Can oil go lower? ‘An emphatic yes’, says IEA

The International Energy Agency warned on Tuesday that a further drop in oil prices is likely as supply continues to exceed demand, placing "enormous strain" on the ability of the oil system to absorb it efficiently.

Oil tanker
Jean-Paul Pelissier | Reuters

Brent crude futures have fallen to a 13-year low, trading below $29 a barrel and U.S. crude futures are also hovering around $29 a barrel. Standard Chartered has said prices could go as low as $10 a barrel while Goldman Sachs has said it could fall to $20.

At its half-yearly policy meeting in December, OPEC decided not to lower its 30 million-barrel-day production quota, as kingpin Saudi Arabia stuck to its strategy of maintaining output in order to push prices down, squeezing out smaller energy players with higher production costs.

Prices, already on a sharply downward trajectory, fell further on Monday after sanctions against oil producer and OPEC member Iran were lifted. The decision raises the prospect of yet more supply as the country ramps up production.

"There are considerable uncertainties around the quality and quantity of oil that Iran can offer to the market in the short term, " the IEA noted. While the country may be able to sell oil from storage, questions surround its ageing energy infrastructure.

Nonetheless, a fall in non-OPEC production will be offset by higher production from Iran, while other Middle East producers are also likely to continue production to protect their share of the market, the IEA said.

Iran insists it will boost output by an immediate 500,000 barrels per day. The IEA believes that by the end of the first quarter, around 300,000 barrels a day of additional crude oil could be flowing to world markets.

And with little prospect of global growth picking up, the IEA warned that "unless something changes, the oil market could drown in over-supply". "So the answer to our question (can it go any lower?) is an emphatic yes."

Lower prices and spending cuts have put the brakes on non-OPEC supply growth. It is projected at less than 0.2 million barrels per day in the fourth quarter of 2015, compared with 2.7 million barrels per day a year earlier.

Meanwhile OPEC crude oil output edged down 32.28 million barrels per day - including Indonesia, whose membership was re-activated at the group's December meeting. Supplies slipped from OPEC's largest producers, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with Nigeria and Venezuela also posting marginal declines.