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The drop in oil prices continued this week as US crude stocks increased, OPEC lowered its demand forecast for next year, several OPEC countries reduced their selling prices to Asian customers, and the Saudi Oil Minster reaffirmed his intention to maintain production.
By the close on Wednesday London's Brent was down to $64.24 a barrel and NY futures were at $60.94. London’s close, below $65 a barrel, was the lowest in five years.
The drop in oil prices spread to the equities markets on Wednesday which also saw major losses. Shares in shale-drilling companies have dropped sharply as the drillers revenues have gone down. The financial press is filled with stories about “survival of the fittest” as many anticipate that several of the weaker shale oil drillers will go under unless oil prices revive soon.
The OPEC secretariat announced that the cartel’s production in November was 30.05 million b/d down by 390,000 b/d from October, but this was after the October figure was revised up by 190,000 b/d leaving a net drop of only 200,000 b/d. The secretariat has never had much proprietary information on how much oil its members are producing and is forced to rely on third parties and the press for production numbers. The cartel also reduced its forecast for its demand in 2015 to 28.9 million b/d as compared to demand of 29.4 million b/d this year.
This week's stocks report showed that US refiners are taking advantage of the low crude prices to bump up US oil refining to 16.5 million b/d, the highest level in records going back to 1989. Even with the record refining, US crude stocks increased by an unexpected 1.5 million barrels. All the refining last week left US gasoline inventories up by 8.2 million barrels and distillate inventories up by 5.6 million barrels. US “oil” production rose to 9.1 million b/d last week, the highest since 1983.
Months of steady declines in oil prices have lead to consternation across the world. Although oil importers are celebrating lower gasoline prices and the likelihood that their economies will receive an economic boost, other countries are seeing serious problems ahead as oil revenues drop precipitously and budgets must be slashed. In the US, numerous companies have announced plans to cut back on drilling next year, but in general, prices have fallen so fast that there has not been time to see all the implications of the price drop.
Comments on the current situation and just how low oil prices will go continues unabated. Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service says that $35-$50 a barrel is a possibility next year if OPEC does not reduce production. In this case, average US gasoline prices would be below $2 a barrel. Iran’s President says his country is the victim of a gigantic conspiracy that is causing grave damage to his country’s economy. More