글로벌 에너지 정보업체 플래츠의 유가 전망

카타르 도하서 17일 회의하지만 공급과잉 해소 어려워
산유국 '동결' 논의…기대는 금물

일부 석유수출국기구(OPEC) 회원국과 주요 비 OPEC 산유국이 오는 17일 카타르 도하에서 회동을 갖고 과잉 공급에 시달리는 시장의 흐름을 바꿔놓기 위해 산유량 동결 방안을 논의하기로 했다.

그러나 지난 1월 수준으로 산유량을 동결하는 정도로는 수요·공급 균형을 찾을 수가 없다. 수급 균형을 되찾기 위해서는 생산량을 줄여야 한다. 이제 막 서방 제재에서 풀려난 이란은 지난 2월엔 하루 21만배럴을 생산하기 시작했고 앞으로 산유량을 단계적으로 늘려갈 계획이다. 하루 160만배럴을 뽑아내다가 전쟁 때문에 30만배럴까지 생산량이 줄어든 리비아도 마찬가지다.

또 쿠웨이트와 사우디아라비아는 두 나라의 중립지역에 있는 카프지 해상유전에서 하루 30만배럴 원유 생산을 재개하기로 지난달 29일 합의했다. 2014년 10월 외교관계 악화로 사우디가 일방적으로 생산을 중단한 이 유전이 다시 가동된다는 것은 비관적 전망을 강화하는 요인이다.

지난 3월 일부 산유국이 동결에 합의할 예정이라는 소식이 전해지면서 한때 브렌트유와 서부텍사스유(WTI)가 지난 1월말 최저치 대비 50~56% 높은 배럴당 41달러까지 치솟았던 것은 시장이 논리적이고 냉정한 추론이 아니라 분위기에 휩쓸리고 있다는 점을 보여줄 뿐이다.

도하에서 열리는 산유국 회의가 2014년 11월 사우디가 OPEC 회의에서 강하게 밀어붙였던 (셰일오일 업계를 고사시키려는) ‘시장점유율 수성’ 전략의 완전한 패배로 귀결될 것인지는 지금 당장 알 수 없다. 어쩌면 ‘2016년 1월 생산량’이라는 기준점이 2012년 이후 폐기됐던 회원국 쿼터제를 부활시킬 수도 있을 것이다. 그러나 지금까지 역사로 미루어 볼 때 OPEC 안팎의 생산량 감축 합의는 대부분 신통치 않은 결과를 낳았다.

OPEC은 지난달 보고서에서 올해 회원국들이 생산하는 원유에 대한 수요를 하루 3152만배럴로 예측했다. 회원국의 지난 2월 생산량을 다 합한 것(3234만배럴)보다 82만배럴 모자란다. 지난 1~2월 중국의 원유수요는 전년 동월 대비 고작 0.9% 늘어나는 데 그쳤다.

유가 하락이 글로벌 수요를 촉진한다는 인식도 바뀌고 있다. 국제통화기금(IMF)은 지난달 24일 블로그에서 “경제성장 둔화와 통화정책 고갈, 디플레이션 압력이 존재하는 가운데 유가가 떨어지는 것은 세계(경제)가 기대하는 ‘순풍’은 아니다”고 설명했다. 도하 산유국 회의 결과를 조심스럽게 받아들여야 하는 이유다.

반다나 하리 / 수석애널리스트

한국경제신문은 글로벌에너지 정보 제공업체 플래츠(Platts)의 에너지 관련 칼럼을 매달 1회 독점 게재합니다. 아래는 전체 원문.
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OIL INSIGHT WITH PLATTS: Doha producer summit to keep markets guessing

Singapore -- Several OPEC and major non-OPEC members have signed up for confabulations over a “production freeze” proposal scheduled for April 17 in Doha, suggesting a fresh groundswell of support for an interventionist approach to stem the growing tide of oil in an oversupplied market.

Holding output steady at January 2016 levels -- if such an agreement is indeed forged and complied with -- may rein in the handful of producing countries actually able and wanting to raise output, but by definition won‘t reduce the 1.5-2.0 million b/d current oversupply or propel the market toward supply-demand equilibrium. Only a production cut could do that.

Iran, poised to displace the US as the largest contributor to global crude supply growth this year, is expected to stay out of any freeze agreement, though there are signs of an emerging consensus to proceed without Iran. War-torn Libya, whose production has been languishing around 300,000 b/d against a potential of 1.6 million b/d, has also declined to participate.

A sanctions-free Iran has been aggressively courting customers and resumed term and spot crude sales to buyers in Europe after a nearly four-year hiatus, but it still cannot be paid in US dollars and its shipments are not getting full protection and indemnity (P&I) cover. The country managed to raise production by a modest 210,000 b/d in February, the first full month after the lifting of sanctions, reinforcing the view that its return to full potential will be a slow and gradual one.

As the drumbeat over the freeze plan grew through March, Brent as well as NYMEX light sweet crude futures clambered to year-to-date highs above $41/barrel, 50-56% above their respective January nadirs, in another reminder of sentiment and snap judgment prevailing over logic and cool reasoning in the oil markets.

As March wound down, the futility of a freeze started sinking in, and crude futures let out some of the steam. Brent slid below the $40 psychological mark, defying the upward pressure from a weaker US dollar and diverging from an uptick in equities spurred by dovish comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen March 29, which pushed expectations of the next rate hike farther down the road.

A landmark agreement between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia March 29 to restart production from their jointly operated 300,000 b/d Khafji oil field in the offshore Partitioned Neutral Zone, which was unilaterally shut by Saudi Arabia in October 2014 following a dispute, added a further bearish tone to the markets.

Interestingly, lurking in the shadow of the freeze proposal have been statements from Russia -- world’s largest oil producer and one of the architects of the tentative precursor agreement forged with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Venezuela in Doha on February 16 -- about the possibility of OPEC and non-OPEC producers agreeing to a 5% output cut.

OPEC secretary-general Abdallah el-Badri saying the producers could consider “other steps” after the Doha meeting suggests consensus over a freeze could pave the way for a cut, though there‘s a wide philosophical chasm between the two. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said producers must be willing to “control output and even reduce it if necessary” to bring prices into equilibrium. His oil minister Carlos Pareja hopes to bring non-OPEC producers Colombia and Mexico to the Doha table to represent a joint Latin American position.

Add to that growing concern among Saudi Arabia‘s regional allies over the Kingdom green-lighting major investments in its oil sector despite reducing spending elsewhere, to boost oil and gas production capacity. Saudi Arabia, with a total production capacity of 12.5 million b/d including fields in the Partitioned Neutral Zone, and an output of 10.2 million b/d, is the only OPEC member with significant spare capacity.

So could Doha turn into a coalition of the willing and a Waterloo for the controversial market-share strategy pushed by Saudi Arabia at OPEC’s November 2014 meeting? Only time will tell. Using January production levels as a base for apportioning any cuts gets over the hurdle of OPEC having effectively abandoned individual member country quotas since 2012. However, compliance with output reduction deals both within and outside the organization has been poor historically.

OPEC lowered the estimated 2016 average demand for its crude to 31.52 million b/d in its March monthly report, which is about 820,000 b/d below what its members collectively pumped in February, according to Platts data.

The consumption side of the equation also remains uncertain, though the International Energy Agency maintained its 1.2 million b/d global oil demand growth forecast for 2016 in its March report. US gasoline demand on a four-week moving average basis was up by a smart 5% or 447,000 b/d on year at the end of March, but countered by weakening distillates use. Chinese implied oil demand ticked up a paltry 0.9% on year over January-February according to Platts data. And fresh economic challenges in Europe raise the possibility of a contraction in the region‘s oil demand this year against expectations of stability.

The relationship between falling oil prices and global demand growth is being redefined. The International Monetary Fund in a blog March 24 argued that cheaper oil at a time of slow economic growth, monetary policy exhaustion and deflationary pressures just doesn’t provided the “tailwinds” the world has come to expect of it. The producers meeting in Doha might want to take heed.

--Vandana Hari
Asia Editorial Director Platts and Research Scholar, McGraw-Hill Financial Global Institute

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