Last month I drew attention to the fact that the WTI-Brent spread had opened to $7 and that this could be a bullish signal for the oil price. A strong rally in Brent has since continued and the price now stands close to $64 / bbl while the spread remains at $6.50 (Figure 3).
The main reason for this sustained recovery is that the oil market has been brought back into balance thanks to a high level of compliance in the OPEC-Russia+others production cuts and continued growth in global demand for oil. There are several other factors discussed below which suggest that the oil price rally may continue.
[Inset image of the Ku Maloob Zaap production facilities offshore Mexico. Maintenance, delayed by Hurricanes, underlies falling production. When injected nitrogen hits the producing wells, production will collapse.]
The chart below from the October 2017 IEA OMR shows how in the course of 2017 the oil market has been brought back into balance. There is still a vast >3 billion barrels of crude and refined products in storage within the OECD, but the very fact that storage capacity no longer has to grow is bullish since this avoids the scenario where tanker loads have nowhere to go (full storage) which can dump the price.
One reason it has taken so long for the production cuts to work is that production in both Libya and Nigeria have recovered from lows (Figure 17), caused by civil unrest, adding over 1 Mbpd to OPEC supply. Both are now on cyclical highs and are unlikely to rise much further. Indeed, the normal direction post-high is downward. At worst, the Libya – Nigeria market drag should now become neutral.
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