A collapse of production in Venezuela, aggressive production curtailments from OPEC+, relatively strong demand and an economy humming along – and oil prices are still sharply below the highs seen last year.
To be sure, oil has bounced just about to the highest level since November, and a confluence of bullish forces seem to be pushing prices in an upward direction. But in years past, news that an oil producer like Venezuela suddenly saw production fall from over 1 million barrels per day (mb/d) down to 500,000 or 600,000 bpd overnight would have sent prices skyward. Now crude jumps by a buck or so.
The reason for the relative restraint is that the market has been anticipating U.S. shale production to grow at an unchecked rate. In January, the EIA predicted the U.S. would average 12.1 mb/d of oil production this year. A month later, the agency revised that forecast up by a massive 300,000 bpd to 12.4 mb/d. It was a familiar narrative. U.S. shale continues to exceed prior expectations.
However, the EIA just downgraded its forecast for the first time in six months. The latest Short-Term Energy Outlook sees output averaging 12.3 mb/d. It’s a rather minor downward revision, but the direction is important.
The series of spending cuts by U.S. shale producers may actually slow down the drilling machine. “This is just the beginning,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc., told Bloomberg. “The reality of the situation is that a lot of these guys are not making money and are having a hard time keeping these production levels up. Any pullback is going to make it harder to keep that upward trajectory of oil production moving higher.”
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