Oil In Sight of $65 With Saudi Supply Gamble Reverberating

Oil headed toward $65 a barrel after OPEC+ chose not to relax supply curbs even as the global economy pulls out of its pandemic-driven slump, confounding widespread expectations the group would loosen the taps.

By Saket Sundria

Word Count: 735
(Bloomberg) — 

The surprise decision spurred a wave of crude price forecast upgrades by major banks. The producer alliance agreed to hold output steady in April, while Saudi Arabia said that it will maintain its 1 million barrel-a-day voluntary production cut. West Texas Intermediate rose a further 1% in Asian trading after surging by more than 4% to the highest close since April 2019 on Thursday.

See also: Saudis Bet ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ Is Over in Push for Pricier Oil

Crude has soared this year, shepherded higher by OPEC+ restraining supplies and the vaccine-aided recovery in consumption that’s drained inventories. The group’s decision represents a victory for Riyadh, which has advocated for tight curbs to keep prices supported.

WTI extends rally to level not seen since January 2020

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia had been debating whether to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output. As part of the agreement, which was struck at a virtual meeting on Thursday, Russia and Kazakhstan were granted exemptions. The group’s next meeting is set for April 1 to discuss production levels for May.

Saudi Arabia’s bold and unexpected gamble to restrain production is founded upon its view that, this time around, higher prices will not lead to a big increase in output by American shale drillers. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Bloomberg News in an interview after the OPEC+ meeting that shale companies are now more focused on dividends.

  • West Texas Intermediate for April delivery advanced 1% to $64.46 a barrel at 10:53 a.m. in Singapore.
  • Brent for May rose 1% to $67.39 after surging 4.2% on Thursday.

“Crude’s spike was a knee-jerk reaction to a shocking OPEC+ decision,” said Vandana Hari, founder of Vanda Insights in Singapore. Saudi Arabia’s optimism over U.S. shale remaining subdued appears plausible for now, but “the kingdom might be pushing its luck if it pursues the hawkish path for too long,” she said.

Oil’s rapid gains this year stand to intensify the global debate about the potential resurgence in inflation, and complicate the task facing the Federal Reserve as it supports the U.S. recovery. The Treasury market is already on edge for signs of faster price gains, with benchmark yields rising rapidly. Crude is up more than 7% since Tuesday’s close despite a marked strengthening of the dollar and a steep sell-off in other major commodities, especially economic bellwether copper.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its Brent forecasts by $5 a barrel and now sees the global crude benchmark at $80 in the third quarter. JPMorgan Chase & Co. increased its Brent projection by $2 to $3 a barrel and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. boosted its three-month target to $70. Citigroup Inc. said crude prices could top $70 before the end of this month.

Change Course

Oil rising to these levels will likely increase strains within OPEC+ as some members will want to pump more to relieve under-pressure economies, Citi said in a note. Top importers such as China and India would also not be happy and the alliance is likely to change course at its next meeting, it said.

The lack of fresh supply was reflected in oil’s futures curve. Brent’s prompt timespread widened to 59 cents in backwardation, a bullish structure where near-dated prices are higher than later-dated ones, from 54 cents Thursday.

More evidence of the demand recovery continued to emerge, especially in Asia. Gasoline and diesel consumption in China has extended its run above pre-virus levels this year after the faster-than-expected return of factory activity and infrastructure building following the Lunar New Year holiday.

In addition to the fallout from the OPEC+ shock, investors are tracking China’s National People’s Congress, the nation’s biggest political meeting of the year. As the session got under way, Beijing set a conservative economic growth target of above 6% for the year, well below what economists had forecast.

Related news:
  • Major oil sands producers in Western Canada will idle about half a million barrels a day of production next month, helping tighten global supplies as oil prices surge.
  • The impact of the pandemic in Brazil and Mexico is cooling demand for gasoline and diesel in two top markets for U.S. refiners.

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