Stock - Oil
WTI has jumped by around a third since the end of June, and is on track for the biggest quarterly gain since June 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

The US oil benchmark briefly surged to $95 a barrel as dwindling stockpiles at a key storage hub fanned fears about falling crude supplies globally.

West Texas Intermediate touched the highest level since August last year, before paring gains to trade little changed. Oil’s latest leg higher was led by a decline in inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for US futures.

With supplies there flirting with minimum operational levels, key prices gauges are surging amid fears of scarcity, a move that is rippling across the world. The nearest timespreads for WTI and global benchmark Brent are in extreme bullish structures as traders pay bumper premiums to keep crude supplies local.

“It really all boils down to concerns over supply tightness continuing and even exacerbating going into the northern hemisphere winter months,” Vandana Hari, founder of consultancy Vanda Insights, said on Bloomberg TV. “You have a market which is very tightly strung right now, almost on the verge of panic.”

Overall US crude stockpiles fell more than expected, according to official data released on Wednesday, providing evidence of how rapidly the market is tightening due to supply cuts from Saudi Arabia and Russia.

WTI has jumped by around a third since the end of June, and is on track for the biggest quarterly gain since June 2020, when prices gyrated in the early months of the pandemic. Brent has topped $97 in intraday trading this week.

Earlier this month, OPEC forecast a deficit of as much as 3 million barrels a day of crude in the fourth quarter. With demand in the US and China proving resilient, many in the market now see $100 oil as inevitable, even as the dollar rallies and worries about high global interest rates persist.

The physical tightness is being reflected in oil’s futures curve. WTI’s prompt spread - the price difference between the nearest futures contract - has surged to as much as $2.60 a barrel in the bullish backwardation structure, from just 61 cents in the middle of last week. Options trading is also showing concerns about bigger price swings.

Stockpiles at Cushing have dropped for seven straight weeks and many traders consider them to be at the lowest levels that allow the tanks to operate normally. Last-minute supplies from the hub are becoming increasingly expensive and American crude is getting too pricey for overseas buyers.

Still, demand appears to be holding up despite the higher prices. Global consumption of transport fuels picked up last week, lifted by Chinese trucking activity and an increase in international travel ahead of the Golden Week holiday, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a note.