Outlook for oil prices hazy ahead of Trump presidency

Pump jacks on the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota. Mr Trump's pro-business policies could reduce red tape and facilitate the completion of key infrastructure projects, thus supporting US oil producers. This could, in turn, dampen oil prices. B
Pump jacks on the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota. Mr Trump's pro-business policies could reduce red tape and facilitate the completion of key infrastructure projects, thus supporting US oil producers. This could, in turn, dampen oil prices. But the immediate direction of oil prices depends on what Opec chooses to do at its Nov 30 meeting.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

For short term, much depends on upcoming Opec meeting: Experts

A Trump presidency could boost flagging oil prices in the longer term but the upcoming meeting among major producers may well be the bigger influence for now.

Crude prices initially dropped in the wake of Mr Trump's election but rebounded to US$46.61 a barrel as at last Friday.

This comes ahead of an Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) meeting on Nov 30 aimed at striking a deal to limit output and boost prices.

Mr Christopher Haines, head of oil and gas at BMI Research (London), said Opec's Gulf Cooperation Council members - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - may "reassess" their view of the United States "given the strong Trump rhetoric against the Iran nuclear deal and Saudi oil imports".

During his campaign, Mr Trump had vowed to reinstate sanctions on Iran and block imports from Saudi Arabia. "Opec intervention in the market would support oil prices, which in turn would provide some relief to US producers," said Mr Haines. "But we remain sceptical as to whether Opec will take substantial action as it could be viewed as a 'win' for the US producers. No intervention in the market would see oil prices fall."

On the other hand, Mr Haines noted that Mr Trump's business-friendly policies could also reduce regulation and facilitate the completion of key infrastructure projects, thus supporting US oil producers.

"This will take longer to have an impact but is expected to support higher production and result in lower US net imports - which, in all, will be bearish for prices," he said.

Uncertainty remains a running theme, noted Mr Hans van Cleef, senior energy economist at ABN Amro Bank in Amsterdam.

"Whether more crude production (in the US) would put pressure on oil prices can be questioned... You can even question whether the US crude production would rise as fast as markets fear," he said, citing factors such as rising interest rates, which would be a negative for the capital-intensive sector.

"All these uncertainties are pointing to the direction of an extended period of oversupply in the market."

Mr Angus Rodger, research director at Wood Mackenzie, said all eyes will be on the upcoming Opec meeting. "The complete lack of progress among Opec members to date has weakened oil prices. If we don't see a tangible production cut come out of that meeting, there will be a heavy impact on oil prices in the short term."

OCBC economist Barnabas Gan believes oil prices will likely be determined by a rebalancing story going into next year, as "demand picks up on a rosier economic backdrop".

"Still, we admit that the economic backdrop under President-elect Trump is even more uncertain, and volatility may be increasingly seen into the next year," he added.

Mr Rodger expects Brent to average around US$49 a barrel this quarter, but to rise to between US$55 and US$60 in the second half of next year. "That's when the substantial cuts in capex (capital expenditure) spending by companies will really start to bite. This means that supply will fall a little, which should spell a more tangible upwards movement in prices."

That being said, Mr Rodger noted that the outlook for Singapore's offshore marine sector, including the yards, likely remains bleak.

"Even if oil prices were to break US$50, it's not going to be enough for oil companies to start spending money on new investments. Those involved in deepwater, capital-intensive projects, for example, are saying they need to see oil prices stay at US$60 for a sustained period (two to three quarters), before they can even think of making new investments," he said.

"Right now, new projects are not a priority. Rebuilding their balance sheets is."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Outlook for oil prices hazy ahead of Trump presidency'. Print Edition | Subscribe