The United States Oil Fund (NYSEArca: USO), which tracks West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures, and the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEArca: BNO), which tracks Brent crude oil futures, are each up about 2% over the past week, but investors are still waiting on more momentum out of the oil patch.
While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries have moved to cut production, expectations of continued U.S. shale production remain a deterring factor. Nevertheless, recent U.S. inventory drawdowns, which if sustained, could support the current price levels.
“WTI prices increased from below $45 to almost $55 per barrel based on expectation that OPEC cuts would quickly balance international oil markets and result in near-term higher oil prices. While that expectation lasted, prices remained near $55 from late November 2016 until early March 2017,” reports OilPrice.com.
Current OPEC compliance with production cut plans remains above their historical average, and it usually takes between two to three quarters for inventories to normalize after the cuts. The challenge for energy equities is that some oil market observers see more declines coming for crude. Oil traders are concerned over how fast U.S. shale oil producers will increase production to capture the rising prices.
“Rising rig counts in U.S. tight oil plays have been the most important factor constraining oil prices. Investors fear that resulting increased output will prevent the market from reaching balance,” according to OilPrice.com. “Rig counts in the Permian basin, Bakken and Eagle Ford plays began increasing after WTI fell below $30 per barrel in early 2016. Since OPEC first suggested the possibility for a production cut in August 2016, tight oil rig counts have more than doubled.”