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Oil’s apocalyptic April could reverberate for years to come

  • Ben Sharples

    Bloomberg

Hong Kong   /   Wed, April 1, 2020   /   03:12 pm
Oil’s apocalyptic April could reverberate for years to come A picture taken on September 15, 2019 shows an Aramco oil facility at the edge of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia raced today to restart operations at oil plants hit by drone attacks which slashed its production by half, as Iran dismissed US claims it was behind the assault. Oil is entering a period of unparalleled demand destruction this month that promises to transform the industry for years to come. (AFP/Fayez Nureldine )

Oil is entering a period of unparalleled demand destruction this month that promises to transform the industry for years to come.

Daily consumption will plummet by 15 million to 22 million barrels in April from a year earlier, according to estimates from some of the world’s most influential energy analysts. The crash has already led to refiners slashing processing, drillers halting output and storage tanks swelling across the world.

“This will likely be a game-changer for the industry,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts including Jeffrey Currie and Damien Courvalin said in a March 30 note. “It is impossible to shut down that much demand without large and persistent ramifications to supply.”

The demand slump is being exacerbated by former OPEC+ allies Saudi Arabia and Russia pumping as much crude as they can in a battle for market share, heaping additional pressure on shipping, tanks and pipelines. Goldman sees around 20 million barrels a day flowing into storage in April, while IHS Markit expects the world will run out of space to store oil by the middle of the year.

Few in the industry will be spared. April is also set to be the worst ever month for global jet fuel demand, while industry consultant FGE forecasts American gasoline consumption will plunge by 50% from a year earlier. Energy Aspects Ltd. predicts global benchmark Brent crude may drop to near $10 a barrel, a level not seen in more than two decades.

The April crash sets up a bleak second quarter for the market, potentially causing some producers to go to the wall and destabilizing governments in many OPEC nations. A near-term recovery in prices seems unlikely, with around 70% of 130 respondents to a Bloomberg Intelligence survey saying they see Brent still below $30 a barrel by June.

About 70% of Bloomberg Intelligence’s 130 survey respondents see Brent below $30 by June, prior to OPEC’s next meeting. With the world’s biggest economies in lockdown due to Covid-19 and Brent at a 17-year low, a near-term recovery seems unlikely as demand remains in free-fall and Saudi Arabia and Russia entrench supply dominance.

While the crisis will see the energy industry finally achieve the restructuring it so badly needs, according to Goldman, the push for de-carbonization could hinder its recovery when demand returns.