Why did oil prices correct so suddenly? Is the current low price environment due to lower demand or increased supply or a combination of both?
The answer is a combination of both. The correction is a net result of lower-than-projected demand growth and a remarkable increase in supply.
On the demand side, in July 2014 the Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Agency (IEA), and OPEC forecast 2015 global liquids growth to be 1.7 percent on average. However, these expectations declined to just 1.1 percent by December 2014, despite a low price environment that typically would have been conducive to boosting demand.i One reason for the muted demand response to the low price signal has been the increasing strength of the US dollar relative to other major world currencies. Notably, the US Dollar Index has risen nearly 15 percent to 97.4 since July 2014.ii A stronger dollar makes dollar-denominated crude more expensive for buyers using foreign currency. Consequently, while the United States is enjoying the full benefit of low prices, many other countries are only experiencing a portion of the price decline, giving them less reason to consume more petroleum products.
On the supply side, several years of $100/bbl oil drove tremendous production growth in many countries. US crude output, including lease condensate production, increased by over 2 MMbbl/d from 2012 to 2014. This domestic supply surge greatly offset US net crude oil imports, shrinking them from 8.5 MMbbl/d in 2012 to less than 7 MMbbl/d in 2014.iii Meanwhile, Brazil, Iraq, and Canada collectively added nearly 1 MMbbl/d over the same two-year period.iv
All told in 2014, production growth of 1.9 percent exceeded demand growth of 1 percent, leading to an inventory build-up of 500 thousand bbl/d with another 400 thousand bbl/d projected for 2015.