Oil prices have been falling for seven weeks straight. Here’s why

Oil prices have been falling for seven weeks straight. Here’s why

Dec 20,2023
New York CNN  — 

US oil futures notched their seventh straight week of declines on Friday, marking their longest losing streak in five years.

The prolonged drop comes as analysts worry about increased production around the globe and shrug off the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ promises to limit supply. (OPEC+, which includes Russia and other OPEC allies, agreed to cut oil output by 2.2 million barrels per day through the first quarter of 2024, but markets don’t think all members will adhere to that).

Markets are also fretting over a projected decline in demand for crude, especially in China, where there are ongoing signs of a weakening economy. Chinese consumer prices are falling at their fastest rate since the depths of the pandemic in late 2020.

US gas prices, meanwhile, have dropped to an average of about $3.19 per gallon. That’s down about 22 cents from a month ago and 14 cents from a year ago.

Before the Bell spoke with Jim Mitchell and Corey Stewart, Americas oil analysts at LSEG, to better understand the dynamics pushing down the price of oil.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Before the Bell: Oil futures have been steadily decreasing for seven weeks. Is that significant, historically speaking?

Jim Mitchell: Yes and no. Certainly markets are gonna fluctuate, the oil market is ginormous — the largest of the commodity markets. But oil also acts as a currency. It funds a lot of countries’ entire GDP.

Corey Stewart: You’ve seen where we were maybe a bit undersupplied on the crude oil for a while, supporting higher prices. And as we moved out of the traditional driving season when we’d see more crude runs, it was only natural for prices to come down a little bit. A fall towards the end of the year is not necessarily surprising, as we move probably from an undersupply to a slight oversupply in the crude oil market here in the near term. It looks dramatic, and it is, but I think you can see how this will play out based on seasonality.

Let’s talk about supply. It seems as though the tide has shifted on expectations that OPEC+ will deliver on production cuts. 

Mitchell: Prices were creeping past $90 a barrel just a few months ago, and so there was a lot of incentive for other countries, including the US, to start producing more energy.

Now we’re seeing record production in some parts of the US, so it’s going to be more difficult for OPEC to implement some of the tactics that it’s used before to limit supply and bring prices back up. It’s not going to work.

There are other issues. OPEC is not talking about Libya, for example. Libya doesn’t have a quota and is now producing about 1.1 million barrels of oil per day. Iran is producing 3.2 million, and the oil minister said he wants to get to 3.6 million by the end of the first quarter next year. So they’re ramping up and at the same time, Saudi Arabia is still making cuts.

When you discuss all that’s going on geopolitically and the shifting centers of crude production, does it feel like we’re approaching a significant power shift in the market?

Mitchell: I’ve been in this industry a long time and every day is pivotal, sometimes the general public is aware of it, sometimes it’s not.

Considering where we are worldwide, in terms of GDP and some cracks in the world economy, this is a pivotal moment.

But are we going to have an issue in the winter? I don’t think so. Even if Europe gets cold, I don’t think we’ll see the same scare as we did last year.

Stewart: Diesel inventories in Europe were exceeding lows last year, and they’re well above that now. They’re adequately supplied. Winter is shaping up to be relatively mild so they’re better positioned.

US production is also in better hands than it was four or five years ago. Companies can weather the storm a bit more, all of these companies have worked to repair their balance sheets versus working with a ‘drill baby drill’ mentality like they were for a long time. So the influence of OPEC is still there, but it’s a little bit less on this side of the world.

Should we be worried about weakening crude demand in China? 

Mitchell: In the last two years, it’s been difficult to get information out of China.

We are about as big of a data company as it gets: we have an office in Singapore; we have oil and product analysts in China and other Southeast Asian countries; and even with that, it’s difficult to get demand information out of China.

But there’s a couple of things that are interesting. China’s refining capacity keeps creeping up, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 15.5 million barrels a day. The US is around 17.7 million, and China is likely to surpass the US in the next few years.

There are quotas, the Chinese government will contain how much the Chinese refining industry can produce so it doesn’t get ridiculous, because it certainly could. Those quotas contain the industry a little bit, but still create possibilities where China is selling gasoline into the Pacific products market. And when they do that in size, it impacts the margin of refineries in Southeast Asia. You can also see an impact in the US.

The easy thing to assume when you see China dumping products into the Pacific products market is to think that their demand is decreasing, but that’s not necessarily true. That’s where the tricky part comes with China. We’re kin to the fact that they are having some pretty significant credit risk. There may be a lack of demand in China but it’s really hard to tell how much.

Stewart: You do have to wonder when China starts shipping out a lot of gasoline. It used to be the policy there that China wanted to keep everything domestic. But we’ve been seeing more and more exports and that does affect prices.

In the near term, as far as the demand for crude oil markets, it’s been a little different. Last month imports fell by about 10% from the month prior, and there’s been a year-over-year drop of 9.3%. You’re seeing crude oil demand into China going down.

Do you see oil prices remaining low in 2024? 

Stewart: I do see the first part of the year starting out a little lower. If we see a weakening economy, it will impact demand and send prices lower. But by and large, if you just look at history we have seen petroleum demand growth nearly every single year.

Pressure grows on Harvard President Claudine Gay after Penn’s Liz Magill resigns

Now that Liz Magill has stepped down as president of the University of Pennsylvania, the spotlight has turned to her counterpart from Harvard University, Claudine Gay, reports my colleague Eva Rothenberg.

“One down. Two to go,” Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, with the “two” being a reference to Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth. “In the case of @Harvard, President Gay was asked by me 17x whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s code of conduct. She spoke her truth 17x. And the world heard.”

Stefanik serves on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which called on Magill, Gay, and Kornbluth last Tuesday to testify about their responses to alleged incidents of antisemitism on their campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

All three gave widely criticized testimony, in which they failed to condemn calls for the genocide of Jews as explicitly against campus harassment and bullying codes. On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the governing boards of Harvard, Penn, and MIT urging them to remove their university leaders. Meanwhile, hundreds of faculty members have signed a petition in support of Gay.

Gay has since apologized for her remarks, “I am sorry,” she said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson on Thursday. “Words matter.”

“I got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures,” Gay told the student newspaper. “What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged.”

But some major donors remain unmoved, particularly Bill Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund CEO, who has been among Gay’s most vocal critics.

“As a result of President Gay’s failure to enforce Harvard’s own rules, Jewish students, faculty and others are fearful for their own safety as even the physical abuse of students remains unpunished,” Ackman wrote in an open letter to Harvard’s governing board of Sunday. “Knowing what we know now, would Harvard consider Claudine Gay for the position? The answer is definitively “No.” With this simple thought experiment, the board’s decision on President Gay could not be more straightforward.”

Harvard is one of several academic institutions to come under fire in recent months over alleged antisemitism on campuses following the terror attacks by Hamas on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent strikes on Gaza. Harvard is also among 14 colleges under investigation by the Department of Education since the attacks “for discrimination involving shared ancestry” an umbrella term that covers both Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Spotify slashes staff to move faster into AI – and Wall Street loves it

Spotify made a name for itself in the audio-streaming business through its hyper-personalized user experience, thanks to artificial intelligence and a team of 9,800 staffers at the end of 2022.

But after three rounds of layoffs in one year — 590 positions in January, 200 in June, and another 1,500 last week — Spotify’s Investments into AI to boost margins for its podcasting and audiobook divisions look like a complete overhaul in strategy that Wall Street seems confident can work, reports my colleague Sergio Padilla.

“Spotify is leveraging AI across its platform, launching AI DJ, simulating a traditional radio experience, in 50 additional markets and rolling out AI Voice Translation for podcasts,” said Justin Patterson, equity research analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets, in a research note. “Coupled with audiobooks rolling out to Premium Subscribers, we believe Spotify has several opportunities to drive engagement and eventually stronger monetization.”

Shares of parent company Spotify Technology SA are up more than 30% over the last six months and up more than 135% year to date.

The company joins other tech firms in retrenching as pandemic-era demand has dried up. It also has to make up for the more than $1 billion it spent on podcasting, much of which went toward deals with celebrities to make podcasts that never materialized and acquiring podcast studios that it later shuttered.

“Economic growth has slowed dramatically and capital has become more expensive. Spotify is not an exception to these realities,” Ek wrote in a letter to staff posted to the company’s website.

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