Energy markets expert Vandana Hari is back on QuickHit to talk about crude oil. Brent is nearly at the $70 psychological mark and is also a 2-year high. However, demand has not picked up to the pre-Covid levels. Vandana explained what happened here and what to look forward to in the coming year. Also, is crude experiencing supply chain bottlenecks like in lumber and other commodities and how oil demand will pick up around the world?
Vandana Hari is based in Singapore. She runs Vanda Insights and have been looking at the oil markets for about 25 years now. The majority of those were with Platts. She launched Vanda Insights about five years ago. The company provides timely, credible, and succinct global oil markets, macro analysis, mostly through published reports. They are also available for ad hoc consultations and research papers.
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This QuickHit episode was recorded on May 19, 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this Crude oil: New super cycle or continued price moderation? QuickHit episode are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any content provided by our guests are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
TN: I want to talk about crude oil, because if we looked a year ago and we saw where crude oil prices were a year ago because of the Covid shock and we look at where crude is today, it’s something like two-year highs or something like that today. And we still have kind of five or six million barrels, we’re consuming about five or six million barrels less per day than we were pre-Covid. Is that about right?
VH: Yeah, absolutely. So we have had a Brent flood with the $70 per barrel psychological mark, it has not been able to vault it in terms of, you know, in the oil markets, we tend to look at go-buy settlements. So we’re talking about ICE Brent Futures failing to settle above 70 dollars a barrel? But it has settled a couple of times so far this year, just below, which was two-year highs.
And the man on the street, as you quite rightly point out, does end up wondering. And I’m sure people at the pump in the US looking at three dollars a gallon prices that hang on like the global demand is yet to return anywhere close to pre Covid. So why are prices going to two-year highs?
So two fundamental reasons. If you talk about supply and demand in the oil markets, the first one is the OPEC – Non OPEC Alliance is still holding back a substantial amounts of oil from the markets. If you hark back to last year when they came together in this unprecedented cutback, almost 10 million barrels of oil per day, cumulative within that group, they said they’re going to leave it in the ground because of the demand destruction.
Now, starting January this year, they have begun to so-called “taper.” Yes, people borrowed that as well in the oil market. All over the place. Yeah. So they’re tapering. But they’re doing it very, very cautiously.
So where do we stand now? They are still holding back almost six and a half million barrels per day. So basically two thirds of the oil that they took out of the market last year is still, they’re still keeping it under the ground. So that’s one main reason.
The second one is a bit, of course, demand has been picking up as countries and globally, if you look at it, I mean, we can talk about individual countries, but globally, you know, the world is starting to cautiously emerge out of Covid-related restrictions.
Economies are doing better. So oil consumption is moving up. But but some of, it’s not entirely that. I would say some of the the buoyancy in crude of late, and especially when it was, you know, Brent was a two-year highs, is because of a forward looking demand optimism. And when it comes to that, I think it’s very, very closely connected or I would say almost entirely focused on the reopening of the U.S. economy.
TN: OK, so. So this is a forward looking optimism, is it? I know into other areas, like, for example, lumber, which has been there’s been a lot of buzz about lumber inflation is because of the sawmills and with other, say, commodities, there have been processing issues and with, you know, meat and these sorts of things that have been kind of processing issues and bottlenecks in the supply chain. But with crude oil to petrol, it’s not, it’s not the same. Refineries are doing just fine. Is that, is that fair to say?
VH: That’s a very good point, Tony, to to just kind of unpick a little bit. Because what happens is when you hear talk of super cycles, commodities, bull run, and then, of course, we have a lot of indexes and people trade those indexes, commodity index, we tend to lump together, you know, commodities all the way from copper and tin, lumber and corn all the way to crude oil and gasoline and gas oil and so on.
But, you know, here’s what. You know. We could spend hours talking about this. But, but just very quickly to dissect it, I would say look at it in terms of you have commodities. And I would sort of lump metals and to some extent agricultural commodities in this one Group A and Group B.
So as I mentioned earlier, Group B, which is which is oil. Well, crude oil and refined products, to a large extent, the prices are being propped up by OPEC, plus keeping supply locked out of the markets. It’s very different from, as you mentioned, what’s happening in metals and ags and these kind of commodities where it just can’t be helped. So there’s supply chain issues, this production issues all the way from from Chile, where copper production all the way to even here in Malaysia, you know, palm oil, because workers are unable to return fully. Or in terms of even the the packaging, the storage and the delivery of it. So I think there’s a major difference there.
Now, the commonality here is, of course, all of these are seeing demand rebound. You know, that I agree as a commonality. Demand is rebounding. But I think it’s very important to remember. And why is it why is this distinction important is that you could argue that, well, if demand continues to sort of go gangbusters in terms of copper, tin, lumber, it will, for the foreseeable future, meet against supply constriction. So you cannot.
So accordingly, you can assess what might be the prices of these commodities going forward. They may remain elevated, but it would be wrong, I think, to sort of draw a parallel between that and oil, because in oil, I do believe OPEC non-OPEC are waiting. In fact, I don’t think they can hold their horses any longer, waiting to start putting that oil back into the market. So, you know, keep that distinction in mind.
TN: So there’s an enthusiasm there. So let’s say we do see demand kind of come back gradually, say, in the U.S., a little bit slower in, say, Europe. But China is moving along well and say Southeast Asia, east Asia is coming along well. The supply from the OPEC countries will come on accordingly. Is that fair to say?
VH: Absolutely. And when you talk about demand, again, I think there’s a sort of a bias in the crude futures markets, which tend to be the leading the direction for the oil complex in general, including the Fiscal markets, is that there’s definitely a bias to looking towards what’s hot right now, at least looking towards what’s happening in the US and getting carried away a little bit. Because when you look at the US, it’s a completely positive picture, right?
You base that, you see things around, you see how people are just kind of moving away. You’re removing mask mandates, people are traveling. And, of course, we’re getting a lot of data as well. The footfall in your airports. The other thing about the US is you have good data, right. Daily, weekly data. So that continues to prop up the market. But if you just cast your eye, take a few steps back, look at the globe as a whole. And, you know, sitting here in Asia, I can shed some light about what’s happening here.
No country is opening its borders in Asia, OK? People are, for leisure. If people are even not even able to travel to meet their family, you know, unless it’s in times of emergency, unfortunately. So nobody’s traveling. The borders are sealed very, very tight.
There is an air bubble, travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia. But, you know, nobody’s bothering to even check what that’s doing to jet demand. What do you think it will imagine? You imagine it will do.
And then you have Europe in between, which is, yes, again, it is reopening very cautiously, though. We’ve had the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, cautioning that the travel plans for the Brits might be in disarray because of this so-called Indian variant. I don’t like to use that term, but this virus more transmissible virus variant. So it’s a very patchy recovery. It’s a very mixed picture, which is why I’m not that bullish about global oil demand rebound as a whole. You know, at least the so-called summer boom that people are talking about.
TN: Do you do you see this kind of trading in a range for the next, say, three or four or five months or something? Demand come, supply come, demand come, supply comes something like that.
So there’s not too much of a shortfall for market needs as kind of opening up accelerates?
VH: Very much so. I think, first of all, unfortunately, I mean, as individuals, of course, we like to be positive and optimistic. But with an analyst hat on, we need to look at data. We need to use logic. We need to overlay that with our experience of this pandemic, the past one and a half years.
Somehow, we’ve had a few false dawns, unfortunately, during this pandemic. We’ve seen that right from the start. When you remember the first summer, 2020 summer, some people said, oh, the heat and all that, the virus will just die away.
So, again, I think we need to be very, very cautious. I do think, unfortunately, that this variance and as you and I were discussing off air earlier, this is the nature of the virus. So I think there’s going to be a lot of stop, start, stop, start. The other thing I see happening is that it’s almost like, I imagine the virus sort of it’s moving around. And even if you look at India now, it’s just gone down in the worst hit states of Maharashtra and Delhi. But now it’s sort of moved into the rural area.
So I think sort of, unfortunately, is going to happen globally as well. The other important thing to keep in mind is, is vaccinations, of course, is very, very uneven. You know, the ratio of vaccinated people in each country so far, the pace at which the vaccinations are going and, you know, not to mention the countries, the poorer, the lower income countries.
So we’re probably going to see, you know, maybe a bit of start. Stop. Definitely. I don’t think we’re going to see national boundaries opening up to travel any time soon. And then exactly as you pointed out, we have this OPEC oil and then, of course, we have Iranian oil and we can talk about that separately. So there’s plenty of supply.
TN: So let’s talk a little bit about, let’s talk a little bit about the Middle East with, you know, first of all, with political risk around Israel Palestine. Is that really a factor? Does that, does that really impact oil prices the way it would have maybe 20, 30 years ago?