미국 에너지정보청(EIA)에 따르면 지난달 원유 수요는 하루 975만2000배럴로 전년 동기(950만6000배럴)보다 많았다. 그런데 재고가 자꾸 늘어나는 것은 실제 소비가 EIA 통계보다 덜 활발하게 일어난다는 뜻일 수 있다. 미국 정부가 추정한 자동차 주행거리는 전년 동기 대비 소폭 감소했다. 수입이 늘었다는 추정도 가능하다.
재고량이 줄지 않는 탓에 정제 마진도 쪼그라드는 추세다. 휘발유(RBOB·북해산 브렌트유 기준)와 초저황 경유(ULSD) 정제마진은 지난달 각각 배럴당 11.89달러, 13.04달러로 지난해 같은 기간보다 47.7%, 8.7% 줄었다. 정제마진 감소는 재고량 감축에 도움이 되지만 원유 수요도 줄어드는 효과를 낳는다.
미국의 원유 시추공 수는 지난 5월 넷째 주 316개까지 떨어졌으나 7월 마지막 주에는 374개로 다시 늘어났다. 유엔이 지지하는 정부가 들어선 리비아에서도 지난달 31일부로 하루 63만5000배럴의 원유 생산을 재개한다고 발표했다. 또 지난 1월 반군의 원유 생산시설 공격으로 생산량이 140만배럴까지 줄어든 나이지리아는 이달 중 하루 220만배럴가량인 원래 생산량을 회복할 것이라고 밝혔다.
아직 리비아와 나이지리아 생산에 관해서는 불확실성이 남아 있다. 그러나 대규모 재고와 공급 증가 요인을 두루 고려할 때 유가 상승을 전망하기는 어려워 보인다.
음리간카 자이푸리야르 S&P글로벌플래츠 아시아·중동 부국장
OIL INSIGHT WITH S&P GLOBAL PLATTS: High oil stocks bring volatility and uncertainty
By Mriganka Jaipuriyar
Associate Editorial Director, Asia & Middle East Oil News & Analysis, S&P Global Platts
Crude oil prices lost just under 20% of their value in the last month and the single biggest force acting on them has been stocks, particularly US gasoline stocks, which have proven to be very resilient.
Fundamentally there is little doubt that the market is balancing. But the pace at which supply and demand move toward balance looks slow and uncertain and that makes the ride ahead a rocky one with volatility being the only constant.
Though US gasoline demand has been relatively strong -- implied gasoline demand according to the Energy Information Administration averaged at 9.752 million b/d over the first four weeks of July versus 9.506 million b/d same time last year -- this clearly has not been enough.
US gasoline stocks totaled 241.5 million barrels in the week that ended July 22, an 11.6% surplus to the five-year average for the same time of year, and with only four weeks to go from the unofficial end of the driving season, the surplus stocks will likely continue.
One possible explanation for the resilience in stocks could be that other proxies for US gasoline consumption have painted a less sanguine picture. For example, US government data shows the number of miles driven by US motorists has slowed recently on a year-on-year basis.
Another reason for solid gasoline inventories has been imports, which paradoxically have been running high with Europe too sitting on ample stocks.
The inability for summer driving to lower product stocks has hurt refining margins. In July this year, the RBOB crack against ICE Brent averaged $11.89/b and the ULSD crack averaged $13.04/b compared with $22.29/b and $14.29/b respectively in July 2015.
This is causing some refiners to cut runs. A slowdown in refinery activity -- whether caused by maintenance or economic run cuts - should help tighten product stocks, but will also translate into less crude demand.
Front-month ICE Brent crude futures closed at $42.14/barrel on August 1, down 17% from $50.89/barrel on July 1, and front-month NYMEX WTI settled at $40.06/barrel on Aug 1, down 19% from $49.65/barrel on July 1.
The International Energy Agency in its July monthly oil report said that global oil market readjustment remains on track after showing an "extraordinary transformation" from a major surplus in the first quarter to close to balance in Q2, but also warned that high stocks remained a risk to price stability.
"Although stocks are close to topping out, they are at such elevated levels, especially for products for which demand growth is slackening, that they remain a major dampener on oil prices," the IEA added.
"Unless demand turns out to be stronger than we currently anticipate, products stocks could rise still further and threaten the whole price structure," the IEA said.
Signs of increased drilling activity in the US and strong OPEC production have also had a bearish impact on prices.
The US oil rig count has increased for the last five weeks. It dropped as low as 316 rigs in the week that ended May 27, but rose to 374 as of the week ended July 29.
OPEC crude output meanwhile surged 300,000 b/d to close to an eight-year high of 32.73 million b/d in June with steady increases for Saudi Arabia and Iran, an S&P Global Platts survey showed.
Saudi Arabia increased its output further to produce an average 10.33 million b/d in June in order to meet domestic demand. Last summer, Saudi Arabia produced as much as 10.45 million b/d. Iranian output in June climbed to 3.63 million b/d, its highest since June 2011, and very close to pre-sanctions levels.
Uncertainty continues to surround Libyan and Nigerian oil production, but with ample stocks and supply, this is hardly reason to be bullish about oil prices.
On July 31, Libya's state-owned National Oil Corp. welcomed an announcement by the UN-backed government of the reopening of the 340,000 b/d Es-Sider, 220,000 b/d Ras Lanuf, and 75,000 b/d Zueitina oil facilities, after reaching a deal with Petroleum Facilities Guards who control the ports.
In Nigeria, the government has said that by August oil production will recover to its pre-January levels of around 2.2 million b/d, from 1.9 million b/d now, after it plummeted to 1.4 million b/d in May.
But negotiations with the militants have so far yielded little in the way of positive results and some oil companies and analysts said time is running out for the government to stem the wave of disruptions to their operations.
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