MOSCOW (MRC) — A risk premium has returned to oil markets with a vengeance, boosting global price benchmarks as escalating fighting in Iraq threatens supplies while political tensions loom between the United States and Iran, said Reuters.
After months of range-bound trading during which OPEC-led supply cuts supported crude prices but rising US output capped markets, prices have moved up significantly this month just as demand looks stronger than at any point in recent months, especially in China.
Despite some profit taking on Tuesday, Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were still at USD57.79 at 0148 GMT, 2.5% higher than last Friday's settlement—and almost a third above mid-year levels.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were trading at USD51.76/bbl, down slightly from their last settlement, but still some 2% higher than last Friday, and almost a quarter above mid-June levels. The higher prices came as Iraqi government forces captured the major Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk on Monday, responding to a Kurdish independence referendum. There were also reports that Kurds had shut down some 350,000 bpd of production from major fields Bai Hassan and Avana due to security concerns.
"Kirkuk, the main city in the region, produces around 10% of Iraq's total oil output and any (further) disruption could therefore have a significant impact on supply," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Rivkin Securities.
Meanwhile political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said, "Flows will remain vulnerable until an agreement is reached." The escalating fighting in Iraq has spooked markets as it adds to rising tensions between the United States and Iran. Last Friday US President Donald Trump refused to certify Iran's compliance over a nuclear deal, leaving Congress 60 days to decide further action against Tehran.
During the previous round of sanctions against Iran, some 1 MMbpd of oil was cut from global markets. With ongoing supply cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) further tightening the market, analysts were revising upward their crude price forecasts for the rest of the year and into 2018.
"We see Brent averaging USD54 this quarter and $52.50/bbl in 1H18, compared with our previous forecasts of USD50 and USD49.50/bbl, respectively," Bank of America Merrill Lynch said. "We also adjust WTI to average USD49 this quarter, relative to our previous forecast of USD47/bbl."
The US bank said that its "revised global oil supply and demand forecasts point to a sizeable deficit in 2017 of 230 Mbpd." The bank said there was further upside potential to its outlook.
"Upside risks to our projections include geopolitics and a much tighter-than-expected refining capacity environment."