Oil rallied to the highest in nearly two years in New York after OPEC shocked markets with a decision to keep supply limited as the global economy recovers from a pandemic-driven slump.
US benchmark crude futures topped $65 a barrel on Friday, while its global counterpart Brent edged closer to the key $70-a-barrel level. A surprise decision on Thursday by the producer group to keep output steady in April spurred a wave of upgrades in oil price forecasts by major banks and a surge in the market’s structure.
“We’re going to continue to draw inventory at a much faster rate than we had expected just two days ago,” said Andrew Lebow, senior partner at Commodity Research Group. “Moving forward, if demand continues to improve, there’s certainly a chance of a serious supply shortage.”
Crude has soared this year, shepherded higher by OPEC ’s supply restraint and the vaccine-aided recovery in consumption that’s drained inventories. The group’s decision represents a victory for Riyadh, which has advocated for tight curbs to keep prices supported.
“Overall, this was the most bullish outcome we could have expected,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts including Natasha Kaneva wrote in a note to clients.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia had been debating whether to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output. As part of Thursday’s agreement, Russia and Kazakhstan were granted exemptions, allowing them to increase supply marginally in April.
Saudi Arabia’s bold and unexpected gamble to restrain production is founded upon its view that, this time around, higher prices will not lead to a big increase in output by American shale drillers. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in an interview after the meeting that shale companies were now more focused on dividends.
Oil’s rebound this year stands to intensify the debate about a potential resurgence in inflation, and complicate the task facing the Federal Reserve as it supports the U.S. recovery. The Treasury market is already looking for signs of faster price gains, with yields rising rapidly. Meanwhile, U.S. employers added more jobs than forecast in February.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its Brent forecasts by $5 a barrel and now sees the global crude benchmark at $80 in the third quarter. JPMorgan increased its Brent projection by $2 to $3 a barrel and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. boosted its three-month target to $70. Citigroup Inc. said crude could top $70 before the end of this month.
Oil rising to these levels will likely increase strains within OPEC as some members will want to pump more to relieve under-pressure economies, Citi said in a note. Top importers such as China and India would also not be happy and the alliance is likely to change course at its next meeting, it said.
The lack of fresh supply was reflected in oil’s futures curve. Brent’s prompt timespread widened to as much as 68 cents in backwardation — a bullish structure where near-dated prices are higher than later-dated ones — from 54 cents Thursday. Gauges further along the oil futures curve also surged.
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