Benchmark U.S. crude prices reached a seven-year on Friday and capped a seventh-consecutive week of gains against a backdrop of mounting demand, economic momentum and global supply uncertainty.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil eclipsed $92/bbl, the highest level since October 2014 and up more than 20% this year – after rebounding 40% in 2021. Brent crude, the international benchmark, topped $93 on Friday and was also up about 20% through the first five weeks of 2022.
Global demand is steadily climbing as economies around the world rebound from the pandemic, with governments emphasizing vaccines over travel restrictions amid outbreaks this winter of the coronavirus Omicron variant.
In the United States, the Department of Labor on Friday said employers added 467,000 jobs in January. The government also revised upward its payroll count for the final two months of 2021 by about 700,000 to nearly 1.2 million new jobs – important indicators of employers’ collective confidence in the economy’s health.
“Not only is 2022 beginning well, but the latest revisions show that 2021 was much better than originally thought. The average monthly payroll gain last year was over a half million,” said economist Nick Bunker of the job site Indeed.
“The economic fallout from each successive wave of the pandemic has been smaller and smaller,” he added. “This trend, along with strong demand for workers, suggests 2022 could be a year with continued strong gains for the labor market.”
What’s more, Rystad Energy noted that harsh winter weather in January and early this month across swaths of the United States that fueled natural gas price spikes have also resulted in increased gas-to-oil switching for heating, adding to the bull run for crude.
At the same time, global production is only gradually increasing early this year, extending modest gains in 2021 after the massive cuts to output imposed during the initial waves of the pandemic in 2020. This continues to foster supply/demand imbalance concerns and feed expectations that crude prices could soar beyond $100 with the arrival of the summer travel season – if not sooner.
“A spike towards $100 crude should not be ruled out in the short run,” Rystad Energy analyst Bjørnar Tonhaugen said Friday. “It is the expectations of future near-term tightness around March and April that traders are factoring into pricing.”
On the supply front, the Saudi Arabia-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a Russia-led group of allies known as OPEC-plus said this week they aim to boost output by 400,000 b/d next month. This would continue a targeted rate of monthly supply increases the cartel began last August. But Tonhaugen noted the increases are slowly unwinding production cuts of nearly 10 million b/d made in April 2020.
He also said several members of OPEC-plus are struggling to keep pace with the cartel’s targeted increases, including war-torn Libya and both Nigeria and Angola, which have struggled with deteriorating infrastructure. U.S. producers also are under relentless pressure from Wall Street to be cautious about substantial oil output increases. Investors want to see more capital deployed into renewable fuels.
OPEC researchers predicted global demand, meanwhile, would rise by 4.15 million b/d this year – after robust gains in 2021 — and that consumption would exceed 100 million b/d in the third quarter, returning demand to pre-pandemic levels.
In the United States, production in January averaged 11.6 million b/d, up 6% from a year earlier but down from the 2021 peak of 11.8 million b/d reached in December. Domestic output remains more than 1 million b/d below pre-pandemic highs, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data.
U.S. demand, however, is steadily advancing. Total petroleum consumption averaged 21.6 million b/d last month, up from 21.4 million b/d the previous month and up 12% from the same period a year earlier, EIA said. Consumption of motor gasoline, distillates and jet fuels all climbed.
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