IEA sees oil demand growth falling to lowest level in years as global economy stalls



An employee stands on the deck of a pilot boat in view of the Ocean Princess oil platform, operated by Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., in the Port of Cromarty Firth in Cromarty, U.K.

Mathew Lloyd | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency (IEA) slashed its estimate for global oil demand growth for the second consecutive month on Friday, citing intensifying trade concerns amid fears of a global recession.

The energy agency’s closely-watched report comes as world oil markets have undertaken a dramatic shift in recent months, switching from supply-side risks like OPEC’s output cuts or U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela to worries about deteriorating demand growth.

Crude futures have turned a 45% price rally in the first four months of 2019 into a fall of more than 15% since the start of April.

“The main focus I think we should be looking at here is that until very recently the geopolitical factors related to Iran and Venezuela and Libya… they were at the forefront of people’s minds,” Neil Atkinson, head of the oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Friday.

“Now we are starting to see that confidence in demand is taking over and that is the main driving factor behind the current state of the oil market.”

International benchmark Brent crude traded at around $60.85 Friday morning, down around 0.7%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $51.77, almost 1% lower.

‘Cannot be complacent’

A recent slide in oil prices was temporarily reversed on Thursday, following attacks on two oil tankers in one of the world’s key shipping routes.

The incident in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran pushed crude futures up as much as 4.5% in the previous session. It was the second time in less than a month that tankers had been attacked in the world’s most important zone for oil supplies, with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil passing through the shipping lane every year.

Washington quickly blamed Iran for the attacks, but Tehran has denied the allegation.

“I think we are realizing that, although we cannot be complacent, the situation is not yet representing a major threat to the security of oil supplies to the very important Strait of Hormuz,” the IEA’s Neil Atkinson said.

On the demand side, the IEA followed OPEC by downwardly revising its global oil demand growth forecast for 2019 on Friday.

The energy agency said it now expects oil demand growth to reach 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) this year. That’s a downward revision of 100,000 b/d from the IEA’s previous projection.

Global oil demand is estimated to have risen by just 250,000 b/d year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019, the IEA said, reflecting the lowest annual growth since the fourth quarter of 2011 — when the price of Brent averaged $109.

Looking beyond the end of 2019, the IEA expects global oil demand growth to rebound to around 1.4 million b/d in 2020.

“A clear message from our first look at 2020 is that there is plenty of non-OPEC supply growth available to meet any likely level of demand, assuming no major geopolitical shock, and the OPEC countries are sitting on 3.2 million b/d of spare capacity,” the IEA said Friday.

“This is welcome news for consumers and the wider health of the currently vulnerable global economy, as it will limit significant upward pressure on oil prices.”

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih attends a press conference at the end of the 13th meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) of OPEC and non- OPEC countries in Baku on March 18, 2019.

Mladen ANTONOV | AFP

The IEA cited various reasons for slowing global oil consumption, including: a warm winter in Japan, a slowdown in the petrochemicals industry in Europe, tepid gasoline and diesel demand in the United States and the worsening trade outlook.

The U.S. and China have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of one another’s goods since the start of 2018, battering financial markets and souring business and consumer sentiment.

Expectations that trade officials from world’s largest economies will clinch a deal on the side-lines of a G20 meeting in Osaka on June 28-29 have been fading in recent days.

OPEC also cited persistent trade tensions between Washington and Beijing as a risk to economic growth and fuel demand.

OPEC+

The Middle-East dominated group said in a monthly report published Thursday that oil output had slipped to a 5-year low in May. It comes at a time when OPEC and its allied partners are considering whether to extend a six-month deal to hold down output.

Alongside Russia and nine other nations, top oil exporter Saudi Arabia struck a deal with the rest of OPEC to keep 1.2 million b/d off the market from the start of January. The energy alliance, often referred to as OPEC+, says it will carefully consider the economic outlook when it meets in coming weeks.

“The key variable that presents a complication for Saudi Arabia and OPEC+ is a potential breakthrough between the U.S. and China that would bolster demand for oil — but this outcome is extremely unlikely,” Ayham Kamel, head of Eurasia Group’s Middle East and North Africa practice, said in a research note published Thursday.

“Even in such a scenario, OPEC+ would still extend the agreement but adjust the quotas to allow for higher production,” Kamel said.

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