Oil prices came under pressure on Wednesday; WTI struggled to stay above the $70 mark. The catalyst for the decline was bearish EIA report on commercial oil and refined products inventories in the United States. The report is now having a bigger impact on the market than usual, as it presents one of the major uncertainties on supply side. OPEC pumps oil in accordance with established quotas, and therefore supply from the cartel is more or less predictable.
The EIA report was a bit ambiguous as it contained both positive and negative information for the market. Stocks of crude oil decreased by 5.24 million barrels in the reporting week, confirming the API inventories data (which also indicated a reduction in reserves), nevertheless, refined products - gasoline, distillates and propane reserves jumped 20.71 million barrels which was a kind of a shock for the market:
The growth of finished products may indicate that the demand for them has decreased (i.e., fuel consumption in the United States has decreased) or supply has increased, or there was a combination of these factors.
In search of an answer to the question of what caused the increase in inventories, it is worth paying attention to the capacity utilization of refineries. The report showed that it rose 2.6% to 91.3%, the highest since January last year:
Taking into account the change in the activity of refineries, the change in demand for finished oil products turned out to be negative and amounted to -1.43 mln bpd. However, it should be borne in mind that we are approaching the travel season in the United States, which is a seasonal factor of increase in fuel demand.
On the supply side, the bulk of the negative news for the market comes from Iran. The country has ambitious supply growth targets, from 2.4 million bpd to 3.3 million bpd in the first six months to 4 million bpd. over the next six months, provided that the United States lifts the sanctions.
Iran's supply is expected to rise, however any news indicating progress in the nuclear deal could trigger a correction in the market, which, however, should short-lived as the demand side situation improves.
Later today, OPEC is to publish a monthly bulletin that will report on the cartel's production in May, as well as provide updated forecasts by the end of the year. On Friday, the IEA will release a report, which will also provide its views on the market. Both reports could cause increased price volatility, especially if the outlook changes for the worse, as the market remains fragile after recent gains.