Crude Oil Prices Rise Again as Physical Market Tightens

Commodities & Futures
© Reuters.  © Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith — Crude oil prices were set for a rise of over 10% this year after posting solid gains on Friday on strengthening expectations that a recovery in demand will balance the market sooner rather than later. 

By 9:15 AM ET (1315 GMT), futures were up 3.2% at $ 40.09 a barrel, having earlier hit an intraday high of $ 40.28 a barrel. The global benchmark was up 2.4% at $ 42.52 a barrel. 

Crude prices are now rapidly approaching the comfort level of at least some major producers. Russia’s sovereign wealth fund head Kirill Dmitriev, a key negotiator in the OPEC+ deal on output restraint, saying in an interview with Russian news site RBC that he saw no need to maintain the current deep cuts beyond their scheduled end in July. 

But the market has appeared content to push higher on the back of the OPEC+ joint monitoring committee meeting earlier this week, which stuck to the general line of keeping cuts in place while Iraq, Kazakhstan and others pledge to remedy their overproduction in May. 

The physical market continues to throw out mixed signals but analysts noted that the prices for dated Brent, that is, for near-term physical delivery, are now at their highest premium to futures contracts since before the pandemic erupted, while calendar spreads are also tightening in favor of nearer-term contracts as traders price in a faster rebound in demand. 

Many now expect the day-by-day balance of the market to swing back into deficit by next month, thanks to the OPEC+ cuts and the accompanying fall in U.S. shale production. Baker Hughes will update on the U.S. rig count later in the day, with the odds on a further fall from last week’s 199, which represented an 11-year low. 

However, the risks of another dip in demand have hardly vanished. The Chinese capital Beijing again cancelled hundreds of flights on Friday as the authorities extended their clampdown on a possible second wave of Covid-19 infections, while the rise in new cases across much of the U.S. indicates that the country hasn’t completely managed to negotiate the first wave yet. 

 Elsewhere in the energy complex on Friday, picked up 0.9% to $ 1.65 per mmBtu, while RBOB gasoline futures were effectively flat.

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