US oil prices predicted to climb in 2019 on lower supply

By ALEX VEIGAEnergyAssociated Press

After a turbulent two months during which oil prices plummeted from a four-year high to a one-year low, investors may wonder what comes next for U.S. crude.

Analysts at Swiss bank UBS are among those who predict prices will recover in 2019, as oil cartel OPEC, the U.S. and Russia curb output from the current record level.

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"We believe the market's cautious turn is overdone," UBS analysts wrote in their recently published 2019 outlook. "On balance, we keep a positive view on crude."

U.S. crude plunged 22 percent in November, its worst month in a decade. That followed a nearly 11 percent drop in October. "The decline in oil over the last month or two has been shocking to the market," said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA.

The sudden sell-off was sparked after investors grew concerned the global economy was slowing even as major producers continued to pump oil at high rates. The U.S. decision to hold off sanctioning countries that import oil from Iran boosted supplies further, and uncertainty over the escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China added to concerns of a slowdown.

After peaking at $76.41 a barrel on Oct. 3, oil prices bottomed out at $50.31 a barrel on November 28. Since then, oil has edged higher in choppy trading. It settled at $52.15 a barrel on Wednesday.

UBS forecasts U.S. crude oil will climb back to $73 a barrel by mid-2019, as supply cuts offset lower demand due to the slowing economy. Oil should pull back to around $68 a barrel by the end of next year, UBS predicts, assuming that OPEC will "maintain production discipline."

Oil prices steadied last week after OPEC and other major oil producers, including Russia, agreed to cut global crude production by 1.2 million barrels a day. The cuts are slated to begin in January and last six months.

In its forecast, UBS sees other factors supporting higher oil prices next year. The analysts noted that global oil spare capacity is running at around a 10-year low. That can set the stage for prices to climb, especially if there's unexpected, sharp rise in demand for oil, say in the event a major hurricane strikes production facilities or a key port.

UBS also predicts a slowdown in U.S. shale production next year because new pipelines are not expected to be operational until the second half of 2019.