Sunday, May 15, 2011

Valero, BP, Crude price & the week that was!

The seven days that have passed have been ‘crudely’ interesting to say the least. First off, early May saw one of the biggest market sell-offs in recent memory as commodities of all descriptions did a mini battle with price volatility. Brent crude for its part fell nearly 6% before recovering and stabilising above US$110 per barrel.

Macroeconomic factors aside many in the City believe the ongoing conflict in Libya no longer appears to be a key driver of oil prices as the loss of Libyan oil exports were fully discounted by the market some time ago. The profit takers agree! Société Générale CIB analysts noted in a report to clients that they estimate:

“the fair value for the Brent price would be about US$100 if no MENA risk premium were included. It is difficult to see the MENA risk premium rising much further near-term unless significant unrest emerges in countries with substantial oil exports such as Algeria and Saudi Arabia.”

That is not happening and Syria is of peripheral importance from near term instability premium perspective. Société Générale CIB analysts further note that the Brent crude oil price may correct lower over coming weeks as speculative traders may be tempted to take some profit on long positions as:
  • recent significant events in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) have been limited to countries with little oil exports

  • tentative signs of demand destruction in the US, and

  • growing concerns of a bumpy or hard landing in China.
Moving away from the crude price, heads of the big five oil firms Shell, Exxon, Conoco, BP America and Chevron and some Democrats on the Senate finance committee squared up to each other on May 6th over the age-old issue of tax subsidies for oil companies. The latter want the tax subsidies removed, but big oil contests that they are benefitting from the subsidies like any other US business does and furthermore they are heavily taxed already.

That same day BP’s shares rallied in the UK following news that an arbitral panel has issued a consent order permitting BP and the AAR consortium to assign an Arctic opportunity to TNK-BP, subject to consent from Russian state-controlled firm Rosneft. The long drawn out saga may finally be reaching a favourable conclusion for BP.

Also last week ratings agency Moody’s changed US refiner Valero Energy's rating outlook to stable from negative and at the same time affirmed Valero's existing Baa2 senior unsecured note ratings. It said the stabilisation in the rating outlook reflects the expectation that Valero's cash flow will remain strong over the short term due to rising industrial activity pushing modest growth in demand for distillates and the expectation of supportive light/heavy spreads.

The stable outlook also reflects the assumption that Valero will maintain investment grade leverage metrics over the next 12-18 months as it continues to pursue organic growth and acquisition opportunities.

Additionally Moody's expects Valero's earnings to remain highly cyclical, and noted that the 2010 sale of the company's secularly weaker US East Coast refining assets, willingness and financial capacity to idle underperforming assets, as well as its recent cost reduction efforts should enhance the company's ability to withstand the inherent cyclicality of the sector. Moody's also expects that Valero will remain acquisitive. In March of this year, Valero announced the purchase of Chevron's Pembroke refinery in the UK for US $1.7 billion.

Rounding off - the Oilholic turned 33 years young today, last seven of which have been a ‘crude’ affair ;-) Thanks for all the birthday messages!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Alaska Pipeline with Brooks Range in background © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

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