London - Oil prices will stage a steady recovery this year as vaccines reach more people and speed an economic revival, with further impetus coming from stimulus and output discipline by top crude producers, a Reuters poll showed on Friday. The survey of 55 participants forecast Brent crude would average $59.07 per barrel in 2021, up from last month's $54.47 forecast. Brent has averaged around $58.80 so far this year.
"Travel and leisure activity look set to catch up to buoyant manufacturing activity due to the mix of stimulus, confidence, vaccines, and more targeted pandemic measures," said Norbert Ruecker of Julius Baer. "Against these demand dynamics, the supply side is unlikely to catch up on time, leaving the oil market in tightening mode for months to come."
Of the 41 respondents who participated in both the February and January polls, 32 raised their forecasts. Most analysts said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies (OPEC+) may ease current output curbs when they meet on March 4, but would still agree to maintain supply discipline. "With OPEC+ endeavouring to keep global oil production below demand, inventories should continue falling this year and allow prices to rise further," said UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo. Oil demand was seen growing by 5-7 million barrels per day in 2021, as per the poll. However, experts said any deterioration in the COVID-19 situation and the possible lifting of U.S. sanctions on Iran could hold back oil's recovery. The poll forecast U.S. crude to average $55.93 per barrel in 2021 versus January's $51.42 consensus. Analysts expect U.S. production to rise moderately this year, although new measures from U.S. President Joe Biden to tame the oil sector could curb output in the long run. "A structural shift away from fossil fuels" may prevent oil from returning to the highs of previous decades, said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Cailin Birch