Fitch Ratings has raised the 2016 oil price assumptions it uses when rating energy-sector corporates, but expects record high inventories to slow any further price increases.
We assume Brent and WTI will average USD42 a barrel in 2016, up from our USD35/bbl base case in February. The increase follows evidence that the market will come into balance in the second half of 2016, which has already been reflected in a year-to-date average price of USD41/40 for Brent/WTI.
However, we do not believe that the rapid price recovery seen in the first half of 2016 will continue. The sub-USD30 prices at the start of the year approached cash costs for many producers and were unsustainable in all but the very short term. Prices in the USD40-USD50 range allow most producers to break even on a cash basis, if not to cover sunk costs.
We believe that record high inventories – OECD stocks are still more than 10% higher than normal – and market expectations that US shale production will begin to rebound at prices above USD50, will keep prices below that level until a supply deficit has eroded some of the inventory overhang.
We have therefore left our 2017 and 2018 price assumptions unchanged at USD45 and USD55 respectively. Our long-term expectations for both Brent and WTI are unchanged at USD65, reflecting our view on the long-run marginal cost of supply.
Our natural gas expectations have also changed, with price assumptions for US Henry Hub rising and UK National Balancing Point (NBP) falling. In the US, the market has begun to work through the excess inventory build-up associated with last year’s El Nino winter. Slower production growth in key shale plays has also helped. For NBP, increased US gas exports have contributed to a medium-term LNG glut, which we expect to put pressure on international spot prices.
Our Henry Hub price assumptions are USD2.35/mcf in 2016, rising to USD2.75 in 2017, USD3.00 in 2018 and USD3.25 in the long term. For NBP we assume a price of USD5.00/mcf for 2016, USD5.50 in 2017, USD6.00 in 2018 and USD6.50 in the long term.