Oil recovered some ground on Wednesday after the previous day's slide, helped by the concern about possible renewed USA sanctions on major exporter Iran although price gains were capped by rising U.S. supply.
Global oil price benchmark Brent is now trading close to $70/bbl (monthly) which was last seen in November 2014 just after the oil price crash due to United States shale surge. "Concerns over the US shale engine may have recently been put on the back burner but this reprieve is not expected to last", PVM Oil Associates strategist Stephen Brennock said. More recent, though less accurate, weekly estimates put USA production at 10.62 Mbd as of April 27, up a massive 1 Mbd since September 2017.
If the backwardation was confined mostly to one or two months, it could be dismissed as an aberration or a sign of market manipulation. Only Russia now pumps more oil, at around 11 million bpd.
Finally, OPEC and its allies may decide to start lifting their production, via a formal decision or a decrease in compliance, before the end of 2018.
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For the record, USA president Donald Trump will make his decision whether or not to scrap the Iranian nuclear deal on or before May 12.
The question now is: Will China find itself in the same foreign oil dependence quandary as the USA did from the early 1970s until the past decade? The United States now produces more crude oil than other top exporters including Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest producer in OPEC.
However, analysts expect rising demand from Asia, led by China, to absorb part of the increase in USA supply. Security of supply must be implemented into Beijing's oil import mix strategy, even if it is a tough pill to swallow for the country as it exchanges trade war barbs with Washington.
US shale output is likely to accelerate further in the second half of 2018 and into 2019: the number of rigs drilling for oil is rising again in response to the increase in prices.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 8 cents, or 0.1 per cent, at $67.85 per barrel. The price discount makes US crude more competitive around the world.
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The U.S. dollar surged into positive territory for 2018 and broke past key levels against several currencies as a divergence between growth and the interest rate outlook vs. other countries spurred investors to chase the currency higher.
Distillate inventories decreased by 3.9 million barrels last week and remain in the lower half of the average range for this time of year.
Yet, U.S. crude's discount to Brent will continue to drive more American oil imports., particularly since that price spread is based on more barrels being pumped in the U.S., (amid higher global oil prices) which is projected to soon overtake Russian Federation as the world's top oil producer at 11 million bpd.
OPEC members have indicated they will not increase output before the end of the year, which will tighten the market further.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning showing that U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 6.2 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory of 436 million barrels.
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Escalating prices should also filter through into increasing exploration, production and development in the non-OPEC, non-shale sector.