Comfort zone for OPEC+ in 2024 as fundamentals gradually improve in its favor

Back to its sideways trade range and inching almost unnoticeable higher as the year progresses. Brent crude is up 0.2% this morning to USD 82.7/b along with copper (+0.3%) and Shanghai equities (+1.0%). Brent crude saw some bearish action at the end of last week but it recovered a good portion of that ydy (+1.1%) and then a little more again this morning. With this it has mostly returned back to its sideways trading pattern.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Brent crude averaged USD 79.1/b in January. So far in February it has averaged USD 81.5/b and at the moment it trades at USD 82.7/b. Typical market comments these days are along the theme ”looking for direction” or ”waiting for new signals on supply or demand”. But other comments are more attuned to a view that the direction is indeed sideways this year. Argus last week describe the outlook for the supply/demand balance for 2024 as ”almost perfectly aligned” and Goldman adds to this view in a note yesterday with ”oil set to extend its tight trading range”.

Cease-fire in Gaza on Monday 4 March may create a buying opportunity. News this morning is Biden expressing hopes that a cease-fire in Gaza may start as soon as Monday next week. In our view there is basically zero risk premium in the current oil price due to Middle East tensions. So if the oil price sells off on firm news of a cease-fire, then it is probably a good buying opportunity in our view.

We maintain our strong view of an average Brent crude oil price of USD 85/b in 2024. Total US crude and product stocks including SPR has gone flat sideways since the end of 2022, all through 2023 and has continued to do so in 2023. US oil inventories are below where they were one year ago both when SPR is included and excluded. This is a reflection of a global oil market in balance though OPEC+ has indeed been the balancing agent.

For the year to come, total US hydrocarbon liquids production is forecast by the US EIA to go flat sideways until October this year and in Q4-24 US production is forecast to be only 0.1 m b/d above Q4-23. So no damaging super-growth from the US to kill the oil party this year. In its last monthly report the US EIA actually reduced its forecast for US production by 100 k b/d to 22.3 m b/d (all liquids included). Russia’s energy minister, Nikolay Shulginov, stated in Tass news agency recently that he expects Russian oil production to decline to 530 mn ton in 2024 from 523 mn ton in 2023. That’s a decline of 1.3% YoY and would equate to a decline of 120-130 k b/d decline YoY. So neither of these oil producing giants are set to unsettle the global oil market this year with too much supply.

Demand growth looks set to be a normal 1.3 m b/d in 2024. The most bearish on oil demand growth is probably the IEA which predicts demand to grow on by 1.2 m b/d YoY in 2024. The US EIA expects demand to grow by 1.4 m b/d. But if we look closer at the numbers from the IEA it expects demand to rise by 1.6 m b/d YoY from Q4-23 to Q4-24. Together with muted supply from both the US and Russia this year this all sums up to a gradually rising need for oil from OPEC through 2024. This made us write the headline ”Better and better every day” in a crude oil comment in late January. Demand for oil from OPEC doesn’t look stellar. But it looks set to be better and better through the year and that is most definitely a great comfort zone for OPEC+.

Sideways, yes, but normal trade range around the mean is still usually +/- USD 20/b. Amid all the current calmness, let us still not forget that Brent crude usually trades in a range through the year of +/- USD 20/b around the mean as there are always some surprises along the way. We don’t think that the situation in the Middle East will spiral out of control into an all-out regional war involving Iran and resulting in large losses of oil supply to the market. And we don’t think there are much risk premium in current oil prices related to this either. But at times in 2024 it may look like it might happen. And that’s probably when you would see the high price point of the year. Maybe as high as USD 105/b. On the bearish we do not think that we’ll have a major economic slowdown or a recession in 2024. But at times in 2024 it may look like we are about to tip into a major slowdown and that would probably be when you’d see the low price point of the year. Maybe as low as USD 65/b.

Total US crude and product stocks incl. SPR has gone sideways since end of 2022, all through 2023 and so far in 2024. Currently it is only 13 m b above the low-point in late 2022!

Source: SEB graph, Blbrg data

Commercial US crude and product stocks are below normal and below last year.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

US Commercial oil inventories vs. the 2015-19 average. Still struggling with a significant deficit of middle distillates.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg and EIA data

US refinery utilization at very low level vs. normal. Extensive maintenance this spring is expected. Result will be low production of oil products, falling inventories of oil products, higher refining margins but also rising crude stocks.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

US EIA forecast for total US liquids production. To go sideways in 2024 to Oct-2024.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, US EIA data STEO

Strong growth in US supply in 2022 and 2023. But 2024 is only set to grow 0.5 m b/d YoY on average. The growth in 2024 is in part a result of production in 2023 starting low and ending high. But from Jan to Oct 2024 US production will go sideways and only rise by 0.1 m b/d YoY from Q4-23 to Q4-24.

Source: SEB calculations and graph, US EIA data STEO

Global floating crude stocks at 66 m b and not too far above the more normal 50 m b level.

Source: SEB graph, Blbrg data

IEA Feb-2024 OMR: Call-on-OPEC is rising gradually through 2024. Better and better for OPEC every quarter to Q3-24

Source: SEB graph, IEA data

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