The world’s thirst for oil has evaporated.
Highways are empty. Planes are grounded. Factories are dark. The unprecedented collapse in oil demand has sent crude crashing to 18-year lows.
Supply, on the other hand, remains largely resilient amid a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. US producers don’t want to be the first to blink by turning off production.
That could mean a supply glut so epic that the world will soon run out of room to store all the unneeded barrels of oil.
“The market is starting to signal that not only is there no demand for this crude, eventually there could be nowhere for it to go,” said Jeff Wyll, senior energy analyst at Neuberger Berman.
In other words, storage facilities, refineries, terminals, ships and pipelines eventually could reach capacity — something that hasn’t happened since 1998, according to Goldman Sachs.
Distressed pricing in some corners of the oil market shows that investors are starting to price in the risk that might occur soon.
Although headline oil prices such as West Texas Intermediate and Brent are trading north of $20 a barrel, some regional prices have recently plunged into single-digit territory. That is especially true for landlocked grades of crude where access to storage is even trickier.
“Demand is falling so fast relative to supply that very soon many producers’ main issue is not going to be whether they can ensure operating profit but rather if they can find an outlet for their crude,” analysts at JBC Energy wrote in a report Tuesday.
One storage option: loading all that extra crude onto ships. JBC said about 20% of the global fleet of very large crude carriers (VLCCs) could become floating storage. But even that would not absorb the surplus.
In April, some 6 million barrels per day of “homeless crude” might literally have nowhere to go, JBC said, a figure that would rise to 7 million barrels per day in May.
But, eventually, airlines will take to the air again and start buying jet fuel. Drivers will buy more gasoline as they get back to work.
But by that point the oil industry might not be producing as much oil as before because wells shut down. Today’s oil glut may suddenly turn into tomorrow’s oil scarcity, pushing prices “far above” $55 next year, Goldman Sachs commodities head Jeffrey Currie said.
“This will ultimately create an inflationary oil supply shock of historic proportions,” Currie wrote.