Oil forecasts slashed as prices near $30

Could oil drop to $10 a barrel?
Could oil drop to $10 a barrel?   

Already weak oil prices extended declines on Monday, nearing $30 a barrel, as a stronger dollar and jitters over volatile Chinese markets weighed on sentiment.

At 12:20 p.m. ET on Tuesday, WTI crude oil futures for February traded at around $30.20 per barrel. Brent crude oil futures traded at around $30.55/bbl.

All about China?

Oil markets are fixated on Chinese demand, as well as the stronger greenback, said Mizuho Bank's economist Vishnu Varathan.

China's apparent oil and gas consumption is expected to rise 4.8 percent this year to about 750 million tons of oil equivalent, according to a China Petroleum and Chemical Industry Federation estimate on Tuesday.

A supply glut, coupled with weak demand, have been the main factors behind oil's plunge since mid-2014, amid the rise of U.S. shale producers and the refusal by OPEC to shut off the spigots.

"OPEC is producing flat-out into a market that is oversupplied by over 1 million barrels per day," Jason Gammel and Marc Kofler, two analysts at Jefferies said in a note Tuesday.

"Already decelerating demand growth could further decay with slowing economic activity," they added. The investment bank lowered its Brent oil price assumptions to $43 a barrel from $61 a barrel for 2016 and said it was difficult to envisage a "fundamentally bullish scenario" this year.

Oil prices are now about 17 percent lower year-to-date, just 12 days into 2016, and about 70 percent lower from July 2014 when prices began their sustained decline.

According to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, managed short positions of WTI crude on January 5 increased almost 10 percent from a week ago to 182,562 — a record high for the measure, which implies hedge fund expectations of further decline.

The increase in bearishness from funds signals that they are moving money out of crude oil, Singapore-based Phillip Futures analyst Daniel Ang said.

Short positions held by oil producers, however, are falling to a level that suggest there could be more cuts to production, as they start to feel the pinch of low prices, he added in a note Tuesday.

Some analysts said at the close of 2015 that they expected further pain in oil markets in the first half of 2016, although some rebalancing may occur in the later part of the year as supply slows due to the low prices.

Analysts at Barclays, Macquarie, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale all cut their 2016 oil price forecasts on Monday. The latter predicts Brent and WTI will average $42.50 and $40.50, respectively, in 2016, and highlighted that oversupply would last longer than previously thought.

Meanwhile, StanChart took the most negative view.

"We think prices could fall as low as $10/bbl before most of the money managers in the market conceded that matters had gone too far," StanChart wrote.

But the current rig count implied that U.S. oil production would decline on-year in 2016, Goldman Sachs forecast in a note on Monday.

U.S. oil rig count — commonly used as an indication of drilling activity and thus future production levels — drooped by 20 to 516 in the weekend ending Jan. 8, the steepest decline in two months.

Craig McMahon, APAC head of research at Wood MacKenzie, said on Tuesday that markets continued to be oversupplied by 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, although a drop in output was in sight for the second half, with non-OPEC production likely falling by 600,000 barrels a day. Half of impending the cuts will come from the U.S. producers, he said.

"We are expecting to see a recovery, but the key thing about that recovery is it will not be not immediate. The key thing to note is that production is falling."

— CNBC's Katy Barnato and Reuters contributed to this report.