Oil prices will stay 'relatively benign' despite escalating Iran tensions, Morgan Stanley says

Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria is seen near Gibraltar, Spain July 4, 2019.
REUTERS | Stringer

Morgan Stanley does not expect rising tensions in the world's most important oil chokepoint to lead to a sustained jump in oil prices.

Instead, the investment bank expects non-OPEC supply growth to keep crude futures relatively subdued over the coming months.

Oil prices rose more than 2% Monday morning, amid concerns that Iran's seizure of a British tanker last week could lead to disruptions in the energy-rich Gulf.

When asked whether he was concerned about possible supply disruptions in the wake of intensifying geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, Morgan Stanley's global oil strategist Martijn Rats, told CNBC: "Actually, on the whole, not that much."

"The history of fear around the Strait of Hormuz suggests that from time to time, this concern can flare up and we can have some disruptions but they rarely last for very long."

"There is a difference in the oil market this time around because non-OPEC is simply growing so fast. That is the real game changer and that's why the price action is relatively benign," Rats said on Monday.

Price action on oil as a result of politics tends to be modest, expert says
Price action on oil as a result of politics tends to be modest, expert says

Late last week, Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had captured a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz — through which flows more than a fifth of global oil supply.

The move marked another escalation in an ongoing dispute between Iran, the U.S. and other Western nations, with energy market participants increasingly concerned about supply disruptions in the strategically important waterway.

International benchmark Brent crude traded at $63.75 during Monday morning, up over 2%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $56.58, around 1.7% higher.

"I think the reason oil prices are trading above $50 a barrel is purely because of the geopolitical risk bid," Paul Gambles, co-founder of the MBMG Group, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Monday.

"I think if you take that away then oil would be a lot, lot cheaper than it is so then the question becomes: how much more geopolitical bid can it get?"

Non-OPEC supply growth

Earlier this month, OPEC projected non-OPEC crude supply would rise by more than 2 million barrels per day this year, before climbing to 2.4 million barrels per day in 2020.

That "is a very significant number because it vastly exceeds global demand growth," Morgan Stanley's Rats said Monday.

In the Middle East-dominated Group's latest monthly report, OPEC said it anticipated global demand growth to hover around 1.4 million barrels per day in 2019 and 2020.

Rats explained that because non-OPEC supply growth had exceeded global demand, OPEC had no choice but to cut production.

OPEC and its allied partners renewed a supply-cutting pact until March 2020 at the start of the month, citing the need to avoid a build-up of inventories that could hit prices.

"OPEC has already given up about 5 percentage points of market share (since it started cutting production) — that is quite significant," Rats said.

"When OPEC is in a process of giving up market share, the markets are not fundamentally tight. And then you get responses like this where even significant concerns around the Strait of Hormuz, actually, they do a bit around the oil price day-to-day, but they don't fundamentally lift it to a higher level."

"That is the big change I think," he added.