SUDDENLY, A SURGE FOR CANADIAN OIL PRICES
Heavy oil benchmark swings dramatically higher just weeks after hitting an all-time low, bringing price discount closer to historic norms
Weeks after hitting an all-time low, Canada’s heavy-oil benchmark is on a roll, surging again on Friday and narrowing its discount to U.S. crude.
Western Canadian Select was trading for US$38.12 a barrel on Friday afternoon, up 15.6 per cent from Thursday’s close, marking the latest round of gains after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced production cuts, to take effect in January, aimed at lifting rock-bottom prices. Faced with a pipeline bottleneck and rising inventories, Alberta’s oil prices had plummeted in recent months, with WCS hitting a record low of less than US$14 in November.
This week’s rally has resulted in a significant narrowing of the price differential between WCS and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark. WCS now sells for a US$15-a-barrel discount to WTI; in October, the price gap had ballooned to US$50, the largest discount in Bloomberg data going back to 2008. A key metric in the oil patch, the differential is now slightly better than the historical average of US$17.37.
Friday’s rally also puts WCS in the neighborhood of some longrange estimates. Joan Pinto, associate and energy specialist at CIBC Capital Markets, issued a forecast this week that pegged WCS at an average price of US$40.50 a barrel in 2019 and US$41.75 the following year.
Global oil prices rallied on Friday after “OPEC-plus” announced a bigger-than-expected cut to crude production. (“OPECplus” refers to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with other producers that had agreed to a previous supply cap, such as Russia.) WTI jumped 4.5 per cent to US$53.83 a barrel, and Brent crude was up 5 per cent to $63.06, as of early Friday afternoon.