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As geopolitical risk flares in the Gulf, satellite monitoring reveals persistent glut

Mixed signals in the run-up to the OPEC meeting: geopolitical risk and backdrop of mounting demand risk. Against this confusing backdrop, market data gathered from satellite monitoring and other new data technologies offer some critical insights. A June 13 attack on tankers offshore Oman, the details of which remain somewhat murky, reminded the market that the Middle East Gulf remains a geopolitical flashpoint. On the other hand, the broader backdrop for these mounting geopolitical risks is one of growing demand worries and weakening oil prices, despite continued OPEC/non-OPEC production cuts.

In the last few weeks, steeply rising inventories have provided evidence of rapidly deteriorating market conditions. Builds span all key regions, both in consuming economies and in exporting countries. In total, inventories rose by approximately 40 MMb in May and are now more than 90 MMb above 2018 levels. Today, stocks in OPEC exceed the November 2018 highs just before OPEC’s decision to cut production beginning in January 2019.

Builds in exporting countries are a direct result of drastic export reductions in recent weeks, notably from Kuwait and UAE. These countries mostly export to Asia. Venezuela exports fell as India reduced its purchases, resulting in domestic builds. In contrast, Saudi production only edged down in May, but from relatively low levels as the Kingdom had assumed the bulk of the group’s cuts since January.

Iran exports also fell after US sanctions waivers ended in May, though not nearly as steeply as indicated by reported cargoes. Since the US imposed sanctions in November, a large proportion of Iranian exports have turned off AIS transponders at loading ports. Each month, Kayrros models the path of these stealth cargoes with an uncertainty interval based on the likelihood of erratic ship signals. Even in a maximum case scenario of Iranian exports, the picture of OPEC exports is one of steep cuts. At the low end of Iranian exports range, aggregate cuts are even steeper.

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