Oil price calls for 2020 aren’t looking great for crude-producing countries

20/20: Dog and gas

It’s fair to say that oil price predictions among banks and energy consultancies for the next year are a little scattered.

Forecasters see the price of international oil benchmark Brent crude at anywhere between $59 to $70 per barrel for 2020, based on varying projections for supply, global demand and whether OPEC’s latest production cut deal will see full compliance from member states.

Most of the forecasters CNBC spoke to tended toward bearish, however, seeing the price of Brent struggle to go much higher than its November average of $63 per barrel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) “forecasts Brent spot prices will average $61/b in 2020, down from a 2019 average of $64/b,” it said in a December release, putting U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices on average $5.50 per barrel lower than Brent.

“EIA expects crude oil prices will be lower on average in 2020 than in 2019 because of forecast rising global oil inventories, particularly in the first half of next year,” the organization said.

Many major oil-producing countries have been fervently working to stem this downward trend. Early December’s OPEC+ agreement will see 500,000 additional barrels of crude per day (bpd) cut from production, with a further 400,000 bpd in voluntary cuts from Saudi Arabia, bringing the alliance’s total output cut aim to 2.1 million bpd in an effort to boost oil prices.

But compliance issues among member states like Nigeria to war-weary Iraq may make these numbers difficult to achieve, analysts say.

Japanese bank MUFG sees “signals that oil markets will be in a small surplus of 0.3m b/d next year” and said in a recent report that “our oil price forecasts … we maintain at USD59/b and USD55/b for Brent and WTI, respectively, in 2020.”

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) in Washington, D.C., doesn’t see any hope for oil prices at the start of the next decade, and believes that the extra half a million barrel cut from OPEC+ “may not be enough to rein in projected oversupply in 2020, since the OPEC+ bloc has already made cuts well beyond the 1.2 mbd target of the previous agreement.”

Strong production from the U.S., Canada and Brazil, paired with weak compliance by some OPEC+ countries and lower demand for oil globally “could raise global inventories by 1.1 mbd in 2020,” the IIF wrote in a December brief.

“Consequently,” the organization said, “we expect a decline in average Brent oil prices to $60 a barrel in 2020, compared with an average of $64 a barrel in 2019.”

Still others see reason to lean bullish, with the likes of BofA Global Research and J.P. Morgan calling prices above the 2019 average.

BofA admits that “target levels announced (in December by OPEC+) may be harder to meet,” and that the group’s output cut agreement shrinks production quotas for several member countries that weren’t delivering on previous quotas already, “casting doubt over compliance levels in 2020.”

But if strong compliance does come out of the agreement, that compliance, “coupled with other positive economic developments, such as a pick-up in global inventory restocking and a small U.S.-China trade deal, could push Brent to our $70 price target ahead of schedule,” BofA wrote in December.

J.P. Morgan, meanwhile, updated its Brent forecast to $64.50 per barrel for 2020, up from earlier forecasts of $59 per barrel, and it expects prices to fall to $61.50 in 2021.

Saudi Arabia will be watching those OPEC+ compliance levels and market conditions ahead of a March 2020 meeting at which time further steps may be taken. But even the highest forecast for Brent in the low $70s won’t be enough to balance the OPEC kingpin’s budget, whose budget deficit is set to increase to 7% next year. Saudi Arabia needs oil at $77 to $78 per barrel to balance its budget, analysts say.

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