In yet another paradoxical move that will leave many scratching their heads, just days after throwing in the towel on its bullish dollar call (now that it expects far less rate hikes over the next year), Goldman moments ago announced that it is also cutting back on its longer-term oil price forecasts (which paradoxically are linked to a stronger dollar) for the coming year, as a result of a rebalancing that is taking far longer to take place than previously anticipated.
This is how Goldman explains its bearish pivot on crude:
The inflection phase of the oil market continues to deliver its share of surprises, with low prices driving disruptions in Nigeria, higher output in Iran and better demand. With each of these shifts significant in magnitude, the oil market has gone from nearing storage saturation to being in deficit much earlier than we expected and we are pulling forward our price forecast, with 2Q/2H16 WTI now $45/bbl and $50/bbl.
However, we expect that the return of some of these outages as well as higher Iran and Iraq production will more than offset lingering issues in Nigeria and our higher demand forecast. As a result, we now forecast a more gradual decline in inventories in 2H than previously and a return into surplus in 1Q17, with low-cost production continuing to grow in the New Oil Order. This leads us to lower our 2017 forecast with prices in 1Q17 at $45/bbl and only reaching $60/bbl by 4Q17.
We have repeatedly warned that the Saudi plan to put as many marginal shale producers out of business is badly flawed as it does not take into account the trillions in excess liquidity which central banks have flooded markets with, of which tens of billions ultimately make their way into the shale sector. Now it's Goldman's turn to repeat this same warning.
... while the physical barrel rebalancing has started, the structural imbalance in the capital markets remains large, with $45 bn of equity and bond issuance taking place in the US this year. As a result, we believe that the industry still has further to adjust and our updated forecast maintains the same 2016-2017 price level that we previously believed was required to finally correct both the barrel and capital imbalances, and eventually take prices to $60/bbl.
In other words, "lower for longer" because excess supply is taking far longer to clear out.
That said, Goldman is not entirely bearish: while it admits that US and EU demand is set to falter, it is betting all on China, precisely the one country where the recent credit tsunami pushed teapot refiners into overdrive, and where the sudden elimination of massive credit creation will result in a sharp plunge in oil demand both for internal demand and for re-exporting into various other processed grades. This is where GS sees upside demand:
Stronger vehicle sales, activity and a bigger harvest are leading us to raise our Indian and Russia demand forecasts for the year. And while we are reducing our US and EU forecasts on the combination of weaker activity and higher prices than previously assumed, we are raising our China demand forecasts to reflect the expected support from the recent transient stimulus. Net, our 2016 oil demand growth forecast is now 1.4 mb/d, up from 1.2 mb/d previously. Our bias for strong demand growth since October 2014 leaves us seeing risks to this forecast as skewed to the upside although lesser fuel and crude burn for power generation in Brazil, Japan and likely Saudi are large headwinds this year.
Our forecast: three months from now Goldman will be revising its Chinese demand forecast sharply lower.
Perhaps the most informative and value-added piece in the entire Goldman report is the following infographic showing the planned and unplanned production outages and disruptions in the past 4 months.
Large supply disruptions have pushed production sharply lower since mid-March
Key planned and unplanned outages since mid-February (kb/d)
The recent roll-over in production is the result of somewhat offsetting cross currents. (1) Production has rolled over faster than we had expected in China, India and non-OPEC Africa more than offset upside surprises in the US and the North Sea. (2) Transient but recurring disruptions have more than offset larger than expected Iran and Iraq production. And while some of the disruptions will stop such as maintenance, fires and strikes, some are likely systemic, for example in Nigeria, and we now expect production there will remain curtailed for the remainder of the year. Net, this leaves us expecting a sharp decline in 2Q output.
In 2Q sure, but what about after? Well, as a result of the death of OPEC whose every single (now former) member is pumping at or near record amounts as all excess supply considerations have been tossed out of the Saudi window, it is here that things are about to get very interesting, and as the chart below shows, diagonal. To wit:
This expectation for a return into surplus in 1Q17 is not dependent on a sharp price recovery beyond the $45-$55/bbl trading range that we now expect in 2016. First, it reflects our view that low-cost producers will continue to drive production growth in the New Oil Order – with growth driven by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, the UAE and Russia. Second, non-OPEC producers had mostly budgeted such price levels and there remains a pipeline of already sanctioned non-OPEC projects. In fact, we see risks to our production forecasts as skewed to the upside as we remain conservative on Saudi’s ineluctable ramp up and Iran’s recovery.
We expect continued growth in low-cost producer output
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Iraq, Iran (crude) and Russia (oil) production (kb/d)
While there is much more in the full note, the bottom line is simple: near-term disruptions have led to a premature bounce in the price of oil, however as millions more in oil barrels come online (and as Chinese demand fades contrary to what Goldman believes), the next leg in oil will not be higher, but flat or lower, in what increasingly is shaping up to be a rerun of the summer of 2015.
This is the updated Goldman price deck:
And visually: "A sooner but shallower deficit is leading us to pull forward our expected price recovery but lower our 2017 forecast"