Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Grappling with volatility in a barmy crude market

The oil market is not making a whole lot of sense at present to a whole lot of people; the Oilholic is admittedly one of them. However, wherever you apportion the blame for the current market volatility, do not take the convenient route of laying it all at China’s doorstep. That would be oversimplification!

It is safe to say this blogger hasn’t seen anything quite as barmy over the last decade, not even during the post Lehman Brothers kerfuffle as a US financial crisis morphed into a global one. That was in the main a crisis of demand, what’s afoot is one triggered first and foremost by oversupply. 

As one noted in a recent Forbes column, the oversupply situation – not just for oil but a whole host of commodities – merits a deeper examination. The week before we saw oil benchmarks plummet after the so-called ‘Black Monday’ (August 24) only for it recover by Friday and end higher on a week-over-week basis compared to the previous week’s close (see graph above, click to enlarge)

This was followed on Monday, August 31 by some hefty gains of over 8% for both Brent and WTI. Yet at the time of writing this blog post some 48 hours later, Brent had shed over 10% and the WTI over 7% on Tuesday but again gained 1.72% and 1.39% respectively on Wednesday.

The reasons for driving prices down were about as fickle as they were for driving them up and subsequently pulling them down again, and so it goes. When the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Monday that the country’s oil production peaked at just above 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, before falling by more than 300,000 bpd over the following two months; those in favour of short-calling saw a window to really go for it.

They also drew in some vague OPEC comment (about wanting to support the price in tandem with other producers), knowing full well that the phoney rally would correct. The very next day, as the official purchasing managers’ index for Chinese manufacturing activity fell to 49.7 in August, from the previous month’s reading of 50, some serious profit-taking began.

As a figure below 50 signals a contraction, while a level above that indicates expansion, traders found the perfect pretext to drive the price lower. Calling the price higher based on back-dated US data on lower production in a heavily oversupplied market is about as valid as driving the price lower based on China’s manufacturing PMI data indicative of a minor contraction in activity. The Oilholic reckons it wasn’t about either but nervous markets and naked opportunism; bywords of an oversupplied market.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this blogger again points out – oversupply to the tune of 1.1-1.3 million bpd has not altered. China’s import level has largely averaged 7 million bpd for much of the year so far, except May. 

Yours truly is still sticking to the line of an end of year Brent price of $60 per barrel with a gradual supply correction on the cards over the remaining months of 2015 with an upside risk. Chances of Iran imminently flooding the market are about as likely as US shale oil witnessing a dramatic decline to an extent some in OPEC continue to dream off.

But to get an outside perspective, analysts at HSBC also agree it may take some time for the market to rebalance fully. “The current price levels look completely unsustainable to us and a combination of OPEC economics and marginal costs of production point to longer-term prices being significantly higher,” they wrote in a note to clients.

The bank is now assuming a Brent average of $55.4 per barrel in 2015, rising to $60 in 2016 and $70-80 for 2017/18. Barclays and Deutsche Bank analysts also have broadly similar forecasts, as does Moody’s for its ratings purposes.

The ratings agency sees a target price of $75 achieved by the turn of the decade, but for yours truly that moment is bound to arrive sooner. In the meantime, make daily calls based on the newsflow in this barmy market. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Graph: Oil benchmark Friday closes, Jan 2 to Aug 28, 2015 © Gaurav Sharma, August 2015.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Resisting $40/bbl, Russia & some ‘crude’ ratings

Following two successive week-on-week declines of 6% or over, last Friday’s close brought some respite for Brent oil futures, although the WTI front month contract continued to extend losses. In fact, the US benchmark has been ending each Friday since June 12 at a lower level compared to the week before (see graph, click to enlarge).
 
Will a $40-floor breach happen? Yes. Will oil stay there? No. That’s because market fundamentals haven’t materially altered. Oversupply and lacklustre demand levels are broadly where they were in June. We still have around 1.1 to 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of extra oil in the market; a range that’s held for much of 2015. Influences such as Iran’s possible addition to the global crude oil supply pool and China not buying as much have been known for some time.

The latest market commotion is sentiment driven, and it’s why the Oilholic noted in a recent Forbes column that 2016-17 futures appear to be undervalued. People seem to be making calls on where we might be tomorrow based on the kerfuffle we are seeing today!

Each set of dire data from China, inventory report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), or a gentle nudge from some country or the other welcoming Iran back to the market (as Switzerland did last week) has a reactive tug at benchmarks. The Oilholic still believes Brent will gradually creep up to $60-plus come the end of the year, with supply corrections coming in to the equation over the remainder of this year.

Away from pricing, there is one piece of very interesting backdated data. According to the EIA, Russia’s oil and gas sector weathered both the sanctions as well as the crude price decline rather well.

For 2014, Russia was the world's largest producer of crude oil, including lease condensate, and the second-largest producer of dry natural gas after the US. Russia exported more than 4.7 million bpd of crude oil and lease condensate in 2014, the EIA concluded based on customs data. Most of the exports, or 98% if you prefer percentages, went to Asian and European importers.

Where Russian production level would be at the end of 2015 remains the biggest market riddle. Anecdotal and empirical evidence points to conducive internal taxation keeping the industry going. However, as takings from oil and gas production and exports, account for more than half of Russia's federal budget revenue – it is costing the Kremlin.

Finally, two ratings notes from Fitch over the past fortnight are worth mentioning. The agency has revised its outlook on BP's long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘Positive’ from ‘Negative’ and affirmed the IDR at 'A'.

The outlook revision follows BP's announcement that it has reached an agreement in principle to settle federal, state and local Deepwater Horizon claims for $18.7bn, payable over 18 years. “We believe the deal has significantly reduced the uncertainty around BP's overall payments arising from the accident and hence has considerably strengthened the company's credit profile,” Fitch said.

The agency added there was a real possibility for an upgrade to 'A+' in the next 12 to 18 months, depending on how things pan out and BP's upstream business profile does not show any significant signs of weakening, such as falling reserves or production.

Elsewhere, and unsurprisingly, Fitch downgraded the beleaguered Afren to ‘D’ following the management's announcement on July 31 that it had taken steps to put the company into administration. The company's senior secured rating has been affirmed at 'C', and the Recovery Rating (RR) revised to 'RR5' from 'RR6'.

As discussions with creditors aimed at recapitalising the company failed, the appointment of administrators was made with the consent of the company's secured creditors who saw it as an “important step in preserving value of Afren's subsidiaries”. It is probably the only “value” left after a sorry tale of largely self-inflicted woes. That’s all for the moment folks, keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Graph: Oil benchmark Friday closes, Jan 2 to Aug 14, 2015 © Gaurav Sharma, August 2015.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Jargon free volume on upstream fiscal design

Takings from upstream oil and gas projects, whether they are small scale or big ticket ones, ultimately determine their profitability – the stuff that shareholders, venture sponsors and governments alike have a keen interest in.

It is why oil and gas companies, both state or privately held, deploy an army of petroleum economists to offer conjecture or calculated projections on what the final fiscal share of such ventures might be.

In this complex arena, both budding petroleum economists and established ones could do with all the help they can get. Industry veterans Ken Kasriel and David Wood’s book Upstream Petroleum: Fiscal and Valuation Modeling in Excel (published by Wiley Finance) goes a long way towards doing just that, and quite comprehensively too.

In a volume of 370 pages, with eight detailed chapters split into sequential sub-sections, the authors offer one of the most detailed subjective discussions and guidance on fiscal modeling that is available on the wider market at the moment in the Oilholic's opinion.

The treatment of fiscal systems, understanding and ultimately tackling the complexities involved is solid, predicated on their own views and experience of understanding the tangible value of upstream projects before, during and when they ultimately come onstream, and what the takings would be.

Kasriel and Wood have also included five appendices and a CD-ROM (in the hardcover version) to take the educational experience further, and accompanying the main text of the title are over 400 pages of supplementary PDF files and some 120-plus Excel files, with an introduction to risk modeling.

What is particularly impressive is the authors’ painstaking effort in cutting through industry jargon, putting across their pointers in plain English for both entry-level professionals and experienced practitioners. Furthermore, the sequential format of the book makes it real easy for the latter lot to jump in to a section for quick reference or for a subject specific refresher. 

Generic treatment of taxation, royalties, bonuses, depreciation, profit sharing mechanics, incentives, ringfencing, and much more, including decommissioning finance, are all there and should withstand the passage of time as both authors have called their combined 48 years of experience in the industry into play, to conjure up a reasonably timeless discussion on various issues. 

Above everything else, Kasriel and Wood’s conversational style makes this book a very purposeful, handy guide on a subject that is vast. The Oilholic is happy to recommend it to fellow analysts, (aspiring, new and established) petroleum economists, policymakers, industry professionals, corporate sponsors and oil and gas project finance executives.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. © Photo: Front Cover – Upstream Petroleum: Fiscal and Valuation Modeling in  Excel © Wiley Publishers, March, 2015.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Importance of Khazzan-Makarem gas field for BP

When the Oilholic paid a visit to Oman couple of years ago, natural gas was not atop the list of ‘crude’ industry intelligence gathering activities, one must admit. The Sultanate perhaps has the richest quality of all Middle Eastern crude oil varieties but there’s not a lot of it around, nor is Oman's reserves position anywhere near as strong as that of its neighbours.

Nonetheless, oil matters took up much of this blogger’s time and effort, including an excursion to the Musandam Peninsula, where Oman is in the process of having a decent crack at its first offshore exploration. The crucial subject of Omani natural gas largely slipped under the radar there and then, and largely up until now. 

That’s until this blogger recently met David Eyton, Group Head of Technology at BP, for a fascinating Forbes interview (click here) on how the oil major is using digital tools such as 4D seismic to reshape the way it operates both upstream and downstream, and the subject of Oman came up.

The country's Khazzan-Makarem gas field is in fact among the many places benefiting from BP’s research and development spend of around two-thirds of a billion dollars per annum towards digital enablement of surveying, and more. What’s at stake for BP, and for Oman, is Khazzan’s proven reserve base of 100 trillion cubic feet. Unlike Shell, its FTSE 100 peer, BP isn’t digging for oil in the Sultanate, making the gas field – which it discovered in 2000 – a signature play.

At its core is Block 61, operated by BP Oman and Oman Oil Company Exploration and Production in a 60:40 joint venture partnership. Eyton says some of BP’s patented digital tools, including 4D seismic, are being deployed to full strength with a drilling schedule of approximately 300 wells over a 15 year period to achieve a plateau production rate of 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

“Khazzan has massive potential. It’s not shale in the strictest sense, but pretty tight gas and mighty difficult to crack owing to the low porosity of the reservoir rock,” Eyton said.

Invariably, BP has brought the full works into play to realise Block 61’s potential, drilling horizontal wells and using hydraulic fracturing technologies. "Advanced seismic imaging has played a huge part in understanding where the best bits of the reservoir are, and how to unlock them. Ultimately, that’s enabling development to proceed at a far better pace."

Construction work on Khazzan has commenced and first gas is expected in late 2017. Implications of Block 61 yielding meaningful volumes, as expected, cannot be understated. For Oman, the projected 1.2 bcf in daily production volume would be equivalent to an increment of over 30% of its total daily gas supply.

Concurrently, BP would look back in satisfaction at a Middle Eastern foray on business terms few oil and gas markets, bar Oman, would offer in an age of resource nationalism. As for the technology being deployed, it is already a winner, according to Eyton. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: David Eyton, Group Head of Technology at BP © Graham Trott / BP

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Crude take: $60 Brent price is (still) about right

Does the Iranian nuclear settlement make a $60 per barrel Brent price seem too optimistic as a median level for the current year - that's the question on most oil market observers' minds. Even before delving into City chatter, the Oilholic believes the answer to that question in a word is ‘no’.

For starters, the settlement which had been on the cards, has already been priced in to a certain extent despite an element of unpredictability. Secondly, as yours truly noted in a Forbes column - it will take better parts of 12 months for Iran to add anywhere near 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), and some 18 months to ramp up production to 500,000 bpd.

Following news of the agreement, Fitch Ratings noted that details of the condition of Iran's production infrastructure might well be sketchy, but with limited levels of investment, it is likely that only a portion of previous capacity can be brought back onstream without further material reinvestment. 

“We would expect to see some increases in production throughout the course of 2016 but that this would be much less than half of the full 1.4 million bpd that was lost,” said Alex Griffiths, Managing Director at the ratings agency.

“It will require significant investment and expertise - for which Iran is likely to want to partner with international oil companies. These projects typically take many months to agree, as oil companies and governments manoeuvre for the best terms, and often years to implement.”

Thirdly, it is also questionable whether Tehran actually wants to take the self-defeating step of ‘flooding’ the market even if it could. The 40 million or so barrels said to be held in storage by the country are likely to be released gradually to get the maximum value for Tehran’s holdings. Fourthly, the market is betting on an uptick in demand from Asia despite China's recent woes. The potential uptick wont send oil producers' pulses racing but would provide some pricing comfort to the upside.

Finally, IEA and others, while not forecasting a massive decline, are factoring in lower non-OPEC oil production over the fourth quarter of this year. Collectively, all of this is likely to provide support to the upside. The Oilholic’s forward projection is that Brent could flirt with $70 on the right side of Christmas, but the median for 2015 is now likely to come in somewhere between $60-$62.5

Yet many don’t agree, despite the oil price returning to largely where it was actually within the same session's trading itself on day of the Iran announcement. For instance, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch still feel Iran could potentially raise production back up by 700,000 bpd over the next 12 months, adding downside pressure on forward oil prices of $5-$10 per barrel. 

On the other hand, analysts at Barclays don't quite view it that way and the Oilholic concurs. Like Fitch, the bank’s team neither see a huge short-term uptick in production volumes nor the oil price moving “markedly lower” from here as a result of the Iranian agreement.

“We believe that the market will begin to adjust, whether through higher demand, or lower non-OPEC supply in the next couple years but only once Iran’s contribution and timing are made clear. For now, OPEC is already producing well above the demand for its crude, and this makes it worse,” Barclays analysts wrote to their clients. 

“We do not expect the Saudis to do anything markedly different. Rather, they will take a wait and see approach.”

One thing is for sure, lower oil prices early on in the third quarter would have as detrimental an effect on the quarterly median, as early January prices did on the first quarter median (see above right, click to enlarge). End result is quite likely to ensure the year-end average would be in the lower $60s. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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