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Oil forecasters see second year of price declines

Pipelines are used to distribute steam to the oil wells at the Chevron Corp. Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, Calif., in this 2011 photo. Bloomberg News photo by Ken James.

Grant Smith
(c) 2013, Bloomberg News


LONDON — Brent crude prices, the benchmark for half the world's oil, will weaken for a second year in 2014 as U.S. output expands and threats to Middle East and North African supply ease, forecasters said.

Prices will average $105 a barrel in 2014, from $108.71 in 2013, according to the median of estimates from the seven analysts who most accurately predicted this year's level in a survey last December. Brent averaged $111.68 in 2012.

Global supply is expanding as the United States pumps oil trapped in shale-rock formations, driving domestic output to the highest in a quarter century and curbing demand for the crude priced off Brent. Iran, Iraq and Libya will also produce more in 2014, the forecasters said. While a second annual drop for Brent would be the first consecutive retreat since 1998, prices are still about 39 percent higher than the average over the past decade.

"We're expecting a surplus," said David Bouckhout, the senior commodity strategist at Toronto-Dominion Bank in Calgary. North American "supply growth is going to remain robust and cover the expected increase in demand. The biggest concern for 2014 on the supply side is going to be Iran, while Iraq is another producer that certainly wants to see its production grow."

Brent for February settlement lost as much as $1.27 to $110.91 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe exchange Monday, leaving prices little changed compared with the start of the year. Hedge funds and other speculators boosted positions in the grade by 41 percent in the week to Dec. 24, restoring bullish bets from their second-smallest level this year, bourse data show.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, slipped 46 cents Monday after settling at $100.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Dec. 27. The grade is poised for an annual gain of 8.8 percent. The spread between WTI and Brent averaged $10.67 this year, compared with $3.93 over the past decade. The widening gap reflects an abundance of U.S. supply at a time of disrupted exports from Iran, Iraq and Libya.

Expansions in supply from producers outside the 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will more than cover the gain in global demand in 2014, according to the International Energy Agency. Daily non-OPEC output will rise by 1.7 million barrels as worldwide consumption adds 1.2 million barrels, the Paris-based adviser to oil-consuming nations says.

The U.S. will lead the gains as it taps shale reserves in North Dakota and Texas, the IEA said in a Dec. 11 report. Iraq plans more exports next year as part of its long-term strategy to triple production, Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi said Dec. 3. Iran will increase output if international sanctions are eased, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said the same day. Libya will reopen export terminals closed by protests, Oil Minister Abdulbari al-Arusi said Dec. 21.

Expanding supply from Libya, Iran and Iraq is a "tail risk" rather than a probable outcome, said Mike Wittner, head of oil market research at Societe Generale in New York. Libya will remain "an unreliable source of supply," higher output from Iran won't materialize until later in the year and Iraq has repeatedly missed its expansion targets, he said. Wittner anticipates an average price of $108.

President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington on Dec. 7, assessed the chances of a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program as no better than 50-50. The nation, once OPEC's second-biggest member, is producing about 930,000 barrels a day less than at the start of 2012, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Libyan production is close to the lowest level since the uprising that unseated Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 as armed groups blockade eastern ports, oil ministry data showed Dec. 23. Iraq's production of 3.1 million barrels a day in November was 7 percent lower than a year earlier amid attacks on pipelines and a dispute with leaders in the country's Kurdish region, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A supply glut will be averted because Saudi Arabia, the biggest member of OPEC, will curb output if needed, Wittner said. The kingdom's daily production swung from 8.75 million to 10.25 million barrels over the past several years, he said.

Oil demand may exceed analysts' expectations next year as the U.S. economy strengthens, said Bjarne Schieldrop, the chief commodities analyst at SEB in Oslo. The global economy will expand 3.6 percent in 2014, from 2.9 percent in 2013, the International Monetary Fund said in a report in October.

U.S. crude production surged to a 25-year high of 8.11 million barrels a day in the week ended Dec. 20, government data show. That's the highest level since September 1988.

Iraq plans to export an average of 3.4 million barrels daily in 2014, Oil Minister al-Luaibi said Dec. 3. Shipments were 2.38 million barrels a day in November, the ministry said this month. The country has said it wants to produce 9 million barrels a day by the end of the decade.

Libya will consider armed force to reopen eastern ports closed by a blockade, Ajwa Leblad News cited Oil Minister Al-Arusi as saying Dec. 16. Production in the holder of Africa's largest oil reserves has dwindled to 210,000 barrels a day, as of November, from this year's peak of 1.4 million barrels in March, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

Iran may be able to boost oil exports by 500,000 barrels a day following an agreement on Nov. 24 that eased some sanctions in exchange for a pause in the country's nuclear program, Toronto Dominion's Bouckhout said. That might expand should Iran reach a wider deal with world powers, he said. The country shipped 850,000 barrels a day in November, according to the IEA.

Iran's improved relations with western governments may make Saudi Arabia, its regional rival, more reluctant to act as the swing producer, said Danske Bank's Tuxen. OPEC may then be divided over who should cut to restore the balance between supply and demand, driving prices lower, she said.

"The Saudis will continue to add to an oversupplied market," said Christin Tuxen, a senior analyst at Danske Bank in Copenhagen. "We see them cutting supplies slightly, but not enough to make up for the production increases we see elsewhere, especially in light of the Iranian-U.S. deal. They can actually deal with an oil price that falls somewhat below $100 and still be fairly well-off."

 

 

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