Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The $40-50 range, CAPP on Capex & Afren's woes

The first month of oil trading in 2015 is coming to a much calmer end compared to how it began. The year did begin with a bang with Brent shedding over 11% in the first week of full trading alone. Since then, the only momentary drama took place when both Brent and WTI levelled at US$48.05 per barrel at one point on January 16. Overall, both benchmarks have largely stayed in the $44 to $49 range with an average Brent premium of $3+ for better parts of January.

There is a growing realisation in City circles that short sellers may have gotten ahead of themselves a bit just as those going long did last summer. Agreed, oil is not down to sub-$40 levels seen during the global financial crisis. However, if the price level seen then is adjusted for the strength of the dollar now, then the levels being seen at the moment are actually below those seen six years ago.

The big question right now is not where the oil price is, but rather that should we get used to the $40 to $50 range? The answer is yes for now because between them the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping well over 30 million barrels per day (bpd) and everyone from troubled Libya to calm Canada is prodding along despite the pain of lower oil prices as producing nations.

The latter actually provides a case in point, for earlier in January the Western Canadian Select did actually fall below $40 and is just about managing to stay above $31. However, the Oilholic has negligible anecdotal evidence of production being lowered in meaningful volumes.

For what it’s worth, it seems the Canadians are mastering the art of spending less yet producing more relative to last year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The lobby group said last week that production in Western Canada, bulk of which is accounted for by Alberta, would grow by 150,000 bpd to reach 3.6 million bpd in 2015. 

That’s despite the cumulative capex tally of major oil and gas companies seeing an expected decline of 33% on an annualised basis. The headline production figure is actually a downward revision from CAPP’s forecast of 3.7 million bpd, with an earlier expectation of 9,555 wells being drilled also lowered by 30% to 7,350 wells. Yet, the overall production projection is comfortably above 2014 levels and the revision is nowhere near enough (yet) to have a meaningful impact on Canada’s contribution to the total global supply pool. 

Coupled with the said global supply glut, Chinese demand has shown no signs of a pick-up. Unless either the supply side alters fundamentally or the demand side perks up, the Oilholic thinks the current price range for Brent and WTI is about right on the money. 

But change it will, as the current levels of production simply cannot be sustained. Someone has to blink, as yours truly said on Tip TV – it’s likely to be the Russians and US independent upstarts. The new Saudi head of state - King Salman is unlikely to change the course set out by his late predecessor King Abdullah. In fact, among the new King’s first acts was to retain the inimitable Ali Al-Naimi as oil minister

Greece too is a non-event from an oil market standpoint in a direct sense. The country does not register meaningfully on the list of either major oil importers or exporters. However, its economic malaise and political upheavals might have an indirect bearing via troubles in the Eurozone. The Oilholic sees $1= €1 around the corner as the dollar strengthens against a basket of currencies. A stronger dollar, of course, will reflect in the price of both benchmarks.

In other news, troubles at London-listed Afren continue and the Oilholic has knocked his target price of 120p for the company down to 20p. First, there was bolt out of the blue last August that the company was investigating “receipt of unauthorised payments potentially for the benefit of the CEO and COO.” 

Following that red flag, just recently Afren revised production estimates at its Barda Rash oilfield in the Kurdistan region of Iraq by 190 million barrels of oil equivalent. The movement in reserves was down to the 2014 reprocessing of 3D seismic shot in 2012 and processed in 2013, as well as results from its drilling campaign, Afren said. 

It is presently thinking about utilising a 30-day grace period under its 2016 bonds with respect to $15 million of interest due on 1 February. That’s after the company confirmed a deferral of a $50 million amortisation payment due at the end of January 2015 was being sought. Yesterday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Afren's Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR), as well as its senior secured ratings, to 'C' from 'B-'. It reflects the agency’s view that default was imminent.

Meanwhile, S&P has downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating to junk status. The agency now rates Russia down a notch at BB+. “Russia’s monetary-policy flexibility has become more limited and its economic growth prospects have weakened. We also see a heightened risk that external and fiscal buffers will deteriorate due to rising external pressures and increased government support to the economy,” S&P noted.

Away from ratings agencies notes, here is the Oilholic’s take on what the oil price drop means for airlines and passengers in one’s latest Forbes piece. Plus, here’s another Forbes post touching on the North Sea’s response to a possible oil price drop to $40, incorporating BP’s pessimistic view that oil price is likely to lurk around $50 for the next three years.

For the record, this blogger does not think oil prices will average around $50 for the next three years. One suspects that neither does BP; rather it has more to do with prudent forward planning. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil pipeline with Alaska's Brooks Range in the background, USA © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Brent’s premium gets dents as oil price dips

It’s definitely a moment worth recording and the Oilholic was rather glad he was awake earlier today when it happened. For at one point in Asian trading, both Brent and WTI were in perfect sync at US$48.05 per barrel as the oil markets rout continues (see screen grab below, click to enlarge). What's more, for a precious few minutes, the WTI actually traded at a premium of a few cents to Brent marking only the third such occurrence since 2010.


Of course, Brent’s premium has been since been restored back to well over a dollar and rising. However, it is a far cry from 2012 when the premium was averaging around $20 per barrel above the WTI, and did touch $25 at one point if this blogger’s memory serves him well.

The near coming together of both global benchmarks shouldn’t come as a surprise as it was on the horizon. What transpired today was merely for the sake of a record which might not be all that unique over the coming weeks and months of volatility. That said, once the projected supply correction kicks in around midway point of this year, the Oilholic does see Brent’s single digit premium to the WTI climb up to around $5.

As of now, one's 2015 oil price forecast is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range.

Meanwhile, a Baron’s article is suggesting oil could fall to $20, while industry veteran T. Boone Pickens says he’s seen several slumps in his lifetime and reckons a return to a $100 level within the next “12 to 18 months” is inevitable.

Additionally, the Oilholic has called an end to the so-called “commodities supercycle” in his latest quip for Forbes. On a related note, Goldman Sachs has trimmed its six and 12 month 2015 estimates for Brent to $43 and $70, from $85 and $90, and to $39 and $65, from $75 and $80, for the WTI.

Finally, as talk of a Venezuelan default gains market traction, Moody’s has downgrades ratings of PDVSA and its wholly-owned US-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum. PDVSA’s long term issuer rating and senior unsecured notes were downgraded by the agency to Caa3 from Caa1. Moody’s changed its outlook on the ratings to stable from negative. 

Citgo Petroleum's Corporate Family Rating was downgraded to B3 from B1; its Probability of Default rating to B3-PD from B1-PD; and its senior secured ratings on term loans, notes and industrial revenue bonds to B3 from B1.

Additionally, the rating on Citgo's senior secured revolving credit facility was downgraded to B2 from B1, reflecting a lower expected loss in case of default vis-à-vis other classes of debt in the company's capital structure. The rating outlook was also changed to stable from negative.

The rating actions follow Moody's downgrade of the Venezuelan government's bond ratings to Caa3 from Caa1 with a stable outlook, earlier this week. The principal driver of the decision to downgrade Venezuela's sovereign rating was "a marked increase in default risk owing to lower oil prices," the agency said. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Bloomberg screen grab as Brent and WTI futures achieve parity on January 15, 2015 © Bloomberg

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Greens deserve inclusion in UK leaders’ debates

A political kerfuffle has broken out in British political circles about inclusion (or exclusion) of the UK’s Green Party in televised leaders’ debate ahead of the 2015 General Election on May 7.

It all kicked-off on Monday when the country’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom opined that the Green Party did not have the clout to be considered a big enough player on the national stage.

Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron then said he wouldn’t take part in a televised debate that excludes the Green Party, since UKIP a minor right-wing party that’s eating into his political base had been invited to participate but not the Greens. 

As exposure for the Greens is likely to hurt the opposition Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s desire to have the Greens included might well be driven by his own interests. Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP all cried foul at Cameron’s announcement, while he in turn accused opponents of running scared. 

Whatever his reasons might be, the Oilholic feels Cameron is right to demand inclusion of the Greens. Those asking why the Greens should be included must actually ask “Why not?” instead. The Oilholic profoundly disagrees with a lot of what the Greens say and the policies they propose. However, that does mean this blogger should frown upon giving them a voice on a national stage at one of the most important general elections in a generation.

The British Green movement should now be considered sufficiently mature and in sync with some of its counterparts in the wider European Union. In fact, at the recent European elections both the Greens and UKIP got more votes than the Liberal Democrats.

The Greens had their first MP in 2010 as Caroline Lucas entered parliament on her own merit and credentials having fought against mainstream parties with deeper pockets. While UKIP might well have two MPs in parliament at the moment; both are defectors from the Conservative Party who re-entered parliament having been elected on their established political reputations while piggybacking on a populist bandwagon provided by a protest party.

Yet UKIP gets a voice, but the Greens don’t despite being level pegging with the Liberal Democrats in many opinion polls? Some say giving the Greens a nationally televised platform would invite legal challenges from Scottish and Welsh nationalists, and other minor parties. If so, then so be it – let them prove the credentials as a national party.

That the Greens are a national force is beyond dispute. They might well be a fringe party, but unlike Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Greens are fighting UK-wide not just in pockets of the still United Kingdom. Perhaps we should look to Germany and how its multiparty system has incorporated the Green movement. There are other such examples within the EU.

We should give the Greens a wider platform and leave their electoral performance to the court of public opinion. By that argument, allowing them to participate in a national leaders’ debate would be a good starting point. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Big Ben and the UK parliament, London © Gaurav Sharma

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Oil price dip & those tankers on the horizon

Crude year 2015 has well and truly begun with the oil price slipping several notches further, as tankers begin carrying their January cargo that is worth considerably less than it was 12 months ago.

With the full trading week to Jan 9 seeing an uptick in trading volumes back to normal levels after the festive period, the Oilholic spent a day looking at tankers in English Bay on a beautiful sunny afternoon in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Most of these behemoths (see left, click to enlarge photo) ferry Canadian crude to Asian markets finding their way to the vastness of the ocean from Vancouver's Burrard Inlet. 

As tankers disappeared away from eyesight and yet more dotted the landscape, one's first 5-day assessment of this year saw Brent down 11.44% on the week before, WTI -8.2% and the OPEC Basket a whopping -16%. For now, the Canadian oil and gas industry is holding up pretty well and strategically bracing itself for a further drop in price to as low as US$35 per barrel.

Beyond that, of course all bets are off. Whatever the price, local environmental lobby groups don’t quite like these tankers “blotting the coastline of beautiful British Columbia” to quote one. Data suggests traffic has risen seven-fold since 2001. Of course, the oil being shipped isn’t local as British Columbia doesn’t have too much of its own.

Rather, as many of you would know, all of it is piped in from Alberta by Kinder Morgan to its Westport Terminal on the South East shoreline of Burrard Inlet in Burnaby. The company is the middle of a full on bid to increase pipeline capacity. However, standing on the beach, more than one environmentalist would tell you that a spill was inevitable, especially if you happen to declare you are an energy analyst.

Yet, both major incidents over the last ten years have been on land and weren’t down to the crude behemoths of the sea. In 2007, a construction mishap saw a Kinder Morgan pipeline break in Burnaby spilling oil into the Burrard Inlet while dousing some 50 homes in the neighbourhood with the crude stuff. 

Nearly two years later, a storage tank spilt 200,000 litres of oil on Burnaby Mountain. Thankfully, a containment bay prevented spillage into the wider environment. All this might not help Kinder Morgan's medium term public relations drive, but the volume of traffic and cargoes, even with the existing pipeline capacity, isn’t going to ebb over 2015 unless the global economy sees a severe downtown.

If the Russians, Americans and Saudis are in no mood to lower production, the Canadians aren’t going to either, according to anecdotal evidence. The Oilholic’s thoughts on how an oil price below $60 might well hit exploration and production in Canada (and elsewhere) are here in a Forbes piece one wrote earlier. 

This blogger does see an uptick in price from around the halfway point of 2015, as a supply correction is likely to kick-in. For the moment, barring a financial tsunami knocking non-OECD economic activity, the Oilholic's prediction is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75 for 2015. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range.

Come Christmas, we should be looking at around $80 per Brent barrel. One thing is for sure, the days of a three-figure price aren’t likely to be seen over the next 12 months. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil tankers in English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada © Gaurav Sharma 2015

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Crude year that was & oil price forecasts for 2015

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at what the Oilholic was up to and how the oil and gas sector performed in general. The only place to start would be the oil price where those in the business of charting it had a year of two halves.

First six months of the year saw Brent, considered a global proxy benchmark, comfortably over $100 per barrel only to see a dramatic decline over the second half of the year that accelerated rapidly in the face of a global supply glut.

The US went in general retreat from the global oil markets in meaningful volumes, not needing to import as much given rising domestic shale and tight oil production. Global demand didn’t stack-up like it did in 2013, but producers were unrelenting with output rising from Canada to Russia and OPEC’s production quota staying where it was at 30 million barrels per day (bpd).

In fact, make it 30.7 million bpd if you believe in market consensus. End result was (and still is) a buyers’ market with China leading the way, but not importing as much as it used owing to stunted economic activity. From $115 per barrel in the summer, Brent is barely managing to resist a $60 price floor having already breached it once in December. WTI is also plummeted in tandem and is currently trading below $60.

Both OPEC Ministers’ meets for 2014 couldn’t have been held in more divergent circumstances. In June, the quota was held where it was because most in the cartel were happy with a $100-plus Brent price. In November, the quota stayed where it was because the Saudis refused to budge from their position of not wanting a production cut fearing a loss of market share. While Iran and Venezuela did not share their view, the Saudis prevailed as usual for a cut without their backing would have been meaningless.

Quite frankly, by not calling an extraordinary meeting when oil hit $85, OPEC missed a trick. Nonetheless, given the existing glut one doubts whether an OPEC cut in November would have had any tangible medium term impact anyway. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi probably thought the same. But where does the price go from here? One has to admit that for the first time since this blog appeared on cyberspace in 2009; price averages for both Brent and WTI fell below the Oilholic’s median 2014 forecast.

Being a supply-side analyst one has long bemoaned the high oil price right from the days it became manifestly apparent that the US was no longer importing like it used to. And yet net long bets persisted well into the summer of this year courtesy hedge funds and other speculators, until physical traders of the crude stuff refused to buy in to a false spike injected by Iraqi disturbances.

Instead of contango, backwardation set in and price hasn’t recovered since with good reason. However, it wasn’t until October that the decline really took hold with OPEC’s decision not to cut production really accelerating the drop over the fourth quarter. The Oilholic would say the market is undergoing profound change of the sort that only comes around once in 20 years or so.

Given there so much oil out there and importers aren’t importing as much, risk premium has turned to risk fatigue, while a sellers’ market in the most lukewarm of times has become a buyers’ market in uncertain times. Nonetheless, supply correction is inevitable as unprofitable, especially unconventional exploration, takes a hit and non-OECD demand picks up. The Oilholic is fairly certain that come December 2015, we would once again be around the $80 level for Brent.

For the moment, barring a financial tsunami knocking non-OECD economic activity, the Oilholic's prediction is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75 for 2015. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range. This blogger also does not believe legislative impediments over the US exporting oil are going away anytime soon as the 2016 presidential election draws ever closer.

Moving away from pricing, 2014 also saw the oil and gas world mourn the sad death of Total CEO and Chairman Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash in Moscow. Here is the Oilholic's tribute to one of the industry’s most colourful characters. Wider human tragedies overlapping the crude world including Russia’s bid to influence events in Ukraine and the spectre of ISIS over Iraq loomed large.

The oil price began hurting Russia by the end of the year with the rouble taking a plastering. Meanwhile in Iraq, given that ISIS controlled areas were far removed from the port of Basra and major Iraqi oil production facilities, risk premium from the unfolding events did not have a lasting impact on oil price barring a momentary spike in June.

Nigeria and Libya's troubles continued. In case of the latter, the country now has two oil ministers, two prime ministers but thankfully only one National Oil Company. Yet, geopolitical flare-ups aren't likely to have much of an impact over the first half of 2015 given the amount of oil there is in the market.

Away from it all and on a more personal footing, yours truly started writing for Forbes as well as commentating on Tip TV on a regular basis over 2014, alongside various other ‘crude’ engagements. Going on the road (or air) in pursuit of ‘crude’ intel, saw the Oilholic visit Rotterdam, Istanbul, San Francisco, Zagreb, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The 21st World Petroleum Congress meant a return to the host city of Moscow after a gap of 10 years. Invariably, the Ukrainian stand-off cast a shadow over an event dubbed the Olympics of the oil and gas business.

One also got a chance to interview ex-Enron whistleblower turned academic Dr Vincent Kaminski in Houston and IEA Chief Economist Dr Fatih Birol more closer to home. Among several senior executives one got a chance to interact with were C-suite executives from EDF, Tethys Petroleum, Frontier Resources, Primagaz and Rompetrol to name but a few.

Many fellow analysts, commentators, traders, academics, legal and financial experts shared their insight and valuable time on on-record while others preferred an off-record chat. Both sets have the Oilholic’s heartfelt thanks. Rather unusually, this blogger found political satirist and comedian Jon Stewart’s take on the farce that’s become of the Keystone XL project bang on the money. Finally, the Oilholic also reviewed some ‘crude’ books to help you decide whether they are for you or not.

It's been a jolly crude year and one that wouldn't have been half as spiffing without the support of you all - the dear readers of this blog. Here goes the look back at Crude Year 2014. As the Oilholic Synonymous Report embarks upon its sixth year on the Worldwide Web and the eighth year of its virtual existence – here's wishing you a very Happy New Year! That’s all for 2014 folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Oil pipeline, India © Cairn India

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