One of the key objectives for OPEC is to bring down inventories, a goal that has been elusive this year. But if the oil futures curve is anything to go by, the oil market is showing signs of tightening.
Brent futures have recently begun to exhibit a state of backwardation, which is when near-term oil futures trade at a premium to contracts dated further off into the future. This is the first time in years that backwardation has occurred, and most analysts are taking it as a sign that the oil market finally could be getting closer to rebalancing. In the past, backwardations have accompanied a rebound in the oil market after a bust, while a contango (the opposite of backwardation) tends to occur when the market crashes because of a supply glut.
There are several reasons why backwardation is bullish, which has been discussed in previous articles. A declining futures curve makes it uneconomical to store oil, so backwardation could accelerate the drawdown in inventories. It also complicates the hedging strategies of shale producers, which could hold back expansion plans. It also is a symptom of tightening near-term supplies, although, to be sure, the flip side of that argument is that it could merely be a reflection of expectations that the supply glut will reemerge at some point in the future.