Crude oil markets’ roaring frenzy wanes amid weakening fundamentals

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AFTER riding a bullish wave which lifted Dated Brent to US$137.64/barrel on March 8, international crude oil prices, while highly volatile, succumbed to recessionary fears and mounting inflationary pressures, amplified by the surge in global food prices, sparking macroeconomic growth concerns globally.

Lingering supply risks, nevertheless, given the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, remained supportive of oil prices. Tensions between China and Taiwan escalated after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier this month, raising the threat of yet another conflict and putting a key shipping lane at risk.

“Risk premium will remain supportive for oil prices in the foreseeable future, raising them to levels higher than what fundamentals would otherwise indicate," said Kang Wu, head of global demand and Asia analytics at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

As for oil fundamentals, they "will ease somewhat as supply increases more than demand in Q4 and into 2023 leading to stock builds," Platts Analytics said in its latest commodities brief, expecting Dated Brent to dip below US$100/barrel by year-end on supply-side factors.

Bullish supply amid dissipating demand

Global oil demand was estimated to have declined by around 295,000 b/d in July, over that of June, and despite a year-on-year growth, which signaled that the monthly growth momentum was easing, particularly towards the end of 2022, according to Platts Analytics.

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Russia, a significant supplier to the world, exported more than 7 million b/d of crude and petroleum products in July, accounting for some 13% of the total oil trade. Despite having been hit by sanctions, Russian exports remained resilient as reductions to Europe was more than offset by Asia’s increased purchases.

China's independent refiners continued to increase their import of ESPO and Urals crudes, leading their Russian inflows in July to surge 56% above June, S&P Global data showed. They were the main buyers in July, importing 76%, or 2.3 million mt, of ESPO cargoes loaded from Russia’s Far Eastern port of Kozmino. The volume represented a 64.3% month-on-month increase and was shared among 16 domestic buyers.

The independent refiners’ import of Russian Urals rose 42.9% on the month to 1 million mt in July. Urals crude, Russia's key export grade had been trading at a significant discount to other crudes since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Platts assessed Urals at US$74.17/b and Dated Brent at US$96.255/b on Aug. 16, S&P Global data showed. Urals was assessed at US$90.72/b, while Dated Brent at US$100.48/b the day before Russia invaded Ukraine.

In recent months, India, which sources 65% of its crude requirements from the Middle East, has been stepping up its purchase of attractively priced Russian oil.

Although Asia is increasingly relying on Russian inflows, the region’s oil demand growth for 2022 is still expected to be tepid, mainly due to a weakening economic outlook in some countries coupled with pockets of recurring COVID-19 amid persistently high oil prices.

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