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More Oil Supply Than The US Dollar Availability?

By Ronnie H. Rusli




The current strengthening of the U.S. dollar's upside momentum can be one of the prime factor that cause oil prices to remain depressed. The Fed tapering policy and possiblity to rise the interest rate is the contributing factor that strenthening the US$. Many observers try, too hard perhaps, to link the decline in commodity prices in general, and oil in particular, to the appreciation of the dollar. Yet the situation is considerably more complicated.

There is a case that can be made that the decline in commodity prices reflects slower world growth prospects in general and shrinking world economy. Demand in China, the key consumer of commodities, has softened, and its crackdown on using commodities to disguise capital flows, or use as collateral for loans, may also be weighing on demand. This weakness in the global economy stands in contrasts to the U.S. economy, which grew 4.6% in Q2, and appears to have ground around 3% in Q3. This contrast, or divergence has helped bolster the dollar.

However, this conventional narrative does not do justice to the supply side. From a high level, more often than not, dramatic moves in commodities seem to be a reflection of supply shocks more than demand shocks. For example, record harvests in the U.S. explain the decline in grain prices more than the dollar or a slowing of the world economy can.

Oil prices have fallen by 17-20% since mid/late June. There may be some role for the global slowdown and the appreciation of the dollar, but these are not the main drivers We see two main forces. The first is Saudi Arabia. It usually acts as the swing producer, cutting output when prices are low and increasing output when prices are high. It is not cutting output presently. To the contrary, it looks to have stepped up its output. The key question is why?

As in many important developments, this too could be over-determined (meaning more than one cause or consideration). First would be Saudi Arabia's domestic considerations. It depends on oil revenues to finance the government's activities, including a generous welfare program. By boosting output, it can maintain overall revenues in a soft oil price environment.

Second, some suggest it may also be a favor to the U.S. in that a fall in oil prices adds to the pressure on Russia. The arguments that it was the collapse in oil prices due to US policy encouraging the Saudi Arabia to pump and flood the market and force the oil price into lowest regime that would damage Russia economy, which is more than the Reagan-inspired arms race that ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union. There is a bottom line that while it is possible that Saudi Arabia changed tactics as part of some kind of pact with the U.S., it does not seem compelling that this is contradicted by a third consideration: a decline in oil prices, especially if a move below $80-$85 a barrel can be sustained, could change the dynamics of the U.S. shale projects.

Fourth, the Saudi oil stance may be a warning shot to OPEC, which meets early next month. By boosting output, it may enhance its effort to reinstate discipline within OPEC. Its internal battle within OPEC means that if it does not pick-up market share, its rival Iran would. Some observers think there is a proxy war of sorts being fought between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Libya and Venezuela domestic considerations do not favor cuts in output. Separately, Russia may also be inclined to step up production to limit the decline in revenues.

U.S. output is another supply side shock. In the week through October 3, U.S. crude output was 8.88 million barrels a day, and for the 48 continental states, it was the highest weekly figure since 2010. Since 2008, the EIA estimates that U.S. oil output is up more than 70%. Its 2014 forecast of average daily output in the U.S. this year of 8.53 mln barrels can be surpassed. During that same week, U.S. oil imports were 7.71 mln barrels a day. The EIA expects imports to fall to 6 mln barrels a day next year.

Through the week of October 3, U.S. crude inventories rose by five million barrels. The consensus had forecast a build of a little more than one million barrels. Crude inventories are about 2% above the five year average, and refinery utilization has fallen to the lowest since June.

Talk of peak oil and the demise of the dollar spurred fantastic talk of a return to $150 a barrel and higher. It was supposed to support the shift in the world economic order, leaving aside the fact that China is a larger importer of oil, or that the world economy does better (at least in the short and medium term) with cheaper energy. While scenarios of high oil prices have been gamed out, we suspect insufficient attention has been given to the opposite and just as plausible a scenario of a further material drop in oil prices.

The 10-year average (120-month) statistics of WTI is about $82.00 a barrel. In 2011 and 2012, it hit $75-$77. These do not seem like unreasonable medium-term targets. Technically, a break of $73 a barrel could send WTI toward $64, which corresponds with the 2010 low. A break of that would indeed be significant.


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