The oil market has come to be defined by several narratives over the past couple of years: market rebalancing, OPEC versus shale, Russia’s delicate relationship with OPEC, OPEC’s conformity with production cuts with the latest deal extension running to end of 2018 and shale’s resilience to lower prices. But these frameworks have created a narrow ideology that could harm the way producers participate in the oil market this year and beyond.
Myth 1: OPEC’s exit strategy means exit
The idea that the 24 producers who came together and struck a deal to cut production by 1.8 million b/d in November 2016 are somehow going to ‘exit’ the alliance later this year is misleading. There will be no exit when OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC producers decide the market has rebalanced—based on OECD stock levels reaching their five year average — rather a continuation of the grand alliance under amended, and most probably looser, terms.
OPEC’s hands are somewhat tied: unwind from the deal and undo all the good work achieved and so must continue managing the market in another guise to create stability and encourage long-term investment in oil.
Gary Ross at Platts Analytics has been talking of cuts “into perpetuity” since the historic deal was made and informed industry sources note that the exit strategy is the wrong phrase to be using. But while there is uncertainty as to what that new agreement will look like, the market will anxiously hang on to the exit strategy term and these jitters could serve to keep an ultimate cap on prices.
Myth 2: OPEC’s top priority is market rebalancing
Market rebalancing may be the measure, backwardation may be the means but price is the ultimate goal.
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