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Oil Slumps on Iran Fear Factor, OPEC’s Weak Demand Outlook

By Barani Krishnan

Investing.com - Growing speculation that U.S. sanctions against Iran may be dropped, as well as proof that OPEC is slowly and surely ceding market share to the United States, sent oil prices plummeting on Wednesday, despite another big weekly draw number for U.S. crude.

New York-traded West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark blend, was down $1.61, or 2.8%, at $55.79 per barrel by 12:52 PM ET (16:52 GMT) despite the U.S. Energy Information Administration reporting a crude draw of nearly 7 million barrels last week, more than double the 2.7 million forecast by analysts. WTI briefly hit 6-week highs of $58.29 on the EIA data, before reversing course.

London-traded Brent crude, the international benchmark blend, also slumped 2.8%, or $1.72, to $60.66 per barrel. The session high was $63.26.

OIl prices were driven lower by the sacking on Tuesday of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton by President Donald Trump.

Bolton’s ouster could pave the way for negotiations between Washington and Tehran on a new nuclear deal for the Islamic Republic that may eventually see U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil being removed. Bolton, a hawk on Iran, had practically blocked all attempts of diplomacy between the Trump administration and Tehran while in office, those in the know said.

“Oil traders are reacting to the fact, as we expected, that Bolton quit over the suggestion that the U.S. loosen sanctions on Iran,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

Should there be no more embargoes on Iranian oil, an additional 1 million barrels from Tehran could end up in the market -- not exactly something that OPEC would welcome.

OPEC, in its monthly report on Wednesday, forecast that demand for its own crude will average 29.4 million barrels per day in 2020, down 1.2 million bpd from this year.

The EIA, meanwhile, reported U.S. crude exports at a blistering pace of 3.3 million bpd for the week ended Sept 6. That, and another drop of 180,000 bpd in crude imports last week, ostensibly from OPEC sources, were among the key drivers for the near 6.9-million-barrel drop in U.S. crude stockpiles for the week, the EIA’s weekly data showed.

U.S. crude stocks have fallen nearly 22 million barrels in a span of just three weeks, with the draws coming unusually at the tail end of summer, when driving activity in the U.S. is typically on the decline. While that should have boosted prices, the market fell instead on worries that OPEC, which accounts for about 40% of world oil supply, could again be faced with a global glut like a few years ago. Indeed, the cartel’s monthly report highlighted the need for production cuts to prevent more oversupplies.

“We’ve been talking and talking about OPEC losing market share from their production cuts and now we’re finally seeing evidence of it from the burgeoning weekly export numbers of U.S. crude,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital. “Understandably, OPEC is worried and the market even more at what lies ahead for the cartel.”

Woods Mackenzie said last month that the U.S. port of Corpus Christi, Texas could emerge as the country’s top crude export hub over the next decade, linking three new pipelines from the Permian, the country’s most prolific shale oil basin.

“Crude exports (at) above 3 million bpd ... is starting to look like the norm, now that Permian pipelines have started up to Corpus Christi,” said Matthew Smith, who tracks crude cargoes for New York-based Clipperdata.

The EIA also said gasoline inventories slipped by 0.68 million barrels last week, compared with expectations for a drop of about 0.85 million. Distillate stockpiles rose 2.7 million barrels, compared with forecasts for a slight rise of 0.07 million.

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