Oil resurrection sets stage for another OPEC-shale clash in 2018

By Heesu Lee and Grant Smith on 12/29/2017

SEOUL and LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Oil continued its revival from the biggest crash in a generation, with prices set for a second annual gain after a year marked by hurricanes, Middle East conflict and the tussle between OPEC and U.S. shale.

Futures are up more than 11% in 2017, having entered a bull market in September. The year’s gains were driven by output cuts by the  Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia, along with geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and pipeline disruptions from the North Sea to Canada and Libya. In 2018, investors will watch whether the price recovery triggers a new flood of U.S. output.

“The current highs are unsustainable in the short-to-medium term, with prices likely to head back below $60 once we get past January, but for now the season of goodwill appears to be in full swing,” said analysts led by Michael dei-Michei at consultants JBC Energy GmbH in Vienna.

Speculation is rising that American drillers will put more rigs to work as oil strengthens, with shale growth driving forecasts of record U.S. supply in 2018. That could undermine plans by producers including Saudi Arabia, who have pledged to extend production curbs through the end of 2018 to wipe out a global glut. After Hurricane Harvey shut Gulf Coast refiners at the end of August and hurt prices, violence in Iraq and a pipe crack in the UK have helped buoy crude.

West Texas Intermediate for  February delivery was at $60.04/bbl on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 20 cents, at 1:28 p.m. in London. Total volume traded was about 24% below the 100-day average. Front-month prices are 12% higher this year, after rising 45% -- the most since 2009 -- in 2016.

Brent for March settlement rose 20 cents to $66.36/bbl on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The February contract expired Thursday, after rising 28 cents to $66.72. The benchmark for more than half the world’s oil has gained 17% this year, after climbing 52% in 2016. It was at a premium of $6.27 to March WTI.

Oil is trading at the highest level since mid-2015 after WTI broke above $60/bbl for the first time in more than two years. The benchmark traded at an average price of about $51 this year. U.S. crude stockpiles fell 4.6 MMbbl last week to the lowest level since October 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration Thursday. That beat the 3.75 million average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

“The tug-of-war between OPEC and the U.S. will continue to pressure oil from trading above $60/bbl in 2018,” said Kim Kwangrae, a Seoul-based commodities analyst at Samsung Futures Inc. “Like we’ve seen this year, geopolitical risks will be the key factor going forward for oil to breach $60.”

Following an explosion on Tuesday, Waha Oil Co. is working to repair the pipeline that carries crude to Libya’s Es Sider port, the North African nation’s biggest export terminal, while a major UK North Sea pipeline is nearing a return to full service after an outage this month.

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