In late 2016 OPEC engineered significant oil production cuts in order to address an oversupplied oil market. Global crude oil inventories had reached record highs, and the price of oil had crashed following a disastrous decision by the cartel in 2014 to defend market share.
In contrast to the 2014 decision, this time OPEC’s strategy is having the desired effect. Over the past year, despite strong U.S. shale production growth, global inventories have steadily declined. According to the latest Oil Market Report from the International Energy Agency, supply is expected to lag demand for the rest of 2018, further depleting inventories:
In response to declining inventories, global oil prices have steadily increased, breaking through three-year highs last week and again this week. West Texas Intermediate closed last week above $67/bbl, while Brent closed above $72/bbl. These prices are approximately 50% higher than they were last August.
The latest bullish news for oil prices was a weekly report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing another 1.1 million barrel drop in U.S. crude oil inventories. This now moves crude oil inventories down into the lower half of the range for this time of year.
But in addition to the drop in crude oil inventories, the EIA also reported that gasoline and diesel inventories each dropped by at least 3.0 million barrels last week, bringing the total drop in commercial inventories to 10.6 million barrels for the week. That’s an unusually large (and bullish) draw on inventories.
Meanwhile, last week last week Bloomberg reported that Saudi Arabia (OPEC’s leading producer) has its sights set on a target of $80/bbl. This week Reuters reported that the target could be as high as $100/bbl.
Given that Saudi Aramco is the single largest producer of oil in the world — with the power to move oil prices — this target should be taken seriously. Despite the disastrous price war on shale producers, Saudi Arabia usually achieves its aims in the oil markets.
However, $100/bbl would stimulate significant investment in U.S. shale production, which backfired the last time oil prices were at that level. But this is a clear indication that Saudi Arabia isn’t going to abandon the production cuts any time soon.
As I have noted in the past, once Saudi Arabia embarks upon a strategy, it usually sticks with that strategy for an extended period of time. Especially when that strategy is having the desired impact.