By John Kemp
LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - For much of the last decade, energy researchers at Goldman Sachs have been among the most influential and bullish forecasters in the oil market, predicting, much of the time correctly, that prices would continue to rise.
Like others, the bank failed to foresee the cataclysm that overtook the market in late 2008. But it won respect for correctly predicting the smaller downturn in prices ahead of the flash crash in May 2011.
Both its short term and medium price views have been hugely influential, especially among hedge funds and institutional investors.
So the bank's decision to call an end to the structural bull market and predict that oil prices have levelled off could herald a much more widespread reconsideration of the medium and long-term price outlook.
"There is increasing evidence of an important structural shift in the crude oil market that will likely keep Brent crude oil prices range-bound over the long-term," the bank wrote in a landmark note published on Wednesday ("Energy Watch: A cyclically tight but structurally stable oil market" Oct 17).
"This holds out the potential that as the economic recovery continues, the oil market will remain structurally stable, like the oil market of the 1990s, but with long-dated prices anchored near $90 per barrel rather than $20 per barrel, rather than return to the structural bull market of 2003 - H12008."
Spot prices could still remain elevated by short-term concerns over supplies. The spot market is expected to stay above long-dated futures prices much of the time: the bank forecasts Brent will average $110 per barrel in 2013, though that is down from its previous forecast of $130.
But long-dated prices themselves are set to remain steady and provide an important anchor for the market.
"We believe the potential for substantial growth in crude oil supplies from U.S. shale, Canadian oil sands, and the deepwater holds the potential to keep long-dated prices stable," Goldman explained.