According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's Short-Term Energy Outlook, the June price of $73 per barrel for Brent Crude Oil was up by $5 per barrel over May. With more vaccinations being rolled out, uncertainty over OPEC+’s production moves, and a reduction in worldwide oil availability, the outlook for oil prices seems upward. If the price of energy – especially oil – keeps increasing, will it halt the improving economy in its tracks?
As part of the commodity boom, crude oil is not immune from the rapid rise, creating an increase in inflation that’s subject to contention of being “transitory” or longer-term. Based on the World Bank’s semi-annual Commodity Markets Outlook, the positive price of crude oil is expected to remain at present levels through 2021.
The price of energy is projected to be, according to The World Bank, about 33 percent more in 2021 compared to 2020, when oil averaged $56 per barrel. In fact, The World Bank explained that crude oil is not the only commodity expected to increase in cost, and attributed it to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With more economies coming online, fossil fuels experiencing greater demand, and OPEC+ maintaining production cuts, The World Bank projects the price of crude oil to average $60 per barrel in 2022. One noteworthy factor is that although present levels of demand for gas and diesel are nearly at pre-pandemic levels, jet fuel demand is still lacking since air travel is not back to pre-pandemic levels.
However, The World Bank sees lower crude prices in these situations: the pandemic wears on longer than projected; there’s a major change in U.S. shale production; OPEC+ changes its production agreement; or if some combination of these three factors impacts crude oil demand.
One noteworthy statistic the International Monetary Fund (IMF) points out regarding U.S. shale production is that before the COVID-19 pandemic, shale oil output reached 2 million barrels annually, versus present-day production of approximately 500,000 barrels. While the Biden Administration has banned drilling on federal land, this shouldn’t impact shale production much. However, it signals a bigger approach with the administration’s statements on green energy.
Based on statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Drilling Productivity Reports, different regions show changes in oil rig production from July 2020 to July 2021. There’s been an uneven recovery over the 12-month period.
In July 2020, the following regions reported the following regarding oil rig production: Bakken at 1,385, Anadarko at 1,001, the Permian at 824, and Niobrara at 1,460. Looking one year later to July 2021, Bakken hit 2,400, with Anadarko dropping to 993, Permian increasing to 1,234, and Niobrara growing to 1,919.
Factoring in OPEC+
On July 18, OPEC+ agreed to phase out production cuts of 5.8 million barrels per day by September 2022, in response to higher prices. With Brent Crude Oil rising 43 percent between the start of 2021 and mid-July 2021, oil is forecast to hit $80 per barrel during the back half of 2021. They will therefore begin to increase oil supply at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day on a monthly basis, which will eventually reduce prices again.
Additional unknowns to the price of crude oil and the economy include projected actions by The Federal Reserve. If The Fed increases interest rates, it increases the strength of the U.S. dollar and decreases the strength of a foreign currency. This, in turn, lowers the cost of oil for U.S. dollar purchases and increases costs in foreign exchange, providing mixed demand for fossil fuel demand.
Another variable, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is that 16 percent of U.S. white-collar workers are expected to work from home at least twice a week. If the Delta variant increases work from home and overall lockdowns, it could also depress oil demand.
With many unknown variables still present with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact to commodity prices, including crude oil, the economy at-large will remain touch and go until the globe gets the Coronavirus crisis under control.