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Oil soars to $65 with Saudi supply gamble buoying market bulls

  • A surprise decision on Thursday spurred a wave of crude price forecast upgrades by major banks and a surge in the market’s structure. 
  • OPEC+ opted to hold output steady in April.
  • Saudi Arabia said it would maintain its 1 million barrel per day voluntary production cut. 

Oil moved above $65 a barrel after OPEC+ chose not to relax supply curbs even as the global economy pulls out of its pandemic-driven slump, confounding widespread expectations the group would loosen the taps.

The surprise decision on Thursday spurred a wave of crude price forecast upgrades by major banks and a surge in the market’s structure. The producer alliance agreed to hold output steady in April, while Saudi Arabia said that it will maintain its 1 million barrel-a-day voluntary production cut. West Texas Intermediate rose as much as 2.6% and Brent topped $68.

Crude has soared this year, shepherded higher by OPEC+ restraining supplies and the vaccine-aided recovery in consumption that’s drained inventories. The group’s decision represents a victory for Riyadh, which has advocated for tight curbs to keep prices supported.

“Overall, this was the most bullish outcome we could have expected,” JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts including Natasha Kaneva wrote in a note to clients.

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia had been debating whether to restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output. As part of the agreement, which was struck at a virtual meeting on Thursday, Russia and Kazakhstan were granted exemptions. The group’s next meeting is set for April 1 to discuss production levels for May.

Saudi Arabia’s bold and unexpected gamble to restrain production is founded upon its view that, this time around, higher prices will not lead to a big increase in output by American shale drillers. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told Bloomberg News in an interview after the OPEC+ meeting that shale companies are now more focused on dividends.

West Texas Intermediate for April delivery advanced 2.6% to $65.47 a barrel at 11:59 am in London.

  • Brent for May traded 2.8% higher at $68.58

Oil’s rapid gains this year stand to intensify the debate about the potential resurgence in inflation, and complicate the task facing the Federal Reserve as it supports the U.S. recovery. The Treasury market is already looking for signs of faster price gains, with yields rising rapidly. Crude is up more than 8% since Tuesday’s close despite a strengthening of the dollar and a steep sell-off in other major commodities, especially economic bellwether copper.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its Brent forecasts by $5 a barrel and now sees the global crude benchmark at $80 in the third quarter. JPMorgan increased its Brent projection by $2 to $3 a barrel and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. boosted its three-month target to $70. Citigroup Inc. said crude prices could top $70 before the end of this month.

Change course

Oil rising to these levels will likely increase strains within OPEC+ as some members will want to pump more to relieve under-pressure economies, Citi said in a note. Top importers such as China and India would also not be happy and the alliance is likely to change course at its next meeting, it said.

The lack of fresh supply was reflected in oil’s futures curve. Brent’s prompt timespread widened to 63 cents in backwardation, a bullish structure where near-dated prices are higher than later-dated ones, from 54 cents Thursday. Gauges further along the oil futures curve also surged.

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