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Oil Slides As Inventories Trump Iran-Yemen Push-Pull

Crude oil prices have rallied sharply this week on headlines that a coalition of Sunni-ruled nations initiated airstrikes on Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels. Goldman's Damian Courvalin notes that this rally reversed the sell-off that occurred in part on the rising odds of a deal with Iran being reached. Courvalin expects both events to have negligible near-term supply impacts, with the build in crude inventories set to continue in 2Q15. Longer term, a deal with Iran could lead to greater OPEC supplies although the timing of the sanction relief remains uncertain. It appears today's weakness indicates a dawning realization that there's still too much...

 

Big roundtrip in crude but supply will build...

 

YEMEN: While Yemen is a small producer (145 kb/d in 2014), the price rally is driven by fears of potential escalation and the proximity of the Bab el-Mandeb strait. While the conflict points to worsening Shiite-Sunni relations in the region, the near-term potential impact on oil production is limited, with the conflict far from Saudi’s oil fields and limited to targeting the Houthi rebels. While closure of the strait could impact 3.8 mb/d of crude and product flows (2013 EIA estimate), the strait is a transit point rather than a chokepoint. Its closure would keep tankers departing the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around Africa, for an additional 10 to 15 days transit time.

IRAN: Reports of progress in the negotiations to lift the Iran sanctions increase the odds that a deal may be reached by month end. The pace of relief from US sanctions seems to remain the key unresolved issue given the need for US Congress to vote to permanently lift them. If a deal is reached, a tentative timeline for it to be finalized would be the end-of-June deadline and the lift of sanctions would likely be progressive, contingent on observed progress in implementing the deal. As a result, the impact of any sanctions relief on Iran’s production could potentially not occur until 2H15 or later and could initially be limited to Iran drawing down its floating storage of c. 30 mb if the EU crude import ban and shipping insurance restriction get lifted.

While sanctions relief could lead Iran production to increase by a few thousand barrels per day initially, a sustainable increase in Iranian production would however only occur gradually given (1) the required investment to reverse the field output restrictions and decline rates, (2) the need for more favorable contracts and signs that sanctions relief are sustainable to attract foreign investment. As a result, we don’t see a deal as dramatically impacting the global oil cost curve but instead contributing to our expectation for gradually rising OPEC production in the New Oil Order. Independently of the sanctions, we expect Iran exports to ramp up in April once India starts its new fiscal year, contributing to the 2Q stock build.

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It appears the reality of accelerating production and static storage capacity is starting to overhwelm geopolitical events.