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Oil at $90 a barrel looks 'unsustainable,' says Citi analyst

Oil prices may head toward $100 "for a short while" amid output cuts and geopolitical tensions, but they'll likely retreat by year-end, says one Wall Street analyst.

"The Saudi appetite to withhold oil from market, supported by Russia maintaining a certain level of export constraint, points to higher prices in the short term, all else equal, but $90 prices look unsustainable given faster supply growth than demand growth ex-Saudi/Russia," Citi's global head of commodity research Ed Morse and his team wrote to investors.

"Higher prices in the near term could make for more downside for prices next year," he added.

Crude has been on an upward trend over the past three months. West Texas Intermediate (CL=F) has risen by about $23 per barrel since late June to above $91 on Monday.

Brent crude futures (BZ=F) have seen a similar rise of more than 30% over the same period, currently hovering above $94 per barrel.

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Citi's analysts see oil averaging $84 in the fourth quarter 2023 and moving to the low-$70 range in 2024.

Morse writes production is growing among non-OPEC+ members like the US, Brazil, Canada, and Guyana. Even Venezuelan and Iranian exports have grown.

"After the recent spike, these inventory dynamics should keep a lid on crude oil prices for the remainder of 2023 and 2024. And Saudi Arabia may yet reverse cuts if markets get too tight," said the note.

In early August Saudi Arabia extended its unilateral production cuts, and Russia reduced exports through year-end. These cuts are in addition to OPEC+ reductions announced last year.

Oil's recent rally prompted RBC Capital Markets to float the possibility of $100 per barrel amid "a momentum-based" market.

“The notion of $100/bbl has evolved from completely unimaginable a few short months ago, to within striking (or hyping) distance today,” analysts Michael Tran and Helima Croft wrote in a recent note to investors.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 31: Oil pumpjacks operate on July 31, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Crude oil prices appear to be heading for their largest monthly increase in over a year as cuts by Russia and Saudi Arabia will tighten supplies amid lowered fears of a recession. Goldman Sachs estimates that worldwide oil demand hit an all-time high of nearly 103 million barrels in July. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Oil pumpjacks operate on July 31, 2023 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Mario Tama/Getty Images) (Mario Tama via Getty Images)

Refined oil products have been on the rise. Gas prices hit new 2023 highs Monday with the national average at $3.88, according to AAA. The price of diesel, which is used to transport goods via trucks, was up $0.23 from one month ago, at $4.57 per gallon.

Meanwhile several airlines including United Airlines (UAL), Delta (DAL), and American (AAL) sounded the alarm recently on lower profits amid higher fuel costs.

Higher energy costs are raising concerns of a negative impact on the broader economy at a time when the Federal Reserve is aiming to curb inflation through interest rate hikes.

Fed officials are expected to hold interest rates steady when they meet this week but are still keeping the door open to one more rate hike this year.

Energy prices, specifically gasoline, were the biggest culprit of August's hotter-than-expected Consumer Price Index print released last week.

Ines Ferre is a senior business reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @ines_ferre.

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