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IEA sees oil-supply crunch looming

World oil demand will rise faster than expected to 2012 while production lags, leading to a supply crunch, the International Energy Agency said on Monday.
/ Source: Reuters

World oil demand will rise faster than expected to 2012 while production lags, leading to a supply crunch, the International Energy Agency said on Monday.

In its Medium-Term Oil Market Report, the adviser to 26 industrialised countries said demand will rise by an average 2.2 percent a year between 2007 and 2012, up from a previous medium-term forecast of 2 percent.

The outlook, which updates an IEA forecast last issued in February, coincides with a jump in oil prices to $76 a barrel, closing in on a record high near $79, on concerns of a tightening market.

"Despite four years of high oil prices, this report sees increasing market tightness beyond 2010," the IEA said.

"It is possible that the supply crunch could be deferred -- but not by much."

The IEA's previous Medium-Term report called for world demand growth of 2 percent a year between 2006 and 2011.

It now expects global demand to reach 95.8 million barrels per day (bpd) from 86.1 million bpd in 2007. The forecast assumes average global GDP growth of 4.5 percent annually.

"The results of our analysis are quite strong," said Lawrence Eagles, head of the IEA's Oil Industry and Markets Division. "Something needs to happen."

"Either we need to have more supplies coming on stream or we need to have lower demand growth."

The Paris-based IEA also said additional global refining capacity over the next five years will lag earlier expectations as rising costs and a shortage of engineers delay construction.

It said world production of biofuels would reach 1.75 million bpd by 2012, more than double 2006 levels, but the fuel will remain marginal as economics hobble further growth.

Oil pared an earlier loss after the report was released and later rallied. Brent crude set an 11-month high of $76.24 a barrel as of 1423 GMT, within sight of the record high of $78.65 hit last August.

The report points to a greater reliance on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, source of more than a third of the world's oil.

While foreseeing higher demand, the IEA expects less supply to come from producers outside OPEC and the agency also trimmed a forecast for the 12-member group's unused production capacity.

"A stronger demand outlook, together with project slippage and geopolitical problems has led to downward revisions of OPEC spare capacity by 2 million bpd in 2009," said the report.

The forecast assumes no net expansion of capacity from Iran, Iraq and Venezuela and that the 500,000 bpd of Nigerian production that has been shut for a year will not reopen during the next five years.

Ten OPEC members began cutting production last year to stem a drop in prices. The IEA in its monthly Oil Market Report has for the past four months urged OPEC to open the taps to avoid over-tightening the market.

Some analysts say the agency is being alarmist and that its warnings about supplies are actually leading to higher prices.

"The International Energy Agency has put such a fear premium in the market that crude futures remain bought no matter what," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix.

The IEA said fundamentals of supply and demand are prompting price gains.

"The simple thing is we are there to project the market as we see it," Eagles said. "The price response is due to fundamentals. We are simply pointing out the fundamentals. That's our job."

The IEA trimmed its forecast for supply from non-OPEC producers by 800,000 bpd in 2011, partly because of project delays, and touched on the thorny subject that oil supplies are nearing a peak.

"Certainly our forecast suggests that the non-OPEC, conventional crude component of global production appears, for now, to have reached an effective plateau, rather than a peak," the report said.

Falling output at ageing fields and setbacks such as 2005's hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico have slowed growth in non-OPEC output in recent years.

Lower supply from non-OPEC countries and rising demand will boost the requirement for OPEC oil.

The IEA said demand for OPEC crude, or the call on OPEC, will rise to 34.7 million bpd in 2011, up 1.3 million bpd from the previous projection.