The international body that monitors the world's energy supply says it can see a rebound in oil prices in the not too distant future.
Crude oil prices have dropped like a stone since the summer, off by about 60 per cent over that time frame. The main reason for the decline is that the U.S. mainland has ramped up production, as new technology allowed previously unattainable shale oil to be collected and sold. U.S. shale players rushed to market when oil was above $100 a barrel and energy self sufficiency was a stated aim in Washington D.C.
But it hasn't quite worked out as planned. All that new supply flooded the market, and pushed down prices as the world realized there is currently far more oil being pumped out every day than is needed to meet current demand. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, an oil cartel of oil-producing nations primarily in the Middle East and Africa and led by Saudi Arabia, is believed to be in a stand-off with the U.S. shale producers, and seems willing to ride out cheap prices for as long as it takes to push them out of business.
An International Energy Agency report Friday shows the first tentative signs that the strategy may work.
"The oil selloff has cut expectations of 2015 non-OPEC supply growth by 350,000 barrels per day since last month to 950,000 barrels per day," the IEA said. "Effects on North American supply are so far limited to [95,000 barrels per day and 80,000 barrels per day] to the Canadian and U.S. forecasts, respectively."
The impact of cheap oil would ordinarily be higher, the IEA said, but supply growth isn't slowing more quickly in North America because many producers appeared to be well hedged against short-term price drop.
2014 was a record year for oil output for non-OPEC nations, with growth of 1.9 million barrels per day, the IEA said in its report.
Two other major oil nations, Colombia and Russia, have also seen their growth output slashed, by 175,000 barrels in the former and 30,000 in the latter.
OPEC nations, meanwhile, are actually pumping out more oil, up by 80,000 barrels a day to 30.48 million for the cartel as a whole. The biggest contributor to that increase is Iraq, which is currently pumping out more oil than at any other point in the last 35 years.
Those tentative signs of a rebalancing in the market were a positive for the oil price, which gained 75 cents to $47 US a barrel for the North American benchmark known as West Texas Intermediate or WTI.
In its January report, the IEA said it could see the foundation of a rebound in the oil market some time in the second half of 2015. If and when that happens, it won't be because there is less oil being pumped, but rather because cheap prices will encourage demand as the economy grows because of cheap energy.
"With a few notable exceptions such as the United States, lower prices do not appear to be stimulating demand just yet," the IEA said.
Until that happens, the IEA is expecting low oil prices to persist.
"How low the market's floor will be is anybody's guess. But the sell-off is having an impact," the IEA said. "A price recovery — barring any major disruption — may not be imminent, but signs are mounting that the tide will turn," said the agency.