Oil prices and the Trump effect

A year ago, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and restored economic sanctions on the country in November. He simultaneously granted six-month waivers to eight countries to continue importing limited quantities of crude oil from Iran.

Although the global oil market expected Washington to extend the waivers for five of the countries, the Trump administration said that any country that continues to import oil from Iran will be subject to U.S. sanctions beginning on May 2. When combined with other factors, the decision to eliminate Iranian oil exports has caused oil prices to jump since the start of the year.

As of April 26, WTI prices have surged about 40%, with Brent prices up approximately 34%.

This has been good news for many sectors of the oil and gas industry. The offshore service vessel sector’s April 2019 OSV term utilization stood at 30.3%, up from 25.5% in April 2018, according to IHS Markit.

But there is cause for concern. The unrest in Libya could result in a disruption in the country’s oil supply. While the country has not experienced a disruption of supply yet, Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates, told CNBC via email that he suspects “it is a matter of when not if. Needless to say, the oil market is currently experiencing a supply deficit and any further reduction in supplies from Libya and Iran would cause the market to overtighten and prices to overshoot.”

Maybe, in the short term. But then there is OPEC (or OPEC+, an alliance of OPEC and non-OPEC members that will likely act together on this issue). OPEC+ is working to keep 1.2 million bbls. per day (bpd) off the market through June, following a collapse in crude prices at the end of 2018, according to a CNBC analysis. If OPEC+ continues to withhold oil from the market, it will stimulate the current price surge and drive other producers to increase their supply, lowering the oil price at the cost of OPEC+’s market share. It is likely, therefore, that OPEC+ will be spurred to increase oil exports.

As a result, researchers such as Goldman Sachs’ Jeff Currie don’t see oil prices going back above $80, according to the CNBC report.

Thus, the mid-$70s could be the new norm in oil pricing, at least for a while. And, that is not a bad price in terms of generating higher utilization and day rates.

About the author

Dr. William J. Pike

Dr. William J. Pike has 45 years experience in the upstream oil and gas industry, including more than 20 years in oil and gas drilling and production operations, both onshore and offshore. He has worked in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Europe and Russia as a technical and economic advisor to the energy industries and various governmental agencies. Pike was editor-in-chief and editorial director for Hart Energy Publishing’s E&P magazine and was also the editor of the Journal of Petroleum Technology, the official publication of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. He holds a doctorate in energy economics from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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