Oil under $60 beyond 2016 suggests market rethinking shale

Wed Jul 8, 2015 12:17am EDT
 
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By Jonathan Leff and Jessica Resnick-Ault

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The almost 10 percent nosedive in headline oil prices this week has many hallmarks of a shocking but short-lived slump, triggered by a confluence of external events and exacerbated by safety-seeking investors and momentum-chasing traders.

By Tuesday afternoon, the crowded race to the exit was winding down, with prices recovering from three-month lows as traders reassessed the factors they blamed for the worst slide in four months: Greece's debt woes; China's stock market meltdown; talks with Iran over its nuclear program; a stronger dollar; a rise in the number of U.S. oil rigs; a breach of key technical triggers.

Yet a deeper look at the market suggests an important and more lasting rethink may now be afoot: longer-term oil prices, normally less volatile and reactive than immediate delivery, have suffered an almost equally violent collapse, pushing crude prices for 2017 to below $60 a barrel for the first time ever.

If U.S. shale drillers - the world's new 'swing' producers - can still turn a profit at below $60 a barrel, then the fall in long-dated oil prices may be rational. If not, as some bullish market analysts worry, then lower prices could be choking off new supplies the world may need as soon as next year.

"If you take the curve at face value, it appears to be saying that U.S. shale can grow ... if WTI stays below $60 for three years. That doesn’t seem very likely," Paul Horsnell, global head of commodities research at Standard Chartered, said, referring to West Texas Intermediate crude.

"One would guess that all those companies that had been holding back from cutting projects and jobs over the past few months are not going to hold on much longer, and another shakeout will start. And it probably won’t be long before U.S. rig counts start to dive again."

Link to chart: link.reuters.com/tef25w

U.S. oil futures for December 2017 delivery have dropped by as much as $5 a barrel, or 8 percent, in the past two days, an even deeper retreat than last November when OPEC's surprise decision to maintain oil output despite a global glut sent markets into a deepening tailspin.   Continued...

 
A man fills up his car at a petrol station in Rome January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi