Oil had a tumultuous 2018, with prices rising to a four-year high in October before plunging more than $30 in the following months. Oversupply and demand worries are high on the concern list for the industry, making volatility a buzzword this year as well.
There are other power dynamics at play. OPEC’s Viennese waltz in early December was a perfect example of a shift, with Russia brokering a deal to curb output and sharing the reins with traditional leader Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump’s tweets demanding lower oil prices and U.S. shale producers pumping out unprecedented volumes of crude, threaten to undo all of OPEC and Russia’s years-long work.
There are “major uncertainties” and forecasting trends in 2019 is “even more hazardous than usual,” said Neil Atkinson, head of oil markets at the International Energy Agency. Geopolitical uncertainty is a serious risk to the industry, according to Ryan Lance, chief executive officer of ConocoPhillips. Still, there is likely to be a lack of “shock and awe” in OPEC policy, which could temper volatility, said Greg Sharenow, a portfolio manager at Pacific Investment Management Co.
So, what will be the state of oil in 2019? Executives, money managers and analysts weigh in.
Ryan Lance, CEO of ConoccoPhillips
“We expect oil markets to remain volatile, in part driven by flexible North American shale production that can ramp up and down quickly in response to changes in investment levels.
In order to thrive in this environment, given the short-cycle nature of shale, we believe it’s necessary to run an exploration and production business for sustained through-cycle financial returns, which is necessary for attracting investors back to the sector. Ours must offer investors both resilience to lower prices and participation in higher prices, and we’re doing that via an approach that rations capital across a low-cost-of-supply portfolio, competes on per-share versus absolute growth, and pays out a significant portion of cash from the business to shareholders.
From the resource and production standpoints, North American shale continues to be a bright spot in the global energy industry. Shale has transformed the industry and will enable the U.S. to stay positioned as the world’s No. 1 producer of both liquids and natural gas. We believe shale can drive the industry’s growth for many years.
Among the most serious near-term risks we see to the energy industry are geopolitical uncertainty and factors that could reduce global economic growth and energy demand.”
Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager, Pimco
“There will be a stark change from the past four years for commodity investors, as one big driver of balance and prices will be notably diminished. Specifically, OPEC has moved from competing for market share in 2014 and contributing to materially lower prices to then reversing course two years later, dropping output sharply and contributing to rising prices. But 2019, in many respects, might be notable for the lack of shock-and-awe OPEC policy as it shifts to an approach of limiting any surplus or deficit. This has some meaningful implications for markets and expected realized volatility.
OPEC’s decision should lead to a gradual stabilization of Brent prices and, dare one say, a return to a lower-volatility environment. That said, there are known unknowns that could upend the best-laid plans, such as
Whether the U.S. is able to continue to exceed production expectations;Whether the slowdown in the global economy devolves into something worse, or if policy makers can help change the trajectory;And how effective additional U.S. pressure on buyers of Iran crude will be, with the current set of waivers set to expire late in the second quarter of 2019 (conveniently just after the next OPEC meeting).
In addition, at the end of 2019, the International Maritime Organization is set to restrict sulfur content in marine fuels, offering additional potential support to lighter, lower-sulfur crude oils such as Brent. Currently, we see these risks as roughly balanced around our baseline and quite manageable for OPEC.”
David Lebovitz, VP and global market strategist, JPMorgan
“Will we see more responsible behavior from producers in shale as we go into 2019. It does seem like they are becoming more disciplined in how they pump, how they invest and so the chances of a supply glut like we saw a few years back are not our base case.