OPEC’s first 2020 forecast shows fierce oil market share battle looming

OPEC’s efforts to boost oil prices look set to become even more challenging next year, with increasing competition for market share from higher non-OPEC output, the group’s first 2020 forecast shows.

The producer group’s analysis arm on Thursday provided a sobering 2020 outlook for its 14 members, forecasting that demand for OPEC crude would drop more than 4% from this year, as a production surge from the US, Brazil and Norway threatens its market share.

In its closely-watched monthly oil market report that included its first forecast of fundamentals for next year, OPEC estimated that the so-called call on its crude would fall to 29.27 million b/d in 2020 — down 1.34 million b/d from the 2019 projection — including an eye-catching 28.75 million b/d in the first quarter. The call on OPEC crude denotes the threshold of how much oil the bloc can produce and still prevent a price-dampening accumulation of barrels going into storage.

OPEC pumped 29.83 million b/d in June, according to an average of the six secondary sources used by the organization to track member output, including S&P Global Platts. OPEC, Russia and nine other allies last week agreed to extend their collective 1.2 million b/d supply cut agreement through the first quarter of 2020, but the data indicates they will have to cut further if they wish to keep the market balanced. In its report, OPEC said its supply curbs would “avoid a destabilizing build-up in oil inventories,” and that in extending the deal, OPEC and its partners were “reaffirming their continued commitment to promote and enhance oil market stability.” Total oil stocks held by OECD countries stood at 2.925 billion barrels as of May, OPEC said, some 25 million barrels above the five-year average that the bloc is targeting, though officials have said they may change the benchmark to a more stringent level.

The report forecast that global oil demand would rise next year by 1.14 million b/d to reach 101.01 million b/d — surpassing 100 million b/d for the first time in history. But that would be more than offset by a 2.40 million b/d boost in non-OPEC supply, led by a 1.70 million b/d increase from the US, along with new fields coming online in Brazil and Norway.

Already by December 2019, US crude oil production will average 13.33 million b/d, OPEC estimated, with robust growth in shale output to come on the back of new debottlenecking infrastructure that will allow more oil to reach the market. “With 2.5 million b/d of expected new pipeline capacity from the Permian to the US Gulf Coast, production from the booming Permian Basin is forecast to grow without any constraints,” OPEC said.

SHORT-TERM BOOST: In the short term, the picture looks much brighter for OPEC.

Seasonal demand in the third quarter will raise the call on OPEC crude to a robust 31.46 million b/d, the report estimated, potentially providing a lift to oil prices that will be much welcomed by OPEC’s oil-dependent economies. The fourth quarter call will fall to 30.01 million b/d — still above the producer group’s June output level. But the 2020 forecast suggests the boom may end there.

The 29.83 million b/d that OPEC pumped in June, according to secondary sources, was a 68,000 b/d fall from May. Largest member Saudi Arabia produced 9.81 million b/d in June, a 126,000 b/d rise from May, secondary sources estimated, and well below its quota of 10.31 million b/d under the OPEC/non-OPEC supply agreement. The kingdom self-reported a June production figure of 9.78 million b/d.

A Saudi oil official told Platts on Thursday that Saudi Arabia would maintain its production below 10 million b/d through August as it seeks to lead by example on the cuts. Iran, squeezed by US sanctions, saw its output drop 140,000 b/d to 2.23 million b/d in June, secondary sources estimated. It is exempt from the supply accord and did not self-report a production figure.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, remains well above its quota of 4.51 million b/d, pumping 4.72 million b/d in June, according to secondary sources. It self-reported 4.60 million b/d. Nigeria saw the biggest jump in production, with a 130,000 b/d rise to 1.86 million b/d, according to secondary sources. It self-reported an even higher figure of 1.96 million b/d, some 270,000 b/d in excess of its quota.

Pix: OPEC headquarters, Vienna