Oil price: diverging forecasts on oil demand from two global giants


Oil demand - 2024/24 - IEA
Data and Image: credit - IEA

IEA (2024), Annual oil demand growth, 2011-2025, IEA, Paris

The Paris-based International Energy Agency, IEA, put a damper yet again on the perceived demand for oil in 2024 and 2025, in stark contrast to that of the OPEC+, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries plus Russia.

According to IEA’s latest report on the subject, released in June, 2024, the growth will be a fairly modest 960 kbpd - 960 thousand barrels per day in 2024; it is a drop of 100 kbpd from IEA’s own previous estimate. The IEA cites a weaker demand in China for the drop in demand in this year.

China’s PMI, the key indicator that reflects the manufacturing activity, for instance, has been in decline for a few successive months, even below the psychologically sensitive 50%, the threshold; it went above 50% in March, only to come down again in April - and then, to continue the decline into May.

China's PMI - May 2023 - May 2024

It is no secret that the oil producers pin their hopes on China and India in order to keep the spark of robust demand alive. Unfortunately, the global inflation, coupled with political upheavals, appears to be getting in the way, when it comes to shoring up manufacturing activities in China.

In addition, the EV – electric vehicles -sector in China is expanding by leaps and bounds that in turn could bring down the demand for oil, at least in this sector.

As for the demand of oil in 2025, the IEA says that the demand will grow by 1 million barrels per day on a slower trajectory, indicating a figure lower than that of the previous years.

The IEA attributes sluggish global economic growth, exacerbated by inflation, the growth of electric vehicles and of course, the efficiency improvements of motor vehicles to the scenario in question for the next year.

By contrast, the OPEC+ has been very optimistic about the outlook while forecasting a demand-growth by 2.25 million barrels per day.

Oil demand in China - OPEC+
Data: Credit - OPEC

The clear divergence of the two separate paths have been attributed to their corresponding foci of the relevant data: the IEA, for instance, focuses on the global economic outlook and energy transition in forecasting the future trend; the OPEC+, on the other hand, focuses on the interest of its members and near-term dynamics in the oil sector – and for obvious reasons.

Judging by the recent fluctuations of the oil price, the markets – and investors for that matter – appear to be leaning more towards the forecast of the IEA than that of the OPEC+. The price of oil slightly rose last week, only to come down before the weekend, highlighting the lingering volatility.

WTI, Brent and LNG prices in June

As of 11:00 GMT on Monday, June 17, the prices of WTI, Brent were at $78.41 and $82.60 respectively. The price of LNG, liquified natural gas, also showed a sharp decline, recording just $2.81.

Meanwhile, neither the IEA nor the OPEC+ took into account the forthcoming presidential election in the US, the world’s top oil consumer – and the country that holds the title of being the top global producer of oil.

Since the inflation has become a major issue during the campaign, both sides of the political divide know the root cause that was behind the problem – high energy prices.

In this context, the US may be compelled to release more oil from its SPR, Strategic Petroleum Reserve, in order to mitigate the growing public anger over the inflation.

Since the Biden Administration already released more that 180 million barrels of oil from the SPR to bring down the oil prices since 2022, the next move in tapping into the reserves will be easier said than done; although the administration wanted to fill the reserves up that is meant to be for an emergency, not a tool for stabilising prices, the high oil prices have not made the move feasible.

With just less than six months to go before the presidential election, the Biden Administration may go for the nuclear option in order to dampen the headlines that are not in favour of measures taken in tackling the inflation – releasing more oil from the SPR, despite that being at a record low level.

If that happens, the price of oil will be under heavy pressure as never before and could even collapse precipitously, leaving beleaguered oil producers in the doldrums – and in a state of confusion, by extension.

In this context, President Biden’s opponent’s ‘drill bay drill’ strategy will only make the fall in prices irreversible for a long time, if the architect of the concept sets his foot in the White House again in November, this year.

In short, the stakes have never been higher for the oil producers, both from the OPEC+ and beyond.







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