The U.S. has seen several weeks in which the levels of crude oil sitting in storage have declined, falling from 80-year record highs. Inventories have dropped more than 10 million barrels since May, offering clues that suggest that the oil market is moving closer to a supply/demand balance.
Although the EIA storage figures are closely watched by oil analysts, a lesser known but similar metric from Saudi Arabia also indicates an oil market continuing to adjust. According to data from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative, and reported on by Bloomberg, Saudi oil inventories have declined for six consecutive months, the longest period of contraction since data collection began 15 years ago.
Saudi oil inventories have drawn down by 38.6 million barrels since October, taking storage down to 290.9 million barrels, a two-year low. The new Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih told Bloomberg TV on June 2 that he sees “a balanced market.” He also said that Saudi Arabia has “started inventory drawdowns that will continue for the foreseeable future.”
The declines are contributing to a convergence in supply and demand. As exports continue to exceed production, Saudi Arabia should continue to burn through inventories. But it cannot keep up that pace indefinitely. At some point, if it cannot boost production (or chooses not to), oil exports will have to fall as inventories become low. A drop in exports will tighten global supplies, reducing any remaining global surplus and thereby push up oil prices. Moreover, the drawdowns could increase because of higher domestic oil demand during summer months, as air conditioners run full blast. Saudi Arabia consumes a substantial volume of oil for power generation, upwards of 1 million barrels per day.
But for now, few have noticed the large declines in oil storage levels. “The drop in Saudi crude stocks signals the rebalancing has started,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd., told Bloomberg. “Crude stocks are coming off in places where either the data is opaque or the market isn’t paying as much attention.”