Crude oil prices are forecast to remain relatively flat
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that Brent crude oil prices will average $67 per barrel (b) in 2019 and in 2020. EIA expects that West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices will average $60/b in 2019 and $63/b in 2020. The forecast of relatively stable crude oil prices in the mid-$60/b range reflects EIA’s expectation that heading into 2020, global oil consumption will grow at a similar rate as global oil supply at current price levels. However, several risks to both consumption and supply could push prices out of this range.
Brent crude oil spot price averaged $64/b in June, down from an average of $71/b in both April and May. The recent price declines largely reflect increasing concerns about global oil demand growth as a result of increasingly weak global economic signals. Weakening global oil demand and strong supply growth in the United States contributed to global petroleum and other liquid fuels inventory builds in the first half of 2019 and limited any sustained upward pressure on crude oil prices. In terms of price formation in recent months, these factors have outweighed decreasing crude oil supply from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). OPEC output fell because of declining crude oil production in Venezuela and Iran, the extension of the agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC participants (OPEC+) through the first quarter of 2020, and Saudi Arabia’s continued over compliance with the existing OPEC+ agreements.
EIA expects that the combination of strong growth in U.S. and other non-OPEC liquid fuels production and slowing global oil demand growth will contribute to a balanced market in the second half of 2019 and about 150,000 barrels per day (b/d) growth in global petroleum and other liquid fuels inventories in 2020 (Figure 2). The global oil inventory builds in 2020 are expected to put some downward pressure on crude oil prices; however, EIA assumes that the downward pressure will be offset by upward price pressures as a result of the IMO 2020 regulations going into effect. Although EIA expects the new regulations to have a limited impact on crude oil prices, many unknowns remain about how the global refining and shipping industries will respond to the regulation and how actual outcomes of these decisions will affect crude oil prices.
Developments regarding the rate of economic growth and its effect on global oil demand further contribute to crude oil price uncertainty. Based on forecasts from Oxford Economics, EIA lowered its global oil-weighted gross domestic product (GDP) growth projection to 2.2% in 2019, which would be the lowest annual growth rate since 2009. The low GDP growth rate, in turn, is expected to result in an annual oil consumption growth of 1.1 million b/d, the lowest level of growth since 2011 and similar to growth levels seen in 2016.
EIA forecasts that both economic growth and liquid demand growth will rebound in 2020. Annual oil-weighted GDP growth is expected to increase to 2.7% in 2020, leading to increased oil demand growth. EIA expects world liquid fuels demand growth of more than 1.4 million b/d in 2020, more than two-thirds of which is forecast to come collectively from China, the United States, India, and Russia.
On the supply side, EIA expects continuing declines (albeit at a slower pace) in OPEC production to be more than offset by supply growth in the United States and other non-OPEC countries. However, compliance with OPEC+ production targets and the potential for supply disruptions in key oil-producing countries could pose risks to the forecast.
On July 2, 2019, OPEC+ extended production cuts announced in December 2018 through the end of the first quarter of 2020. EIA’s forecast assumes the OPEC+ agreement will remain in place through the end of the first quarter of 2020, with OPEC+ continuing to target a balanced market after that. The degree of adherence to production targets from the OPEC+ agreement will be a key determinant of whether global crude oil inventories remain higher than the five-year (2014–18) average during the forecast period and will be a significant driver of crude oil prices. EIA forecasts OPEC total liquids production will average 35.3 million b/d in the second half of 2019 and 34.8 million b/d in 2020, down from 37.3 million b/d in 2018. The decline through 2019 to date is mainly the result of Saudi Arabia’s over compliance with the December 2018 OPEC+ agreement and rapidly decreasing crude oil production in Iran and Venezuela. Combined production in Iran and Venezuela fell to an estimated 2.8 million b/d as of June 2019, a 2.4 million b/d decrease compared with June 2018. These factors contributed to OPEC’s crude oil production averaging 29.9 million b/d in June, the lowest level since mid-2014.
Additional supply disruptions may potentially remove large volumes of crude oil from the global market and cause crude oil prices to increase. Events in Venezuela and Libya, in particular, could cause production to drop quickly. In Venezuela, widespread power outages, long-term inefficient management of the country’s oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela’s energy sector and state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) have all contributed to accelerating declines. Although Libya’s crude oil production increased during the first half of 2019, supply disruptions will remain a significant risk through 2020 because of the tentative security situation in the country and the lack of investment in existing infrastructure. Disruptions to shipping through the Strait of Hormuz would also cause prices to increase.
Finally, the U.S. tight oil sector continues to be dynamic, and quickly evolving trends in this sector could affect both current crude oil prices and expectations for future prices. EIA expects U.S. crude oil production, which reached a record-high 11.0 million b/d in 2018, to average 12.4 million b/d in 2019 and 13.3 million b/d in 2020. Much of the growth in U.S. crude oil production is attributable to tight oil formations in the Permian region of Texas and New Mexico, which account for 950,000 b/d of the U.S. growth expected in 2019 and 740,000 b/d of the growth in 2020. A downside risk to Permian crude oil production is the increased production of natural gas from this region. Drilling in areas with high concentrations of natural gas in the Permian region might increase only if natural gas pipeline constraints are eased and tighter flaring limits are not implemented.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price increased 3 cents from the previous week to $2.74 per gallon on July 8, 11 cents lower than the same time last year. The Gulf Coast price increased 5 cents to $2.42 per gallon, and the Midwest and East Coast prices each increased nearly 4 cents to $2.67 per gallon and $2.66 per gallon, respectively. The Rocky Mountain price fell nearly 3 cents to $2.80 per gallon, and the West Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.38 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased more than 1 cent to $3.06 per gallon on July 8, 19 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price increased over 4 cents to $2.97 per gallon, and the East Coast and the Gulf Coast prices each increased less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.08 per gallon and $2.80 per gallon, respectively. The Rocky Mountain price fell nearly 2 cents to $2.98 per gallon, and the West Coast price fell less than 1 cent to $3.62 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 0.2 million barrels last week to 76.9 million barrels as of July 5, 2019, 5.7 million barrels (7.9%) greater than the five-year (2014-2018) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Midwest and Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 0.4 million barrels and 0.2 million barrels, respectively, while Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. East Coast inventories increased by 0.4 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 6.0% of total propane/propylene inventories.