Oil Price Paths in 2018: The Interplay between OPEC, US Shale and Supply Interruptions

2018 started on a positive note for oil markets with Brent prices breaking through $70 a barrel for a few days and all the key international crude oil benchmarks flipping into backwardation. Yet, there is still a wide uncertainty engulfing the oil market, with very divergent views among market observers about how the oil price path could evolve in 2018, with some revising upwards their forecasts to higher than $80/b while others are less convinced that the market fundamentals can sustainably support a price above $70/b, expecting a lower path in the mid $60/b. The key uncertainties behind these divergent views mainly pertain to different views about:

  • The OPEC/NOPEC exit strategy from the output cut agreement reached in November 2016;
  • US shale supply response to the recent oil price rise;
  • The potential impact of higher oil prices on global oil demand;
  • The extent of supply disruptions amid a fragile geopolitical environment.

In this Energy Insight, we analyse how the oil price path could evolve in 2018 by evaluating the aforementioned risks underlying the world oil market using a structural model of the oil market and considering various forecast scenarios. Forecast scenarios are not predictions of what will happen, but rather modelled projections of various oil price risks conditional on certain events that are known at the time of the forecast or some other hypothetical events. Our reference forecast scenario projects for Brent to trade within a narrow price range, with a price floor at above $60/b and a ceiling of below $75/b, with a 2018 average price of $67/b. The baseline forecast suggests that the momentum of stronger than expected oil demand and the OPEC/NOPEC output cuts have tightened the oil market in 2017 and even with no change in current market dynamics, the oil price will continue to be supported at around $65/b. Our results show that for 2018, US shale output growth will be the key factor putting a ceiling on the oil price, while supply disruptions could provide some support to the oil price, with a sharp fall in Venezuelan output constituting the biggest geopolitical risk that could push prices well above our baseline or reference forecasts. The results also show the paramount importance for the strong oil demand momentum experienced in 2017 to continue in 2018 for rebalancing the market and supporting the oil price. Finally, our results show that for OPEC/NOPEC to maintain the recent price gains, they have to extend their output cut until the end of 2018; releasing the withheld barrels under the current agreement would result in a sharp fall in oil prices, suggesting that OPEC/NOPEC should be very wary about unwinding the output cut agreement when they next meet in June 2018.

By: Bassam Fattouh , Andreas Economou

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