Don’t expect the oil market’s current weakness to reverse any time soon. It could take years to work through the over-supply in the market, according to the latest projections from U.K. oil giant BP PLC.
Oil prices have crashed over the past 8 months, tumbling around 50% on the back of surging supply–led by booming shale oil output in the U.S.–and lackluster demand. The slump has prompted oil companies to slash their capital expenditure plans as lower prices hit bottom lines.
BP itself reported a net loss in the fourth quarter–the only one of the so-called super majors to finish the year in the red-—after it took a charge of nearly $3.6 billion linked to lower crude prices.
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It is a major market shift forcing oil companies globally to adapt after three years of high and stable prices.
“Today’s turbulence is a return to business-as-usual. Continuous change is the norm in our industry. The energy mix changes. The balance of demand shifts. New sources of energy emerge,” BP CEO Bob Dudley wrote in the introduction to the company’s annual energy outlook, which takes a 20-year view of the market.
BP and a handful of other large oil producers publish long-term market forecasts each year that provide an outline of how they see trends in the energy sector developing.
Longer term, BP expects that the market will grow out of its current weakness as surging U.S. oil production slows.
“U.S. [shale] oil can’t continue to grow rapidly forever,” said BP’s chief economist Spencer Dale.
As U.S. oil’s production growth begins to slow over the next 20 years, demand will increase enough to absorb the current excess supply, Mr. Dale said. Still, BP expects the U.S. will remain a major oil producer and is on track to become self-sufficient by the 2030s.
Oil companies tend to take a long-term view of the market because it can take years and even decades to bring new projects from the point of exploration to production. Though their forecasts are often wrong—for instance few saw the shale oil boom in the U.S. coming–they are still instructive as an indication of the environment in which the companies believe they’re making investment decisions.
Overall, BP anticipates global energy demand will continue to rise over the next 20 years, tracking GDP growth of more than 50%. However, the pace of growth is expected to slow compared with the past decade, held in check by improvements in energy efficiency and less energy intensive growth in emerging markets.
Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ quest to maintain market share is likely to be rewarded as consumption rises and shale oil production slows over the next 20 years, BP’s outlook says. The oil producing cartel’s decision late last year not to prop up the market by cutting its production sent prices into a downward tailspin, but the group has maintained its position to defend market share against the onslaught of non-OPEC production led by U.S. shale output.
By 2030, BP forecasts demand for OPEC’s oil will rise above its historic high of 32 million barrels a day while its share of the increase in oil supply is expected to rise above 40% after 2020.