We now measure more than 20,000 storage tanks every week using synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a satellite-born sensor with 24/7, all-weather capabilities.
These tanks are spread across 971 locations in 123 countries, and represent more than 6.6 billion barrels of total capacity.
For more information on how we do this, check out this previous blog.
Global oil inventories are important because they represent the difference between supply and demand. Knowing whether inventory levels are rising or falling can inform trading strategies and price activity based on market fundamentals.
This is always the case, but particularly now when the world is in flux, the need for this type of data is even more pressing.
There are simply too many variables at play impacting supply and demand to know the market balance without inventory data.
The following is a partial list of some of the stories floating around:
Will fuel demand return in 2021?
- After a bruising 2020, hopes are running high that the distribution of coronavirus vaccines will lay the groundwork for a return to “normalcy.” The more miles traveled by car, truck and plane, the greater the demand for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
- The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is forecasting a partial recovery next year. Global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels will likely average 98.2 million bpd in 2021, a 6.3% increase compared to 2020 and a 3% decrease compared to 2019.
What will OPEC Plus do next?
- The group of producers, known as OPEC Plus, voted to increase supply by 500,000 bpd in January, a vote of confidence that demand will be strong enough to absorb the extra output.
- The OPEC Plus group also decided to meet every month to decide production policy after January, underscoring the tenuous situation facing the oil market. Will they move next to unleash even more supply, or reverse course?
Is the stage set for US shale rebound?
- Even if oil prices falter in early 2021, OPEC Plus will not want to cut production if doing so means losing market share to US shale producers.
- There are signs of US shale production returning as oil prices stay comfortably above 2020-lows. Drillers have been adding rigs since October. Ursa Space’s satellite-derived intelligence also points to more drilling equipment being deployed.
Are oil prices due for a correction?
- Oil prices have strengthened since November on account of positive vaccine news. Global benchmark ICE Brent has been around $48 per barrel so far in December, its highest level since early March before the pandemic crushed prices.
- This reflects expectations among traders that a production-consumption deficit will cause oil inventory draws. If these draws fail to transpire next year, oil prices could retrace recent gains.
Our expanded coverage ensures that the scope is large enough (by far) to capture the actual global supply-demand balance.
There are other reasons why such a comprehensive dataset is valuable to the trader and analyst community:
- Access to near, real-time data at a granular level (i.e. tank-by-tank) serves an operational purpose of figuring out where to store barrels.
- Crude benchmarks also reflect regional balances. Dubai crude, for example, represents a basket of Middle Eastern crudes bought by Asian refiners.
- The price spread between crude benchmarks is driven by the relative strength of respective regions. If Asia is tight versus North America, expect the Dubai premium to rise against West Texas Intermediate (WTI) to incentivize US exports to Asia.
- Pick a hotspot around the world (e.g. Iran, Venezuela, Libya). Oil is intertwined with geopolitics. Satellite-derived oil inventory measurements offer some ground truth in otherwise murky environments.
- China is well-known for stockpiling when oil prices fall. Given its size, this practice has implications for global demand and explains why people scrutinize Chinese inventory data.