Citigroup says conflict and shocks could lead to $80 oil

OPEC disruptions led by Iran, Iraq and U.S. military actions over North Korea underpin potential spike

Geopolitical risks may cause oil to reach $80 according to Citigroup. Carlos Jasso / Reuters
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This year may be anything but staid for the oil market as Citigroup Inc. predicts wildcards including war, Middle East tensions, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un driving crude toward $80 a barrel.

After prices were boosted by Opec’s output curbs in 2017, the U.S. President has shifted the focus to geopolitical risks, with his pursuit of sanctions on Iran and North Korea potentially having significant consequences, the bank said. That’s in addition to political disturbances in some Opec members like Iraq and Libya that could see crude supplies decline, boosting oil to levels between $70-$80, it said in a Jan. 9 report.

“Many of these uncertainties have significant consequences for commodities,” Citigroup analysts including Ed Morse wrote in the report titled Wildcards for 2018: Trump looms large along with systemic risks. “It is not a surprise that our list of potential wildcard events in the year ahead retains a focus on the United States.”


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The decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia to curb production and drain a global glut helped oil rally for a second year in 2017. From a market-fundamentals perspective, investors are now watching to see whether the U.S. continues to expand its output, a threat which has rocked the oil industry in the past few years.

However, the most wide-ranging systemic risk to commodities this year could be President Trump disturbing the political world order, Citigroup said. Brent crude, the benchmark for half of the world’s oil, traded at an average price of $54.75 a barrel last year. Front-month futures were at $69.05 while U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude traded at $63.38 as of 10:09 a.m. London time on Wednesday.

Re-imposing of U.S. sanctions on Iran, the third-biggest OPEC producer, is likely to dislocate at least 500,000 barrels of the Middle Eastern nation’s oil exports, resulting in a $5 price increase to oil, the bank said. Hard liners in the Islamic Republic may also seek to break a nuclear agreement with global powers including the U.S., while Congress may consider new sanctions against the Mideast producer, Citigroup said.

The rhetoric from and toward North Korea has also escalated in the past few months, carrying the “non-negligible risk” of turning into a military conflict, according to Citigroup. Stockpiling of strategic goods such as crude may accelerate with the risk of war.

The disturbance in Iran, as well as supply disruptions in Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela could see global oil supply drop by more than 3 million barrels a day this year, Citigroup said. Over-tightening of environmental regulations in China, overshooting or underperforming shale production in the U.S., as well as a major escalation in trade frictions between Trump’s administration and China are other risks to oil, the bank said.