The Oil Market Is Tighter Than You Think

August 15, 2022 Updated: August 23, 2022

Commentary

In the past three months, oil prices have corrected dramatically as global oil demand has eased and concerns about a Chinese slowdown have added to a possible European recession. The picture of demand growth may be weakening, but the global supply-demand balance remains tight, and years of underinvestment may bring elevated oil prices for longer.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has “cut its 2022 forecast for growth in world oil demand for a third time since April,” Reuters reported. “It expects 2022 oil demand to rise by 3.1 million barrels per day (bpd), or 3.2%, down 260,000 bpd from the previous forecast.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA), on the other hand, “raised its forecast by 380,000 bpd to 2.1 million bpd,” but it was mostly updating and moving closer to other estimates from international bodies.

The EIA estimates that U.S. crude production will rise to 11.86 million bpd in 2022 and 12.70 million bpd in 2023 from 11.25 million bpd in 2021. It expects the United States will be close to all-time high consumption of 20.75 million bpd in 2023.

World oil demand growth in 2022 is revised downwards but still shows a tight supply-demand balance with a rising call on OPEC crude and a growth of 3.1 million bpd in consumption, including “the recently observed trend of burning more crude in power generation,” OPEC stated in its August monthly oil report.

Global oil demand will likely average 102.7 million bpd by 2023. However. Non-OPEC production is likely to remain stable at 67.5 million bpd with most of the growth coming from the United States, Norway, Brazil, and Canada, according to the OPEC monthly report. This means that the world will have a higher need for OPEC oil, and evidence that massive subsidies have not made a significant impact on the electricity and transport energy mix.

A tighter market with significant geopolitical challenges was made tighter by policymakers’ burdens on investment.

Global oil and gas development capital expenditure has fallen from $740 billion in 2015 to an average of $350 billion, according to Morgan Stanley. Underinvestment in development and exploration in energy is now a major problem.

According to Deloitte, the global upstream industry “will need to invest a minimum of about $3 trillion (ex-MENA capex of $2.7 trillion, real 2015 dollars) during 2016–2020 to ensure its long-term sustainability.” This means there’s at least a $2 trillion funding gap in the industry if you consider balance sheet requirements, debt maturities, and estimated cash flow.

Over the past five years, most global energy companies have had to slash investment, in some cases by more than 50 percent, driven by environmental activism, regulatory and political pressure as well as lower access to credit.

Banks have limited the funding of oil and gas due to political and even central bank pressure, as the European Central Bank, for example, has included environmental requirements in their analysis of banks. Balance sheet challenges and weak cash flow in a low commodity price environment have also reduced the ability of energy companies to fund exploration. In 2011–15, companies had ample access to equity capital to fund new exploration and development. All that changed dramatically, and even state-owned companies all over the world have slashed their capital expenditure commitments.

Interestingly, limiting access to capital to the energy world in developed nations has created more bottlenecks and lower respect for the environment as most of the investment and growth has shifted to countries with lower environmental standards and that run state-owned oil companies.

For years, governments and policymakers have demanded less investment in fossil fuels while relying on cheap energy to sustain economic growth. Now it seems that policy nudging has backfired. As funding has dried up, global oil and gas discoveries in 2021 looked set to end at the lowest level in 75 years, according to Rystad Energy, and global inventories remain significantly below the five-year average even with lower demand.

The developed nations’ policymakers have presented the oil and gas sector with the following proposition: We do not want your product. We say we will not use your product in 2030. However, you must invest hundreds of billions of dollars every year to deliver it cheaply and abundantly when we want it.

The energy sector must have thought: Where do we sign? Note the irony.

If there’s a tight oil market, it isn’t due to a lack of resources or opportunities, but due to lower access to capital created by the misguided interventionism in energy policy.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Daniel Lacalle, Ph.D., is chief economist at hedge fund Tressis and author of “Freedom or Equality,” “Escape from the Central Bank Trap,” and “Life in the Financial Markets.”