Friday, September 24, 2010

Crude Sort of a Month (So far)

We are nearing the end of September and crude oil just cannot shake off the linkage with perceived (rather than prevalent) risks to the health of the global economy. In fact, for lack of a better phrase - the “on” or “off” risk has been causing price fluctuation for some eight weeks now.

My contacts in the City also voice concerns about the next round of G20 opting for further regulation on commodities trading. Although it is the kind of rhetoric they have indeed heard time and again over the decades; it irks their collective psyche.

Overall, most expect crude oil prices to remain in the range of $73 to $85 until at least Q1 2011. Analysts at Société Générale CIB actually have a much wider ranged forecast to the tune of US$70 to US$85. In the oil business its best to avoid generalisations especially when it comes to forecasts, but a return to a US$100 plus price is not forecast by much of the wider market before Q1 2012 at the earliest.

Furthermore, crude stocks haven’t altered all that much. Société Générale CIB’s Global Head of Oil Research Mike Wittner notes in a recent investment note that:

“Despite 12 months of global economic recovery, stocks are little changed from a year ago, and are still at the top of their five-year range. OECD combined crude and product inventories remain stubbornly high at over 61 days forward cover. In other words, the increase in crude and product consumption over recent quarters has been matched by an increase in supply of about the same magnitude.”

In fact the big story, which Wittner also alludes to in his note, is the surprisingly large increase in supply from non-OPEC exporters while the cartel’s output itself has been stable. Looking ahead to the OPEC summit on Oct 14, which I will be attending in Vienna, the cartel is widely tipped to hold production levels steady at 29.0 million barrels per day.

Elsewhere in this crude world, Moody’s outlined potential Deepwater Horizon disaster liabilities for Transocean in an interesting report published on Monday. The report notes that Transocean’s credit risk has increased due to the disaster, although it is hard to quantify by how much.

While much depends on unknown variables, Transocean's stake is likely to be limited to 10% of the total liabilities, which could reach as much as US$60 billion, Moody's said. The recent downgrade of Transocean's long-term credit rating to Baa3 from Baa2 reflects that.

Kenneth Austin, Vice President & Senior Credit Officer at Moody's, feels that Transocean has sufficient cash, free cash flow and credit arrangements to address a US$6 billion responsibility without losing its investment-grade rating. “But any damages beyond that could force the company to consider ways to raise additional capital," he added.

For now, Transocean's indemnification agreement with BP - the largest partner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig and Macondo well - leaves BP responsible for the damages, unless the oil giant challenges the agreement in court, the report said.

Finally, the wider market has got word on what is being touted as the mother of all energy stock floatation’s and the largest share issue in corporate history – i.e. Petrobras’ attempt to raise something in the region of US$64.5 to US$74.7 billion. News emerged on Thursday that the final valuation was US$70 billion.

Following my earlier query, a company spokeswoman told me that Petrobras issued 2.4 billion common shares priced at BRL 29.65 (US$17.12) each and 1.87 billion preferred shares at BRL26.30 (US$15.25) each. The capital from the much delayed IPO will finance development of offshore drilling in the country’s territorial waters. The Brazilian government also gets its fair “share” in return for giving Petrobras access to up to 5 billion barrels of oil.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: Oil Drill Pump, North Dakota, USA © Phil Schermeister / National Geographic Society

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