Re-balancing shipments to take into account the sanctions appears to have been easier than anticipated, and happened quicker.
Figuring out the price direction
This has two implications for prices. One, the expectation for the price to fall once the infrastructure is set up for Russia to export around the sanctions might not pan out. Simply because is already managing to do that. And secondly, as Europe slowly weans itself off Russian supply, the potential for increasing price pressures might not materialize. This is because there appears to be more elasticity in global supply that allows for shifting demand.
Speaking of which, high prices are pushing down consumer demand. A study by the AAA in the US, for example, showed that most Americans are cutting back on their driving. So much, in fact, that demand for gasoline has slipped below to the levels it was in 2020 during the pandemic. American drivers are the largest group of crude products consumers in the world. And it's not just fuel prices that are keeping them from driving, a majority said they were shopping less, as well. Suggesting that higher inflation overall, and not just strictly higher fuel prices, is contributing to slowing demand.
With the BOE warning of a recession, and the US having two quarters of negative growth by the White House insisting it isn't a recession, that could be the key to potentially crude continuing its downward trajectory. Daimler Trucks, for example, is already setting up for lowering energy consumption ahead of potential supply shortages in Europe during the winter. Meaning that supply interruptions might not necessarily lead to higher demand, but simply less consumption.
While demand might be waning, it still doesn't eliminate the possibility of a surprise on the supply side. Such as a rise in geopolitical tensions, or a natural event. So far, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico have been relatively scarce this year, but the season lasts for another four months.