Oil fell for a third week as rising supplies from the U.S. to Nigeria to Libya showed that OPEC is still struggling to clear a global glut.
Futures fluctuated in New York Friday, trading at the sub-$50 levels seen before OPEC first agreed to curb output in November.
U.S data released Wednesday showed total crude and product stockpiles rose by the most since 2008 last week, surprising a market that had been expecting further declines. American output is also seen surging in 2018 to a record above 10 million barrels a day. In Nigeria, Royal Dutch Shell Plc lifted restrictions on exports of a key grade halted for more than a year.
Oil has largely given up its gains after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia agreed late last year to curb output. A persistent glut amid a ramp-up in U.S. production this year has kept prices under pressure.
Even this week, the oversupply has kept oil in check amid turmoil in the Middle East, the world’s largest producing region, as a Saudi Arabia-Qatar diplomatic feud flared and suicide bombers struck Iran’s capital Tehran.
“This is a market that I think speculators have been hoping will return to normal very quickly and prices will rally strongly. The problem is, fundamentals are not cooperating very quickly,” Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist in Seattle at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees $142 billion of assets, said by telephone. “There has been a lot of hope that demand will expand more rapidly and that supplies will come in quickly. Neither has been the case.”
West Texas Intermediate for July delivery increased 19 cents to settle at $45.83 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures fell 3.8 percent this week. Total volume traded was about 9 percent above the 100-day average.
Brent for August settlement rose 29 cents to end the session at $48.15 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices are down 3.6 percent this week. The global benchmark crude traded at a premium of $2.08 to WTI for August.
Libya resumed production at the Sharara oil field, the nation’s biggest, and output will reach normal levels within three days, National Oil Co. said on its website. It closed Wednesday after a protest by workers, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The U.S. oil rig count climbed by 8 to 741 rigs, the highest level since April 2015 and the 21st consecutive weekly increase, according to data published Friday by Baker Hughes Inc.
“We’ve gone down pretty much since the OPEC extension. That was kind of the game-changer,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said by telephone. “This has been the most vicious battle between the bulls and the bears. Obviously, the inventory draws haven’t happened as quickly” as the bulls would like.
Another piece of bad news for the il market is the escalation of tensions between the GCC countries and Qatar. The crisis has important consequences for the entire region and will take a significant toll on the economies of the region, forcing them eventually to pump out more oil to raise cash quickly.
Saudi Arabia dwarfs Qatar on almost any measure, yet there are plenty of ways the tussle between the Gulf neighbors could end up hurting the world’s biggest oil exporter — even if it wins.
All week the Saudis and their allies have ratcheted up pressure on Qatar, cutting diplomatic ties and imposing a blockade by land, sea and air.
The stated goal is to force Qatar to stop cozying up to Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran and bankrolling Islamist groups across the region. Qatar says it’s being punished for things it didn’t do, and the U.S. signaled Friday that it wants the embargo eased.
The disagreement over Qatar is longstanding. The scale of the current crisis is new, and it’s erupted into a Middle East already polarized by war. Saudi Arabia has struggled to impose its will in Syria and Yemen. Now discord has spread to the inner circle of Gulf monarchies, at a time when the Saudis and their young Prince Mohammed bin Salman are urgently seeking foreign investment to modernize an oil-dependent economy.
“Most worrying is that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. may repeat the mistakes that were made when the Saudi leadership decided to launch a war in Yemen,” said Yezid Sayigh, a Beirut-based senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They had no clear political strategy, based their action on false assumptions, have incurred heavy financial costs and a growing human toll, and are probably now worse off in terms of their security.”
As in other regional clashes, external powers are being drawn into the Gulf quarrel, not all of them on Saudi Arabia’s side.
U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he backed a Saudi Arabia-led movement to isolate Qatar over its funding of extremist groups, but the Pentagon and the State Department have taken a more neutral position.
Little more than an hour before Trump spoke at the White House, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the curbs to be eased, saying it was causing food shortages and hindering the fight against Islamic State. American planes use a base in Qatar, one of the largest U.S. military facilities overseas, for those operations.
Turkey has accelerated pre-existing plans to deploy some troops to Qatar, and Iran offered alternative transport routes and supplies of staple goods that can no longer be imported from Saudi Arabia. Their backing reduces the chance of a quick Saudi victory.
“Turkey has a powerful military,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “Iran is sending water and food,” he said. “So now we have two significant forces supporting Qatar.”
From the Saudi viewpoint, Qatar has been stirring up trouble all over.
That includes promoting the Muslim Brotherhood, whose advocacy of Islam through the ballot box is disliked by some Gulf monarchs. It includes cordial ties to Iran, with which Qatar shares a giant gas field. It includes sponsoring the Al-Jazeera television network, which has been critical of Saudi allies. Rounding up the charge-list: Support for Islamic State and al-Qaeda — something the Saudis have also been accused of and, like Qatar, deny.
“Qatar for many years has taken steps to support certain organizations and intervened in situations,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Wednesday. “We view Qatar as a brother state,” he said. “But you have to be able to tell your friend or your brother what is right or wrong.”
The Saudis and U.A.E. have hinted they’ll take further steps to make the point, including curbs on bank lending to Qatar and transactions in its riyal currency.
The dispute has begun to affect European energy markets: Natural gas prices soared as two tankers full of Qatari fuel changed course away from the Mediterranean — possibly to avoid transiting the Suez Canal, operated by Saudi ally Egypt.
Gas-rich Qatar has financial resources of its own, though, to withstand a siege. Its $335 billion sovereign wealth fund owns stakes in global companies from Volkswagen to Barclays.
Qatar will be motivated to resist by the perception that what the Saudis are really after is regime change, according to Sanam Vakil, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London.
Insisting “that Qatar capitulate on these demands is a challenge to its sovereignty,” and therefore the legitimacy of the ruling family, Vakil said. “I find it hard to believe they will just roll over.”
So far, they haven’t. Week one of the standoff ended with Qatar defiant. Food imports that usually come across the Saudi border have been sourced elsewhere, Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Thani told reporters in Doha. “We can live forever like this,” he said. “We aren’t ready to discuss an intervention into our sovereignty.”
That doesn’t mean the pressure won’t tell eventually. The Saudi economy is four times bigger than Qatar’s. Its population is more than 10 times larger, and that internal market helps insulate the Saudis from any fallout, said James Reeve, the London-based senior economist at Samba Financial Group.
Still, “any dispute of this type is likely to mar the investment climate for all countries,” Reeve said. “Investors will be reminded that this is a region where political issues can flare up unexpectedly.”
Saudi Arabia can ill afford instability in the Middle East, particularly of its own creation, at a time it’s seeking to raise billions of dollars from foreign investors by selling shares of its oil giant, Saudi Aramco.
U.A.E. Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash, in an interview on Wednesday, acknowledged that the Gulf’s reputation as a stable destination for capital could take a hit. “I can’t deny that this rift has its toll,” he said. But he said there was no alternative to confronting Qatar, because the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council can’t trust a partner that’s “going to be duplicitous in his policies.”
On Friday, Gargash again rebuked Qatar on Twitter, saying any solution must be found “through diplomacy, not by resorting to Iranian or Turkish ‘allies’.”
If Qatar wants to fight back, it could threaten to pull out of the GCC, according to Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics. That would strike at Saudi efforts toward closer union.
“Qatar could begin the process of exiting from the group,” said Karasik. “This would be a powerful message to all interested parties,” and would likely win behind-the-scenes backing from Turkey, Iran and even Russia, he said.
Another GCC member, Kuwait, is leading the effort to ensure things don’t reach that point. Its ruler traveled to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week, for discussions that haven’t yet been made public. Trump on Thursday offered Tillerson as a mediator.
The US president himself is widely seen as having emboldened the Saudi camp. Trump has vowed to take a tougher line on Iran, and hailed King Salman as a key partner.
The one dangerous development that could occur is an all-out war with Iran and against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The leadership of Saudi Arabia on the muslim world is at stake and it would not be the first time Arab countries go to war against Iran as was the case with Iraq in the 1990s.
Such a scenario would be devastating for the region and pk-callout to even more oil hitting the market.
As can be seen from the chart above, the technical configuration for oil is worsening and we see a continuation of the weakness ahead.
GOLD is also failing to make new highs and to challenge the upper band of its triangle at 1300.