US Production Threatens OPEC-Led Effort to Lift Crude Prices

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In its Monthly Oil Market Report for December, released Wednesday morning, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) noted that the cartel’s average price for its reference basket rose to $60.74 a barrel in November, its highest level since June 2015 and more than $5 a barrel more than the October average. Since June, the price has increased by more than $15 a barrel.

The big news, however, is that U.S. production growth for next year is forecast to be more than the total expected growth of non-OPEC supply. If this forecast appears to be coming true as June meeting of OPEC approaches, the cartel will have a difficult time persuading some participants, particularly Russia, to maintain their production cuts.

Global demand growth for 2017 was forecast at 1.53 million barrels a day, unchanged from the prior month’s estimate. The cartel’s projected demand growth for 2018 is now 1.51 million barrels a day, also unchanged.

The cartel reversed last month’s estimate of non-OPEC production for 2017 for a decline of 20,000 barrels a day to an increase of 15,000 barrels a day and a full-year increase of 810,000 barrels a day. For 2018, non-OPEC supply is expected to rise by 990,000 barrels a day to an average of 58.81 million, an increase of 27,000 barrels a day compared with last month’s estimate. U.S. production growth next year is now expected to rise by 1.05 million barrels a day, up by 18,000 from last month’s forecast.

2017’s estimated demand for OPEC crude slipped to 32.8 million barrels a day, up by some 600,000 compared to 2016. Demand in 2018 is now estimated at 33.2 million barrels a day, up 300,000 over the 2017 level, but down by 200,000 barrels a day compared to last month’s estimate.

The cartel said OPEC production in November, as reported by secondary sources, fell by 133,500 barrels a day to a daily average of 32.45 million. Saudi Arabia’s November production rose to just under 10 million barrels a day, a month-over-month decrease of 45,400.

The Saudis themselves reported total production of 9.89 million barrels a day in November, down by 164,500 compared to October. Under the production cuts initiated in January, Saudi Arabia’s quota is 10.058 million barrels a day.

Crude prices are higher Wednesday morning, with West Texas Intermediate for January delivery trading up about 0.8% at $57.55. Brent crude for February delivery traded up about 0.8% at $63.84. A major North Sea pipeline has been shut down and is expected to remain out of service for several weeks in order to repair a leak. On a normal day this pipeline transports about 445,000 barrels of Brent crude.