Low oil prices today may be setting the world up for an oil shortage as early as 2016. Today we have just 2% more crude oil supply than demand and the price of gasoline is under $2.00/gallon in Texas. If oil supply falls too far, we could see gasoline prices doubling within 18 months. For a commodity as critical to our standard of living as oil is, it only takes a small shortage to drive up the price.
On Thanksgiving Day, 2014 Saudi Arabia decided to maintain their crude oil output of approximately 9.5 million barrels per day. They've taken this action despite the fact that they know the world's oil markets are currently over-supplied by an estimated 1.5 million barrels per day and the severe financial pain it is causing many of the other OPEC nations. By now you are all aware this has caused a sharp drop in global crude oil prices and has a dark cloud hanging over the energy sector. I believe this will be a short-lived dip in the long history of crude oil price cycles. Oil prices have always bounced back and this is not going to be an exception.
To put this in prospective, the world currently consumes about 93.5 million barrels per day of liquid fuels, not all of which are made from crude oil. About 17% of the world's total fuel supply comes from natural gas liquids ("NGLs") and biofuels.
One thing that drives the Bears opinion that oil prices will go lower during the first half of 2015 is that demand does decline during the first half of each year. Since most humans live in the northern hemisphere, weather does have an impact on demand. I agree that this fact will play a part in keeping oil prices depressed for the next few months. However, low gasoline prices in the U.S. are certain to play a part in the fuel demand outlook for this year's vacation driving season.
Brent oil prices are now hovering around $60 a barrel. In my opinion, this is quite a bit lower than Saudi Arabia thought the price would go and may lead to an "Emergency" OPEC meeting during the first quarter. But for now, I am assuming that Saudi Arabia is willing to let the other OPEC members suffer until the next scheduled OPEC meeting in June.
The commonly held belief is that Saudi Arabia is doing this to put a stop to the rapid growth of production from the U.S. shale oil plays. Others believe it is their goal to crush the Russian and Iranian economies. If the oil price remains at the current level for a few months longer it will do all of the above.
My forecast models for 2015 assume that crude oil prices will remain depressed during the first quarter, then slowly ramp up and accelerate as next winter approaches. I believe that by December we will see a much tighter oil market and significantly higher prices. In a December 24, 2014 article in The National, Steven Kopits managing director of Princeton Energy Advisors states that, "In permitting low oil prices, the Saudis seek to bring the market back into equilibrium. At present, our calculation of break-even system-wide is in the $85–$100 a barrel range on a Brent basis."
Mark Mobius, an economist and regular guest on Bloomberg TV recently said he sees Brent rebounding to $90/bbl by the end of 2015.
Since 2005, only North America has been able to add meaningful crude oil supply. Outside of Canada and the United States (including the Gulf of Mexico), the rest of the world's crude oil production netted to a decline of a million barrels per day from December, 2010 to December, 2013. More than half of the OPEC nations are now in decline. We've been able to supplement our fuel supply during the last ten years with biofuels, but that is limited since we need the farmland for food supply.
I believe the current low crude oil price could be overkill and result in the next "Energy Crisis" by early 2016. Enjoy these low gasoline prices while they last.
The upstream U.S. oil companies we follow closely are all announcing 20% to 50% cuts in capital spending for 2015. We will start seeing the impact on supply at the same time the annual increase in demand kicks in. Our model portfolio companies are all expected to report year-over-year increases in production, but at a much slower pace than the last few years.
A study released by Credit Suisse two weeks ago shows that U.S. independents expect capital-expenditure (Capex) cuts of one-third against production gains of 10 per cent next year. This would imply production growth of 600,000 bpd of shale liquids, and perhaps another 200,000 bpd from Gulf of Mexico deepwater projects. At the same time, U.S. conventional onshore production continues to fall. I have seen estimates of 500,000 to 700,000 bpd declines within twelve months. If these forecasts are accurate, U.S. oil production growth would be barely positive next year and headed for a material downturn in 2016.
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