Oil prices fell over $1 a barrel on Thursday after Angola announced its departure from OPEC, while record US crude output and persistent worries over Red Sea shipping added further pressure.
Brent crude futures dropped $1.30 to $78.40 a barrel in afternoon trading, bringing losses to nearly 2% this week. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude also slid $1.19 to $73.03 per barrel.
The declines came after Angola’s oil minister said the country will be leaving OPEC in 2024, saying its membership no longer serves national interests. While Angola’s production of 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) is minor on a global scale, the move raises uncertainty about the unity and future cohesion of the OPEC+ alliance.
At the same time, surging US oil output continues to weigh on prices. Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed US production hitting a fresh peak of 13.3 million bpd last week, up from 13.2 million bpd.
The attacks on oil tankers transiting the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait at the mouth of the Red Sea have forced shipping companies to avoid the area. This is lengthening voyage times and increasing freight rates, adding to oil supply concerns.
So far the disruption has been minimal, as most Middle East crude exports flow through the Strait of Hormuz. But the risks of broader supply chain headaches are mounting.
Balancing Act for Oil Prices
Oil prices have stabilized near $80 per barrel after a volatile year, as slowing economic growth and China’s COVID-19 battles dim demand, while the OPEC+ alliance constrains output.
The expected global demand rise of 1.9 million bpd in 2023 is relatively sluggish. And while the OPEC+ coalition agreed to cut production targets by 2 million bpd from November through 2023, actual output reductions are projected around just 1 million bpd as several countries struggle to pump at quota levels.
As a result, much depends on US producers. EIA predicts America will deliver nearly all new global supply growth next year, churning out an extra 850,000 bpd versus 2022.
With the US now rivaling Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer, its drilling rates are pivotal for prices. The problem for OPEC+ is that high prices over $90 per barrel incentivize large gains in US shale output.
Most analysts see Brent prices staying close to $80 per barrel in 2024, though risks are plentiful. A global recession could crater demand, while a resolution on Iranian nuclear talks could unlock over 1 million bpd in sanctions-blocked supply.
The Russia-Ukraine war also continues clouding the market, especially with the EU’s looming ban on Russian seaborne crude imports.
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Impact of Angola’s OPEC Exit
In announcing its departure, Angola complained that OPEC+ was unfairly reducing its production quota for 2024 despite years of over-compliance and output declines.
The country’s oil production has dropped from close to 1.9 million bpd in 2008 to just over 1 million bpd this year. A lack of investment in exploration and development has sapped its oil fields.
The OPEC+ cuts seem to have been the final straw, with Angola saying it needs to focus on national energy strategy rather than coordinating policy within the 13-member cartel.
The move makes Angola the first member to leave OPEC since Qatar exited in 2019. While it holds little sway over global prices, it does spark questions over the unity and future cohesion of OPEC+, especially if other African members follow suit.
Most analysts, however, believe the cartel will hold together as key Gulf members and Russia continue dominating policy. OPEC+ still controls over 40% of global output, giving it unrivaled influence over prices through its supply quotas.
But UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo points out that “prices still fell on concern of the unity of OPEC+ as a group.” If more unrest and exits occur, it could chip away at the alliance’s price control power.
For now OPEC+ remains focused on its landmark deal with Russia and supporting prices through 2024. Yet US producers are the real wild card, with their response to higher prices determining whether OPEC+ can balance the market or will lose more market share in years ahead.