Oil's decline set to slow in 2023 on China demand rebound and Russia crude sanctions

Brent is currently trading below $80 a barrel amid a rising risk of a recession

A drilling rig off Cyprus. Oil prices have been volatile in recent months amid concerns of a global economic slowdown. Reuters
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A rebound in oil demand in China, the world's top crude importer, and sanctions on Russian crude will support crude prices going into the next year, analysts have said.

Brent crude, the benchmark for two thirds of the world’s oil, has lost about 15 per cent of its value over the last month as concerns of a global economic slowdown weigh on the short-term oil demand outlook.

Bank of America (BofA) expects Brent to average $100 a barrel in 2023 on a Chinese oil demand recovery and a drop in Russian crude supplies of about 1 million barrels per day amid EU sanctions.

This month, the EU and the Group of Seven advanced economies agreed to place a price cap of $60 on global purchases of seaborne Russian crude.

The ceiling aims to reduce Moscow’s oil and gas revenue, while maintaining adequate supplies of crude on the global energy market, preventing a surge in crude prices as a result of an EU ban on Russian seaborne crude.

“While the sanctions are intended to curtail the cash flows of Russian energy, their real impact, in fact, remains to be seen,” said Ehsan Khoman, head of emerging markets research at MUFG Bank, in a podcast.

“Potential consequences could include higher transport costs for the global market across the board to higher crude oil prices.”

UBS, which has taken a more bullish stance on crude prices, expects futures to surge to $100 a barrel in the coming months.

Next year, the growth in oil demand will primarily be driven by emerging Asia, which includes China, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, the Swiss lender said.

“India continuing to be an engine of consumption … together with our view that Beijing will lift mobility restrictions next year, should result in strong year-on-year demand growth,” UBS commodity strategist Giovanni Staunovo told The National.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects Brent crude to average $92 a barrel in 2023, $3 lower than its previous estimate.

Global oil stocks will fall by 200,000 bpd in the first half of next year before rising by about 700,000 bpd in the second half, according to the EIA.

Meanwhile, the Opec+ group of oil-producing countries has shown its willingness to act quickly to protect high oil prices.

The group, which slashed its collective output by 2 million bpd, said this month that it would stick to its oil production targets.

But the group said it was ready to address “market developments” and support the “balance of the oil market and its stability if necessary”.

Oil-producing countries were severely hit after Brent fell below $30 a barrel in 2020 when Covid-related mobility restrictions wiped out fuel demand.

EU sanctions on Russian crude, including a ban on refined petroleum products that comes into effect on February 5, are expected to lead to a “further reallocation” of trade, the International Energy Agency said.

Russia’s oil production could drop by 1.4 million bpd in 2023 after the sanctions come into effect, the Paris-based agency estimated.

This is in part because both China and India, the third-largest crude importer, are unlikely to increase their imports of discounted Russian crude.

“China's oil demand has lagged expected growth as Covid continues to beset the country and there are also limits to how much India is willing to take from Russia,” said Mr Khoman.

“Vessels from Russia take several times longer to reach India than those departing from India's usual suppliers in the Middle East … free shipping capacity, meanwhile, is scarce.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to cut oil production in response to the G7 price cap on Moscow’s crude exports.

Russian oil exports rose to 7.7 million bpd in October — up 165,000 bpd from the previous month — on higher shipments to the EU, China and India, according to the IEA.

Recession concerns

Oil prices fell below $80 a barrel for the first time in early December amid the rising risk of a recession in major economies.

They have since rebounded and ended higher at the close of trading last week after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said his country may cut its oil output by 500,000 barrels per day to 700,000 bpd in early 2023 as it responds to a price cap on its crude and oil products.

The country plans to ban the supply of oil and related products to countries and legal entities that support the price ceiling, Mr Novak said, the RIA news agency reported.

Brent, the benchmark for two-thirds of the world’s oil, ended trading 3.63 per cent higher to settle at $83.92 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate, the gauge that tracks US crude, closed up 2.67 per cent at $79.56 a barrel.

Global economic growth in 2023 is forecast to be as weak as it was in 2009 — during the global financial crisis — as a result of the Ukraine conflict and its impact on the world economy, according to the Institute of International Finance.

The world economy is projected to grow 1.5 per cent next year, compared with 0.6 per cent in 2009, according to IIF estimates.

This assessment follows the International Monetary Fund's move to slash its global economic growth forecast for next year due to the effects of the Ukraine conflict, broadening inflation pressures and a slowdown in China.

The fund maintained its global economic estimate for this year at 3.2 per cent but downgraded next year's forecast to 2.7 per cent — 0.2 percentage points lower than the July forecast.

“Despite the apparent easing of its zero-Covid policy, China’s economy is weakening and many European countries appear to be teetering on the brink of recession,” said Moody's Analytics.

The Russian crude sanctions are, so far, having a “bigger effect” on the prices of oil products such as petroleum and diesel, Moody's Analytics said.

Global demand for diesel and gas oil is estimated to fall to 400,000 bpd in 2022, from 1.5 million bpd last year, before declining slightly in 2023, according to the IEA, which has blamed the reduction on “persistently high” prices and a slowing economy.

Diesel is the backbone of global economic activity and markets were already in deficit before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 6:00 AM