Oil just hit $80 a barrel, and it’s not stopping there, analysts say

September 28, 2021, 11:52 AM UTC

The price of Brent crude, the global benchmark, has climbed six straight days to top $80 a barrel on Tuesday—its highest in three years—and its rise shows no signs of slowing down.

In the throes of an energy crunch spanning Beijing to Britain, a growing chorus of analysts now see a barrel of oil priced in the triple-digit range. Rising global demand for oil, plus some good news on the COVID front (an uptick in vaccinations and the much hoped-for waning of Delta), and some bad news in international trade circles (shipping hiccups kneecapping the international supply chain), are all conspiring to send prices ever higher.

Brent crude futures have already risen by 50% this year—hitting their highest price since 2018—as demand continues to increase while supplies from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia (OPEC+) are still tight. Meanwhile, the price of natural gas and electricity has also reached record highs, with many assuming the spillover effects will boost the price of oil further.

So how high could it go?

Up and away…

For Trafigura Group, one of the world’s largest commodity trading houses, it’s clear that the world will see even higher oil prices in the winter. “I struggle to see anything but higher prices going forward in the next two years,” Ben Luckock, Trafigura’s co-head of oil trading, told Bloomberg.

One possible price driver is high natural gas prices, which have risen more than 300% since January. This could force some consumers to switch to oil, raising crude demand by some 500,000 barrels a day, Commonwealth Bank of Australia analyst Vivek Dhar said in a note.

Goldman Sachs last week predicted the price of Brent would hit $90 a barrel, noting inventory draws were the largest on record. “While we have long held a bullish oil view, the current global supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected, with the recovery in global demand from the Delta impact even faster than our above-consensus forecast and with global supply remaining short of our below consensus forecasts,” it said in a note.

Others see that price target as pretty wimpy in comparison. Trafigura’s Luckock says he wouldn’t be surprised if Brent hit $100. And Bank of America Global Research analyst Paul Ciana sees an even higher ceiling, predicting the price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard, could go up to $116 a barrel in a kind of worst-case scenario.

…or fading after its rise?

Still, some analysts see pricing levels moderate should economic growth begin to slow, as some on Wall Street now predict.

“The rally could be extinguished either as investors opt for profit-taking, or, in the longer term, as a lethargic economic recovery brings commodity prices back down to a more humble perch,” Louise Dickson, oil market analyst at Rystad Energy said in a note on Monday.

To ease the surging demand, OPEC+ has quietly eased supply curbs, which it set in July, bringing some hope normalcy should return.

But, still, there’s some worrying consensus that we haven’t even returned to 2019 levels of consumption.

That’s the take of the International Energy Agency, which predicts that global oil consumption will return to pre-pandemic levels sometime next year, while OPEC expects it to reach pre-pandemic levels by early 2022. BP figures an even later return, not expecting demand to fully return until third quarter of 2022.

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