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Oil’s Not Well: ‘Global Recession Expected To Be Deep And Lengthy’

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Recovery in oil prices will depend on recovery in the global economy, says Annabel Bishop, Chief Economist at Investec in Johannesburg.

The recent collapse in the WTI (West Texas Intermediate) oil price has added to negative market sentiment, in an environment where risk aversion was already at high levels. Worsening forecasts of the economic impact of Covid-19 has been a key driver of the elevation in risk aversion in global financial markets, with the global recession expected to be deep and lengthy.

The crisis is unprecedented, and there is no certainty of its length and duration, or the impact it will have. Uncertainty heightens risk aversion in financial markets and the deep recessions forecast around the globe exacerbates risk-off sentiment. Risk aversion in financial markets would indeed be exacerbated further if economic growth forecasts for advanced economies weaken substantially further, and/or if uncertainty around Covid-19 intensifies instead of waning.

While this is not expected, should the path of the pandemic change, the discovery of vaccines and treatment/s be seen to be substantially delayed, the extent of disruptions to supply chains and production substantially greater than anticipated and/or policy responses viewed as insufficient, risk-off in global financial markets could escalate substantially further.

The severe negative impact on health in the United States, as fatalities and infections rise, has likely also been extremely negative for financial markets’ sentiment, with the world’s largest economy expected to see a deep recession this year (-5.9% y/y IMF), and with the negative impacts leaching into next year as well.

Financial markets are still at weak levels, and are likely to remain volatile and weak in the near term until evidence for the beginnings of a recovery in the global economy become clearer.

The collapse in the WTI oil price has come as chronic oversupply of oil has occurred. Storage facilities are close to capacity, inventories are very high, and demand is extremely weak. While WTI was negative yesterday morning at -$4.4/bbl, with pricing on May futures, (with suppliers essentially paying to have deliveries taken off their hands), the Brent crude oil price was at $23.8/bbl. It was expected that soon the WTI pricing would revert to June futures and as a result, the WTI price move back towards that of Brent – this has been in the process of beginning to occur this afternoon as US markets have opened. However, the Brent crude oil price has weakened with its pricing also determined by future contracts. Storage facilities are near full capacity, and demand is exceptionally weak, and production capacity has not been reduced instantly as this is not possible.

WTI and Brent are one of the two main benchmarks for oil prices worldwide, Brent is North Sea crude oil essentially, WTI Texas crude oil, both are light sweet crude oils. The quoted prices are influenced by the futures prices, as noted above, which have collapsed and oil prices in the immediate term are likely to be suppressed. While there are a number of other issues besetting the pricing WTI as well, the prices are not expected to lift until substantial supply cuts occur and demand increases notably. While oil importers will gain, and oil exporters lose substantial revenues, the recovery in oil prices will depend on the recovery in the global economy.

The IMF highlights that “(a) partial recovery is projected for 2021, with above trend growth rates, but the level of GDP will remain below the pre-virus trend, with considerable uncertainty about the strength of the rebound. Much worse growth outcomes are possible and maybe even likely. This would follow if the pandemic and containment measures last longer”. This signals a suppressed view for oil prices for some time.

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