International Energy Agency (IEA) explores how a sharp escalation in geopolitical risk in the Middle East, a region accounting for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne oil trade, has markets on edge.
surprise attack by Hamas on Israel on 7 October spurred traders to price in a $3-4/bbl risk premium when markets opened. Prices have since stabilised, with benchmark Brent futures trading at around $87/bbl at the time of writing. While there has been no direct impact on physical supply, markets will remain on tenterhooks as the crisis unfolds, IEA finds.he
Oil prices had already surged to almost $98/bbl in mid-September after Saudi Arabia and Russia extended their voluntary production cuts through year-end and as crude oil and distillate inventories drew to exceptionally low levels. According to IEA, rising prices focused the market’s attention on the prospect that ‘higher for longer’ interest rates could slow economic and demand growth.
By early October, Brent futures tumbled by more than $12/bbl to $84/bbl as supply fears gave way to deteriorating macroeconomic indicators and signs of demand destruction in the United States, where gasoline deliveries plunged to two-decade lows, IEA reports.
Demand destruction has hit emerging markets even harder, as currency effects and the removal of subsidies have amplified the rise in fuel prices. However, growth continues apace in China, India and Brazil, underpinning forecast global oil demand gains for this year at around 2.3 mb/d, of which China accounts for 77%. Global oil demand growth is set to slow to 900 kb/d in 2024 as the post-Covid rebound runs out of steam while the economic expansion slows and energy efficiency improvements weigh on oil use.
Global supply growth this year and next, of 1.5 mb/d and 1.7 mb/d, respectively, is dominated by non-OPEC+ producers. As for the OPEC+ bloc, the supply story this year is one of contraction, although Iran is on course to rank as the world’s second biggest source of growth after the United States. Voluntary cuts are expected to keep the oil market in deficit as OPEC+ could pump 1.3 mb/d below the call on its crude in 4Q23.
If extra cuts are unwound in January, the balance could shift to surplus, IEA forecasts, which would go some way to help replenish depleted inventories. Observed global oil stocks tumbled by 63.9 mb in August, with crude oil down by a massive 102.3 mb.
Middle distillate markets are tight heading into the Northern Hemisphere winter. Ten months after the EU embargo on Russian crude came into effect, European refiners still struggle to lift processing rates and diesel output. Sustained high gasoil imports will be required, but stringent winter quality specifications constrain the available supply pool. It may take another mild winter to avoid shortages, IEA notes.
The Middle East conflict is fraught with uncertainty and events are fast developing. Against a backdrop of tightly balanced oil markets anticipated by the IEA for some time, the international community will remain laser focused on risks to the region’s oil flows.