September 9, 2019 / 11:06 AM / a month ago

Trade war, global economic uncertainty cloud oil outlook at Asia conference

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Uncertainties surrounding the global economy, a prolonged trade war between the United States and China and increasing U.S. supplies are expected to weigh on oil prices this year, executives at a key industry conference said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka attends a news conference in Tokyo August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Their comments at the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference (APPEC), an annual gathering of top energy executives, were more tempered compared with last year, when merchants were forecasting oil at $100 per barrel by the start of 2019.

Instead, Brent crude oil futures rose to as high as about $86 per barrel in October 2018 before dropping to a low of nearly $50 in December and recovering to nearly $62 currently.

“The flat price had the best it’s going to have this year, we’re bearish until year-end. IMO will hopefully help us with recovery through 2020,” Trafigura’s [TRAFGF.UL] co-head of oil trading Ben Luckock said.

He was referring to a new, lower cap on sulphur content in shipping fuel set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) from 2020.

The trade dispute between the United States and China, the world’s top oil consumers, has dampened oil prices, though production cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia have supported the market.

“The equilibrium right now between various sources is giving some kind of stability to oil prices,” said Giovanni Serio, global head of research at commodity trader Vitol [VITOLV.UL].

“They can break in one direction or the other depending on whether one or the other source of uncertainty becomes more prevalent. But there is no doubt that we are living in a period of uncertainty, even unprecedented uncertainty.”

Still, despite OPEC production cuts, oil is well supplied, with U.S. crude production increasing by 1.4 million bpd and covering demand increase, said Shunichi Tanaka, president of Japan’s Cosmo Oil.

“If OPEC did not cut production then supply would be in surplus. Oil supply-demand is expected to ease in 2020 and pressure crude prices (downwards),” Tanaka said.

A shale revolution and production increases particularly from the Permian basin and the Bakken have helped make the United States the biggest crude oil producer in the world, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Record shale production is also having repercussions in the crude oil market with the seaborne crude slate becoming lighter and sweeter, causing a mismatch within most refining systems geared toward medium, sour oil, Vitol’s Serio said.

Fuel substitution is also denting overall oil demand, said Chris Midgley, head of analytics at S&P Global Platts, a unit of S&P Global Inc, which organised the conference.

For instance, in China the deployment of 450,000 electric buses has displaced 240,000 barrels per day of diesel demand, he added.

Reporting by Julia Payne, Florence Tan and Koustav Samanta, writing by Jessica Jaganathan; Editing by Dale Hudson

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