October 30, 2018 / 3:42 PM / 18 days ago

Vitol sees oil prices falling as demand growth falters

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices will likely fall next year as demand is curbed by trade wars and weakness in emerging market economies, the world’s biggest oil trader Vitol predicted on Tuesday.

A sign is pictured in front of the Vitol Group trading commodities building in Geneva October 4, 2011. Picture taken October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Chief executive Russell Hardy told the Reuters Commodities Summit that Vitol had revised down its forecast for oil demand growth next year to 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) from 1.5 million previously. It also cut this year’s forecast to 1.3 million from 1.7 million.

“We have never been hyper-bullish. We have always had an expectation that high prices would dent demand,” Hardy said in his first in-depth interview since becoming CEO in March.

“Crude markets are not that tight in the immediate term ... and a fair price of oil going into next year is probably closer to the $70 or $65 per barrel mark than the $85-$90 area that some people are talking about.”

Oil prices jumped above $85 per barrel earlier this month on fears of a steep decline in Iranian supply as U.S. sanctions on Tehran come into force on Nov. 4.

Hardy said he saw Iranian oil exports declining, but not as sharply as previously feared - probably sticking above 1 million bpd because China, India and Turkey were likely to continue buying crude from Tehran.

Combined with softer demand, this should help keep the oil market in balance for the first half of next year, provided Saudi Arabia pumped near record-high volumes and the world avoided another major supply disruption, Hardy said.

“There’s not much room for things to go wrong in any supply sense, because there is pretty much no spare capacity at the moment,” he said.

A potential worsening of the macro-economic environment represents a risk to the downside. If demand worsened further, it could add downward pressure on prices because it would come just as the United States adds more oil to the market in the second half of 2019.

However, the second part of 2019 would also see the market switching focus to tighter marine fuel rules coming into force in 2020, which are expected to give a major boost to diesel demand, said Hardy.

“The market is going to forgive short-term oversupply based on a view of increased demand for distillates in 2020,” he said.

Hardy also said he thought OPEC was unlikely to add supply to the market at its next meeting in December, despite calls from U.S. President Donald Trump to help bring prices down.

“In the end, OPEC produces 32 million bpd and they don’t have a great deal more supply to give the market ... Some parties (within OPEC) are beginning to think they need to be a little bit more conservative about 2019 because of the amount of non-OPEC increasing production”.

The United States is expected to add a new wall of supply next year and those volumes would be a major driver behind Vitol’s own expansion in crude, refined products and liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets, Hardy said.

“We’re trying to position ourselves to make sure that we’re getting some of that (U.S.) flow and that we’re participating in those exports ... because the U.S. is about to embark on another massive expansion of its crude oil export capacity,” said Hardy.

Vitol traded over 7 million bpd of crude and products in 2017 and Hardy said the figure would edge up in 2018. LNG traded volumes for this year are expected to be around 9 million tonnes from 7.4 million in 2017.

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Editing by Andrew Roche and Mark Potter

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