A little over a year ago, specialized satellite imaging company Orbital Insight which uses its proprietary imaging and algorithms to track above-ground oil storage, confirmed something we had alleged earlier in the year: that China was vastly under-representing the amount of oil it had stored in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (with significant implications for prices). As we said last September “according to Orbital Insight, China had not only misrepresented how much oil it has stored, it has done so at a massive scale, with the real number dwarfing even JPM own estimate: the real amount of Chinese oil in storage, according to Orbital, was a whopping 600 million barrels as of May” an amount nearly 3 times greater than the official, at the time, number of 234 million barrels.
The resultant doubt about China’s true purchasing capacity was one of the several factors that led to the subsequent swoon in oil prices which OPEC was unable to overcome until nearly a year later, when the market became increasingly confident that the OPEC strategy of eliminating excess inventory, was working and pushed the price of WTI and Brent to two year highs, above $57 and $63 respectively.
That confidence may not last, however, and the reason may be the same one as last year: Orbital Insights.
As the FT’s David Sheppard writes, “while the oil market’s attention has been gripped this week by the corruption purge in Saudi Arabia and its tensions with Iran, from miles above the earth’s crust one company is highlighting a different kind of intrigue.” He is, of course, referring to Orbital Insight, whose analysis of Saudi crude inventories in recent months has thrown up an “interesting anomaly.’
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