The latest events in the US, OPEC, and China have helped stabilize the oil market, but where is it really going?

To anyone interested in the financial markets it is hardly a secret that crude oil has been really far away from its usual glamour over the past few years. What started off as competition between the OPEC states (chiefly led by Saudi Arabia) and the United States exacerbated and led to a dramatically oversupplied oil market, bringing prices down to record lows. Now, more than two years later, is oil finally recovering?

First off, if we look to the United States, generally speaking, they have consistently increased their oil extraction activities. Thanks to shale oil, the US is able to extract oil in a cost-effective manner that allows them to make a profit even at low oil prices. This is why throughout the oil crisis the United States remained undeterred and kept up with their schedule as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Towards the end of this summer, however, the US was forced to put some of its activities on hold due to a series of natural disasters along its coastlines, which caused huge damages and disrupted the work of oil extraction facilities. This allowed the markets to ease off somewhat, but there was no reason to assume that the United States would decrease their oil production anytime soon.

On the other hand, last year OPEC member states managed to agree to start cutting their oil production in order to fight the oversupply on the market. With an unbelievably committed compliance with the agreement of up to 90% OPEC managed to decrease their exports and gradually bring oil prices up past the psychological level of $50 per barrel. They were also helped by non-OPEC countries like Russia who willingly joined the reduction effort in order to stabilize the oil market. Investors perked up recently amid news both from OPEC and Russia that everyone is willing to continue with this approach into 2018 in an attempt to restore the market to how it used to be.

Nevertheless, yesterday data on the US oil reserves was released which showed a decline in the number of barrels available. This allowed oil prices to climb up to $51.01 (WTI) and $56.58 (Brent).

In addition, China entered into play again. At the beginning of the oil crisis, China (the biggest oil importer in the world) was quite important – due to its slowing economic growth, it simply didn’t demand as much oil as before, so it left the market oversupplied. Now China has started buying oil again, though according to reports, it is not consumer demand, but rather to fill its security reserves. Still, this helped ease the market further.

Another important factor for the oil market right now is the Iran deal. It has to be renewed every 90 days and it’s widely expected that Donald Trump would not renew it this week. If he does not renew it, US Congress has two more months to decide on sanctions for Iran, which could block some of the oil supply coming from there. If this happens, supply will decrease and oil prices will move up.

According to the International Energy Agency, 2018 would generally shape to be a balanced year for oil. They report steady increases in demand, which would lead to a healthier oil market, provided the current production levels are met. However, this means that OPEC would need to extend its agreement on production cuts past March 2018, when it is set to expire. If a new agreement is reached and we do not see massive natural disasters, then next year we could finally see the oil market recover.