US Rising Oil Production Unsettles Oil Prices

Yemisi Izuora 

Oil prices dipped on Thursday after data showed record US crude oil production, which resulted in a surge in stockpiles.

Outside the United States, however, oil markets remained tense as all exemptions to US sanctions on Iran expire, the political crisis in Venezuela escalates, and as producer club OPEC, keeps withholding supply.

Spot Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $72.09 per barrel down 9 cents, or 0.1 per cent, from their last close, while the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 2 cents, at $63.58 per barrel, having eased 0.5 per cent in the previous session.

“Crude oil prices fell sharply as stockpiles in the US rose to their highest level since 2017,” ANZ bank said on Thursday.

“This comes as US refineries head into the spring maintenance period, stoking fears that crude oil demand will be soft and stockpiles will continue to rise,” it added.

US crude stockpiles last week rose to their highest since September 2017, jumping by 9.9 million barrels to 470.6 barrels, as production set a record high of 12.3 million barrels per day (bpd), while refining activity rates fell, the Energy Information Administration, (EIA) said on Wednesday.

Outside the United States, however, oil markets remained tight amid the political crisis in Venezuela, tighter US sanctions against Iran that allow no more exemptions from May, and as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) continues to withhold supply in order to prop up prices.

Oman’s energy minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy said on Wednesday it was OPEC’s goal to extend the cuts, which were started in January, when they next meet in June.

For producers, the tight market conditions mean higher profits.

Analysts at Bernstein Energy said current price levels reflected the average marginal cost for most listed oil producers.

“We have surveyed the 50 largest listed oil and gas companies globally… Based on 2018 annual reports we estimate that the global marginal cost of oil remained stable at $71 per barrel,” Bernstein said in a note on Thursday.

“This is on line with current spot prices but higher than the long-term oil forward strip price of $61 per barrel,” the note said.

“With oil prices rising more than costs, industry margins increased by more than 200 per cent in 2018,” Bernstein said, resulting in industry profitability “at the highest in the last 5 years.”

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