What if I told you that there was a period in history where oil demand declined by 5 million barrels per day and non-OPEC supply increased by 5 million barrels per day, yet oil price rallied more than 50 percent? Would you believe me? If your answer is yes, then you guessed right. This was the period from 1979 to 1985; it was a period during which global oil demand declined from over 61 million barrels to 56 million barrels and non-OPEC supply increased from 32 million barrels to 37 million barrels. Yet prices rallied from $17 a barrel in 1979 to $26 a barrel in 1985, while reaching as high as $35 in 1981.
The maintenance of this artificially high price band by OPEC (at the expense of its production) led the oil majors to increase their capex from $24 billion in 1979 to as high as $44 billion by 1982, which naturally resulted in a drilling explosion with annual O&G wells drilled increasing from 66,000 in 1979 to a peak of 107,000 in 1984. This investment and drilling frenzy lead to more than a doubling in the Finding and Development (F&D) costs from $5 per barrel in 1979 to around $12 by the mid-1980s.
(Source: Sanford Bernstein) IMG URL: http://cdn.oilprice.com/images/tinymce/2016/Pushinghard.jpg
The increase in the F&D cost during that time was not the result of resource scarcity, or extraction complexity, it was the product of a substantial inflation in service costs due to an unexpected surge in activity caused by manipulated prices. Once OPEC ceased manipulating the market, prices quickly reverted back to their pre-manipulation economic equilibrium level in the mid-teens, while F&D costs settled back into the $5 a barrel range.
(Source: Statista) IMG URL: http://cdn.oilprice.com/images/tinymce/2016/Pushinghard1.jpg
This unfortunate price manipulation episode by OPEC led to the creation of substantial overcapacity in the petroleum industry as it brought forward and accelerated the development of unneeded oil resources, it greatly reduced demand, and it created significant excess capacity within OPEC itself. It took the world until 1991 to achieve the same level of oil demand reached in 1979, then from 1991 it took the world a decade and a half of demand growth and the emergence of China in the early 2000s, to exhaust all that non-OPEC excess capacity and OPEC spare capacity that was created during the 1979 to 1985 timeframe.
The birth of a new bull market
In 2005 oil prices averaged $54 per barrel, a near doubling from the $28 per barrel at the start of the decade. 2005 is often mentioned as the official start of the 2000s raging oil bull market that lasted for almost ten years, except for a brief interruption following the financial crisis.
(Source: CIBC) URL: http://cdn.oilprice.com/images/tinymce/2016/Pushinghard2.jpg
However, after rising from 46 million bpd to 49 million bpd (all liquids) from 2000 to 2004; non-OPEC supply stalled at around 49 million bpd for 3 years from 2004 to 2006, before finally crossing into the 50 million bpd mark in 2007. The pressure on non-OPEC to increase production could only translate into a sizable increase in prices, which in turn encouraged the industry to significantly increase its capex spending.
(Source: IMF) URL: http://cdn.oilprice.com/images/tinymce/2016/Pushinghard3.jpg
World supply hits a wall … U.S. supply to the rescue
Yet, as prices exploded higher and capex spending hit record after record, something curious happened: Non-OPEC all liquids supply (ex-U.S.) ground almost to a halt, after crossing 43.4 million bpd barrels in 2007, non-OPEC (ex-U.S.) all liquids supply increased by a measly 1.5 million bpd over a 7 years period, a period during which demand increased by over 6.6 million bpd.
Powered by the shale revolution, U.S. supply was a different story, from 2010 to 2014 U.S. all liquids supply grew by 4.2 million bpd, thus meeting the totality of global demand growth in the 5 years preceding the current crisis. Eventually, the strong increase in shale production combined with the resumption of growth in OPEC production led to prices collapsing by late 2014.
(Click to enlarge) (Source: Semper Augustus Capital) URL: http://cdn.oilprice.com/images/tinymce/2016/Pushinghard4SMAL.jpg
So very different, so very the same
Yet, OPEC hands are not completely clean in this price collapse episode. The oil price collapse of 2014 was compounded in 2015 by the arrival of geopolitically restricted oil from several OPEC countries. Iraq increased its production by 650,000 bpd in 2015. This supply should have been added to the market many years ago, but due to decades of turmoil, this oil only made it to the market last year. Saudi Arabia’s decision to bring in some of its spare capacity to the market (450,000 bpd production increase) last year also added to the oversupply situation that was created by market forces.
Additionally, politically restricted oil from Iran is being introduced to the market in 2016, thus yet again contributing to the oversupply. The sizable increase in Iraqi, Saudi and Iranian oil exports to the market in 2015 and 2016 has created (unintentionally or intentionally) the reverse of the OPEC price manipulation episode from 1979 to 1985. This time oil prices are being forced lower by a geopolitical oil supply increase that has little to do with market supply and demand fundamentals; just as OPEC aggressively withdrawing oil supply from the market in 1979 to 1985 had nothing to do with supply and demand fundamentals.
The surge in shale oil production between 2010 and 2014 was the trigger to this oil crisis, and thus a reduction in non-OPEC supply through a reduction in shale/global oil capex is a proper response to shale’s oversupply. This is how free markets balance themselves.
However, the arrival of the above mentioned geopolitical oil has interfered with the natural balancing mechanism. As oil prices overshot to the downside (and stayed low) due to the arrival of the geopolitically constrained non-market sensitive oil, the O&G industry has been forced to under invest in future oil supply as cash flows dried up and financing costs skyrocketed. The extent of under investment in shale has even been more severe with capex cuts averaging double the global average.
This delayed rebalancing caused a large build up in global inventories; those excess inventories could act as a shock absorber of sorts once supply undershoots, but it remains unclear whether excess inventories alone or in combination with OPEC will be able to compensate for an eventual dual collapse of both shale and non-OPEC supply in the context of sustained demand growth.
This oil boom-bust cycle is not a repeat of the 1980s, however the arrival of shale oil to the global oil scene has created a new oil pricing reality. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that this new oil reality is anywhere close to $30 or $40 a barrel as the futures curve is indicating and many forecasters are forecasting.
Outside of Iran and Libya, OPEC is producing close to its maximum capacity, with little prospect of a sizable increase in supply over the next several years. In essence, OPEC alone is not in a position to compensate for shale and non-OPEC declines as well as meet future demand growth. Yet, for shale and non-OPEC to assist OPEC and grow a price in the $60 to $70 range is most likely required to incent the development of marginal oil reserves.
By Nawar Alsaadi for Oilprice.com