Forecasts for oil demand are looking up, according to OPEC and the International Energy Agency as of mid-July. Will the optimistic views prove to be on target? We have learned how the market can shift or wildly careen, both historically and in the very recent past.

Looking at the forecasts, which reflect a consensus of sorts, is encouraging for producers.

OPEC’s monthly report of 15 July projected global oil demand to reach nearly 100 million B/D next year, a level similar to pre-pandemic in 2019. The 2021 oil demand growth remains unchanged at 5.95 million B/D, or approximately 6.6%.

Led by demand growth in the US, China, and India, a 3.4% increase is expected in 2022 to 99.86 million B/D and would average more than 100 million B/D in the second half of the year.

“Solid expectations exist for global economic growth in 2022,” OPEC said. “These include improved containment of COVID-19, particularly in emerging and developing countries, which are forecast to spur oil demand to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022.” If the actual recovery tracks with these predictions, OPEC can dial back further its record-level supply cuts made in 2020.

The IEA points to the growth expected in global electricity demand as spurring fossil-fuel demand, including oil, coal, and natural gas. After falling by around 1% in 2020, electricity demand growth may approach 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. The Asia Pacific region will account for the majority of the increases. China, the world’s largest consumer of electricity, leads the tally, accounting for more than 50% of the 2022 growth. India, the third largest, will account for 9% of the global electricity growth.

Renewables are expected to be able to serve around half of the projected growth in global demand in 2021 and 2022. IEA wrote, “Renewable electricity generation continues to grow strongly—but cannot keep up with increasing demand. After expanding by 7% in 2020, electricity generation from renewables is forecast to increase by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022.”

Fossil fuel-based electricity is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022. After declining by 4.6% in 2020, coal-fired electricity generation will increase by nearly 5% in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, it will grow another 3% and could reach an all-time high. Natural gas-generated electricity lags coal because it is less commonly used in the Asia Pacific and competes with renewables in the US and Europe. It is expected to increase globally by 1% in 2021 and by nearly 2% in 2022 after declining by 2% in 2020.

The US Energy Information Administration published a global financial review last month of 91 oil and gas companies, most headquartered in the US, in the first quarter 2021. It indicated that companies are implementing their plans announced over the past year to reduce capital expenditures to pay down debt. Capital expenditure in 1Q2021 was reported as $48 billion, 28% lower than in 1Q2020 and the second- lowest amount for any quarter since 2016. Cash from operations in Q1 this year totaled $79 billion, 19% higher than in 1Q2020; about 76% of companies had positive free cash flow. Overall, the companies decreased debt by $16 billion in 1Q2021, and the long-term debt-to-equity ratio decreased to 54%.

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