Oil prices have held steady week on week despite a significant inventory build in U.S. crude two weeks ago, which was countered by a draw in U.S. crude stockpiles for the week ending April 19th. Next to this, traders have become less concerned about a potential supply disruption in the Middle East. The crude inventory build at the middle of the month triggered fears that oil demand could be weakening; however, Standard Chartered estimates that global inventories will increase by only 74,000 barrels per day in the month of April, a much smaller build compared with 2.2 million barrels per day (mb/d) build in April 2023 and the 1.4 mb/d build in April 2022. StanChart notes that the markets could be more sensitive to this change in trajectory following the strong counter-seasonal inventory draws during the first quarter of 2024. 

Even better for the bulls, StanChart has forecast that global oil demand will pick up strongly in May and June, exceeding 103 mb/d for the first time in May (at 103.15 mb/d), increasing further in June to 103.82 mb/d. The commodity experts have predicted global inventory draws of 1.53 mb/d in May and 1.69 mb/d in June, tightening physical spreads significantly. StanChart also says that OPEC is unlikely to increase output in the near-term thanks to the stall in the oil price rally despite having room for at least 1 mb/d of extra OPEC output in Q3 without increasing inventories. With the next key ministerial meeting just six weeks away, concerns about demand and the macroeconomic environment are likely to dominate the meeting. StanChart says we are likely to record a 1.6 mb/d Q3 draw in stocks if there is no increase in OPEC output, compounding the price effect of a H1-2024 draw of 1.1 mb/d.U.S. Sanctions on Iranian OilRecently, the Biden administration passed new sanctions on Iran’s oil sector as part of the $95-billion foreign aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. In a move aimed at reducing Iran’s oil trade with China, the broadened sanctions now target Chinese banks that conduct transactions involving Iranian crude and products. The sanctions now include foreign refineries, vessels, and ports that knowingly process, transfer, or ship crude oil in violation of existing sanctions. The new sanctions could prove significant in disrupting market fundamentals considering that  Iran currently produces about 3 million b/d and is expected to increase output by a further 280,000 b/d this year.

StanChart has predicted that whereas the upcoming U.S. presidential election may influence the timing of the next swing down in Iranian exports, Iran’s oil flows are bound to take a hit regardless of who ascends into the Oval Office in 2025. The analysts note that existing U.S. policy instruments were enough to drive Iranian exports down to close to zero in late 2020, before the international context, and the associated implementation policies, changed. StanChart has argued the Biden administration has room to start implementing the sanctions immediately despite the risk of increased fuel prices during an election year. StanChart notes that the record-high on the day of a U.S. presidential election is $3.492/gal in 2012 (when theincumbent won), equating to about $4.80/gal in 2024 money terms after adjusting for consumer inflation. That’s $1.14/gal higher than current prices, with the U.S. national gasoline price average at $3.66 per gallon. StanChart says that whereas recent U.S. international oil policy has clearly been designed with a view to moderating oil price effects, it does not mean that the U.S. has necessarily chosen a policy of minimum pressure on Iranian and Russian oil exports.Meanwhile, the natural gas outlook appears to be getting more bullish. A late cold snap has led to a sharp deceleration in European gas inventory builds, with EU inventories standing at 72.01 billion cubic meters (bcm) on 21 April according to Gas Infrastructure Europe (GIE) data. The w/w build was just 0.427 bcm, significantly slower than the 2.005 bcm build for the week to 14 April. StanChart, however, says the cold snap might not last long, meaning Europe is likely to still be faced with a gas glut in the summer. The U.S. gas outlook is, however, more bullish after National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists forecast above-average summer heat across the vast majority of the country, setting the stage for increased cooling demand.By Alex Kimani for .. Top Reads .: