Can crude oil prices make it to the triple digits this year?

Commodities

Oil prices are mounting a strong upward charge as the natural gas crisis rolls on. The question is how far can oil go?

Oil trading

A combination of factors sent oil prices skyward over the weekend. It essentially boils down to the state of inventories, supplies being kept in check, and demand recovering from the summer’s Delta variant COVID-19 wave.

Then you can factor in the global natural gas shortage. A big part of the support crude prices are getting comes from the gas crisis in the form of fuel-switching – or at least the idea of increased fuel switching.

Oil bulls believe that Europe and Asia could pick up more oil for their power demands this winter to compensate for tighter gas supplies. More oil use = more oil demand = oil prices.

“An acceleration in gas-to-oil switching could boost crude oil demand used to generate power this coming northern hemisphere winter,” ANZ commodities analysts said in a note published earlier in the week.

If this does occur, despite Russian President Putin saying he would step in and increase gas supplies to Europe, then fuel switching could be the catalyst that sends oil prices into three-figure territory.

However, JPMorgan analysts have said they’ve yet to see any evidence of a major oil-to-gas fuel change just yet.

A note from the investment bank said: “This means that our estimate of 750,000 barrels per day of gas-to-oil switching demand under normal winter conditions could be significantly overstated.”

So, under present circumstances, the market appears to be pricing in this shift, but it might not actually occur.

Crude prices were on a strong footing at the start of the week. As of Tuesday morning, WTI futures were trading for around $80.5.

Brent crude futures are exchanging hands for $83.83.

There was talk last week that the US would be dipping into its strategic reserve, which did cause prices to wobble. However, the Department of Energy has walked back on these claims. If anything, US inventories are going up.

Oil & gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, previously closed due to Hurricane Ida passing by, is back online. Rig counts are rising week-on-week. That means more US-sourced crude is being pumped into its domestic stockpiles. As such, there is no need to tap the nation’s strategic reserves just yet.

Crude inventories rose by 2.3 million barrels in the week to October 1st to 420.9 million barrels. Analysts were expecting a 418,000 drawdown.

Natural gas trading

The ongoing gas crisis was creating plenty of upside risk at the start of the week. However, it looks like traders were looking at improving US natural gas supplies for this week’s price action.

Warmer temperatures are playing heavily into the US 15-day weather outlook. Cold temperatures are departing from much of the US, and while unseasonable warmth is good for those who want to go out and about, it’s not so great for price action.

October demand could fall to its lowest for over forty years based on prevailing weather forecasts. It’s possible that the demand picture could extend into November too.

However, warm weather will help the injection situation.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last Thursday that domestic supplies of natural gas rose by 118 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ended October 1st.

S&P Global Platts analysts were expecting a smaller 111 Bcf rise.

There is some way to go before stockpiles are in line with seasonal norms. Total stocks now stand at 3.288 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), down 532 Bcf from a year ago and 176 Bcf below the five-year average.

In terms of price action, Henry Hub futures were trading at $5.79 on Monday morning and looked like they were ready to challenge $5.80.

Prices pulled back to $5.40 across the Monday session leaving. They dropped further, roughly 2%, to $5.20, so last week’s major rally appears to be petering out. Where they go now seems tied in with US weather patterns. There’s still a gas shortage but as mentioned above, the focus is on what’s happening in the USA instead of Europe and Asia.