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Interview

Oil to hover in $60 to $80 range in 2019, says analyst Yergin

India looks particularly promising as investment market for the industry

A key question is whether U.S. shale production can offset planned cuts by OPEC and others, said Daniel Yergin in a recent interview. (Photo by Shihoko Nakaoka)

As the global economy is buffeted by U.S. President Donald Trump's trade dispute with China and a government shutdown in Washington that has stretched into the new year, equities and commodities markets around the world are edgy.

"People see a price range between $60 to $80 per barrel" for Brent crude, IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin said in a recent interview. On Dec. 6, OPEC decided to cut its combined output by 1.2 million barrels a day. Yergin said the previous meeting made it clear that the oil cartel is becoming a "Vienna alliance" that includes Russia and other non-OPEC producers. He believes concerted action by Saudi Arabia and Russia to reduce output will help stabilize the market.

But Brent crude has been trading around $50 a barrel. On the supply side, an important factor is robust production in the U.S. Daily crude oil output there was 11.6 million barrels as of Dec. 14, according to the Energy Information Administration. That is an increase of 1.81 million barrels a day from a year earlier and a record high.

U.S. output "could be close to 13 million barrels per day" by the end of 2019, Yergin said. American production could thus offset the cut agreed on at the OPEC meeting.

Shale is the key to rising U.S. output. According to Yergin, shale oil drillers have become more efficient using digital technology. A shortage of pipelines in the largest production area, the Permian Basin in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, has hampered output increases, but that problem is being resolved.

"By around the third quarter ... the bottlenecks will be solved because people are building pipelines," Yergin said. On the state of American shale production, he said that "it's no longer just beginning, but it's still the early-middle stage."

The global economy faces a number of economic uncertainties in 2019. One of the biggest is the U.S.-China trade dispute. "So far, it's not had a big impact," Yergin said, but he pointed out that energy remains a key issue in negotiations between the world's two largest economies.

"If there is a deal in the next 90 days -- if they find a solution to trade issues -- energy would be an important part of it because energy sales to China is the way to reduce the trade deficit," Yergin said. "I think energy would be a part of the deal and the Trump administration knows that."

However, he is cautious about the possibility of the two countries finding common ground over trade. The two sides "can compromise, but things like Huawei -- unexpected things -- happen" because of the hard-line stance taken by the Trump administration.

"A trade war is very dangerous. It is very hard to find examples in history with a positive outcome," Yergin said.

Asian economies are expected to keep growing, and they are attractive to oil producers, Yergin said, singling out India as particularly promising. "China was five or 10 years ago, but it's now India," he said.

The market for petrochemical products in India has strong growth potential. "International oil companies and exporters are really focused on big investment in refineries in India ... Middle Eastern countries are looking much more seriously at India as a market," said Yergin, who suggested that the country is promising not just as an oil consumer but also as an investment destination for oil-related businesses.

Nikkei staff writer Akihide Anzai contributed to this article.

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