(Bloomberg) The top of the oil market may be closer than you think.
With Brent futures having bounced back as high as $41 a barrel, the International Energy Agency sees “ light at the end of the tunnel ,” and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is spotting “green shoots.” Even so, many analysts warn that, like the failed rally last year, this recovery will sputter once prices go high enough to keep U.S. crude flowing. “If prices keep going up, U.S. production from shale producers is extremely responsive,” Jamie Webster, vice president of crude markets at IHS Energy, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “Falling U.S. production is the key dynamic you need to get supply to equal demand, and that might not actually happen,” meaning prices could fall again.
Brent futures have recovered about 40 percent from the 12-year low of $27.10 reached in January, trading for $38.60 at 8:58 a.m. Tuesday in London. With output outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries set for its biggest slump since 1992, “prices might have bottomed out,” according to the IEA. Yet world crude benchmarks may struggle to push past $50 a barrel this year as any further price recovery only delays the production cuts needed to balance the market, according to the median of a Bloomberg survey of nine analysts.
While U.S. crude production has retreated 5.5 percent since last summer, the process of depleting bloated inventories is just getting started, according to Goldman Sachs. The bank, which foresaw oil’s plunge into the $20s, predicts prices still need to stay low enough to starve producers of capital, otherwise the output losses necessary to remove the supply surplus won’t happen.
“An early rally in prices before a deficit materializes would prove self-defeating,” Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs in New York, said in a report on March 11.