Oil Surges To 5 Week High As BofA Sees Crude Hitting $100 In A "Very Cold Winter"

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by Tyler Durden
Monday, Sep 13, 2021 - 10:58 AM

Oil rose more than 1% on Monday, supported by concerns over shut output in the United States because of damage from Hurricane Ida, with analysts expecting prices to remain rangebound in a stable market over the coming months, while some forecasting that physcial shortages could lead to sharply higher prices, while a cold winter could send oil as high as $100.

Brent crude rose 90 cents, or 1.2%, to $73.82 a barrel - the highest price since the first week of Autgust - while WTI crude was up 99 cents, or 1.4%, at $70.71. Brent has held between $70 and $74 a barrel over the past three weeks.

“Oil prices may not have much room to rise in the near term, but at the same time are not expected to crash soon,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM.

Prices found some support from Hurricane Ida’s impact on U.S. output as about three-quarters of the offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, or about 1.4 million barrels per day, has remained halted since late August.

“Hurricane Ida was unique in having a net bullish impact on U.S. and global oil balances - with the impact on demand smaller than on production,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note from last Friday. However, the number of rigs in operation in the United States grew in the latest week, energy service provider Baker Hughes said, indicating production could rise in coming weeks.

Separately, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) last week said it expected Brent prices to remain near current levels for the remainder of 2021, averaging $71 a barrel during the fourth quarter.

“Markets still need clarity on the virus impacts beyond the very near term; and until we get that, it seems like most assets, including oil, may continue to drift sideways,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Singapore’s OCBC bank.

Oil prices briefly fell last week amid supply concerns linked to China’s planned release of oil from strategic reserves while the hope of fresh talks on a wider nuclear deal between Iran and the West was raised after the U.N. atomic watchdog reached an agreement with Iran on Sunday about the overdue servicing of monitoring equipment to keep it running. China on Monday said it will announce details of planned crude oil sales from strategic reserves in due course, however as Rabobank noted over the weekend, "the move signaled political vulnerability to rising commodity price inflation, but even more so, it is not enough physical supply to move the dial."

But while prevailing sentiment was cautious, three banks see substantially more potential upside, among them Goldman, Bank of America and Citigroup.

In a note published late on Sunday, Goldman's chief economist Jeffrey Currie wrote that going into autumn, oil is poised to rally significantly, particularly should Iranian deal fall apart. If oil hits target of $80/bbl, “it would be hard for investors to ignore inflation in the most important physical commodity markets.” That is “why we see oil as the catalyst this autumn to attract investors back into the space."

According to Currie the key driver behind ongoing commodity surge is the "growing scarcity across physical markets." The Goldman strategist notes that "since last October, policymaker and investor focus has remained on the vaccine-driven demand recovery from the deepest recession on record. Yet today, physical goods demand has reached such high levels — above pre-pandemic trends in all but oil — that the system is becoming increasingly constrained in its ability to supply these goods."

But now, with the pandemic inventory glut run down, these markets are becoming increasingly exposed to any type of supply disruption or unexpected demand increase. The lower the inventory cover, the bigger the risk and the larger the scarcity premium in prices when one of these events materializes – just as we are seeing in European gas and power today.

Oil likely catalyst to get investors back into commodities and reflation trade. In our view, European energy pricing dynamics offer a glimpse of what is in store for other commodity markets in coming months as micro factors are increasingly in the driving seat, with widening deficits depleting inventories leading to elevated price volatility as markets struggle to find a balance. Going into the autumn we believe oil is the market that is poised to rally significantly, particularly should an Iran deal fall apart. Were oil to reach our target of 80/bbl, it would be hard for investors to ignore inflation in the most important physical commodity markets. This is why we see oil as the catalyst this autumn to attract investors back into the space that should also help prices at the margin. Moreover, current market conditions make now an attractive entry point for base metals, in our view, as copper positioning is the cleanest it has been all year, at only 10% of 2021 highs. Further, for the first time in this bull market, both onshore and DM investors have a large amount of additional length to add, particularly if onshore policy remains supportive. The market is pushing back the likelihood of Fed tapering, but with such a move inevitable once Delta risks recede, we believe the reflation trade unwind is behind us, with risks firmly poised to the upside.

The bottom line according to Goldman is that "oil is set to rally strongly" because despite a large Delta wave in Covid-averse SE Asia, including China, global oil demand barely declined at 98 mb/d.

In addition, OPEC+supply additions materially disappointed vs. their quotas in August even more than Goldman's expectations, while, outside of the group, production in Brazil, Norway, Colombia, SEAsia, and others struggle to ramp up in the face of maintenance, project delays, and higher decline rates from underinvestment. Meanwhile, as Goldman observed last week, Hurricane Ida proved to be a rare bullish storm shock to global balances, "hampering US production that continues to recover slower than the market expects."

As such, Kostin concludes that the market remains in deficit with the only remaining inventory surplus relative to pre-Covid levels in China, where higher demand and refinery runs ultimately necessitate it.

Net, we forecast that OECD stocks will reach their lowest levels since early 2015, driving the forward curve into steeper backwardation initially and ultimately necessitating higherlong-dated prices to incentivize higher production. Accordingly, we reiterate our $80/bbl price target for 4Q21 with upside risks to 1H22.

Citigroup's Ed Morse, who has been traditionally very bullish on oil and has been used by OPEC+ as the cartel's in-house advisor on several occasions, was similarly bullish, noting in a note that Hurricane Ida left the oil market looking stronger than expected at the end of the summer, even if the dynamics for next year are still bearish although he was quick to note that a continued pandemic recovery will support prices into 4Q. However, beyond that U.S. producers are gearing up to supply more oil, Saudi Arabia is planning to raise its output capacity, and Russia’s largest producers also plan to raise production and increase exports.

Yet others, such as Vortexa, noted the continued shrinkage of oil inventories and pointed out that the amount of crude oil held around the world on tankers that have been stationary for at least 7 days fell to 94.96m bbl as of Sept. 10. That’s down 8.9% from 104.27m bbl on Sept. 3.

But while sellside sentiment continues to turn bullish on oil, nothing compares to the note published overnight by BofA commodities head Francisco Blanch who said in a note overnight that a very cold winter could see Bank of America’s 3Q 2022 call for $100/bbl Brent crude oil rolled forward. According to Blanch, If winter turns out to be much colder than normal, demand could surge by 1m-2m b/d as the weather is quickly becoming the most important driver of energy markets.

Noting that global crude oil prices have been range-bound since staging "a remarkable rally all the way through late June 2021 as gasoline demand surged into the summer months" but a lack of product demand leadership from the distillate complex has prevented further upside, Blanch asks rhetorically "has the oil rally stalled?" In his view, the answer is now and he explains why:

As other energy prices like natural gas and coal keep pushing higher, upside risks to the oil market have started to build. For starters, there is an estimated 1.8mn b/d of available gas to oil switching at power plants capacity across Europe and Asia, even if only a fraction of this capacity is likely to be utilized. Switching may also be possible at industrial operations, including some refineries, which could lead to more oil demand this winter.

Yet the rapid spike in gas prices may lead to substitution

Further supporting oil prices, global demand is coming back and OECD oil inventories just dropped to the 10 year average. Looking at US total product demand, we note that volumes are already back to pre-pandemic levels in aggregate. Although the Covid-19 Delta variant remains a problem, particularly for Emerging Markets, consumption is coming back with a vengeance led by China and India. From natural gas liquids used in petrochemical processes, to light products like gasoline, to bunker fuels in shipping and power generation, petroleum demand appears to be very robust. And distillates, the dominant fuel in oil pricing dynamics over the winter months, have lagged due to limited air traffic. But a surge in demand for heating oil and kero could boost distillate demand.

But the big catalyst that could lead to a sharp spike in prices is cold winter weather which could roll forward BofA's $100/bbl oil call.

Blanch first reiterates his base case: "We continue to project that oil prices will remain range-bound in 2H21 and maintain our average Brent crude oil forecast of $70/bbl for this period (Exhibit 40), although we now target Brent to be at $75/bbl by year end as we see growing upside risks. In line with this view, we project deficits over the coming months that should support oil prices into year-end."

Then looking ahead, he hedges that while a new Covid-19 wave, taper tantrum, a China debt crisis, and the return of Iranian crude barrels could push oil lower, "weather is quickly becoming the most important driver of energy markets. If the winter turns out to be much colder than normal, global oil demand could surge by 1 to 2mn b/d. Under this scenario, the oil market deficit this winter could easily exceed 2mn b/d and our $100/bbl oil target for the middle of next year could quickly be rolled forward six months."

If BofA is even remotely accurate, expect sheer panic from the Biden admin, which over the winter will be so busy between issuing press releases about "transitory" gasoline hyperinflation and calling OPEC+ begging for production increases, it won't have time for much else.