Demand surge expected by rapid urbanisation in Asia and the inverse reserves depletion associated with low exploration budgets across the globe mean that acute supply gaps will spur price jumps that would shoot crude oil above $150 per barrel by 2040.
Industry and commodity market analysts, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co, stated in a report released weekend that low exploration activity and slow reserves replacement set the stage for an unprecedented crude price spike.
The analysts wrote: “Any shortfall in supply will result in a super-spike in prices, potentially much larger than the $150/bbl spike witnessed in 2008.”
Pointing at the source of the problem, other analysts including Neil Beveridge wrote in a note Friday that oil companies have been compelled to focus on boosting returns and shareholder distributions at the expense of capital expenditures aimed at finding new supplies.
The development, according to Bernstein, is causing reserves at major producers to fall and the industry’s reinvestment ratio to plunge to the lowest in a generation, paving the way for oil prices to surpass records reached last decade.
The world’s oil majors including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc navigated the price crash of 2014 by cutting costs, selling assets and taking on debt to help satisfy investors with hefty dividends.
The biggest, ExxonMobil Corp., was punished by shareholders earlier this year after compounding disappointing results with a massive spending plan and a lack of buybacks.
The oversupply of crude globally in recent years has masked “chronic underinvestment,” Bernstein said in the report. Oil has rebounded to the highest in more than three years as the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies started curbing output at the beginning of last year to trim a global glut.
The producers aim now to pump more to help cool the market, but disruptions from Libya to Venezuela are keeping prices elevated.
Proven reserves of the world’s top oil companies have fallen by more than 30% on average since 2000, with only Exxon and BP showing an improvement, helped by acquisitions, Bernstein said.
Meanwhile, more than 1.0 billion people will urbanise in Asia over the next two decades and this will drive demand for cars, as well as air travel, road freight and plastics that also require oil, according to Bernstein.
“If oil demand continues to grow to 2030 and beyond, the strategy of returning cash to shareholders and under-investing in reserves will only turn out to sow the seeds of the next super-cycle,” the analysts wrote.
“Companies which have barrels in the ground to produce, or the services to extract them, will be the ones to own and those who do not will be left behind.”