Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crude mood swings, contagion & plenty of chatter

There is a lot going on at the moment for commentators to easily and conveniently adopt a bearish short term stance on the price of crude. Take the dismal US jobs data, Greek crisis, Irish ratings downgrade and fears of contagion to begin with. Combine this with a relatively stronger dollar, end of QE2 liquidity injections, the finances of Chinese local authorities and then some 50-odd Chinese corporates being questioned and finally the US political standoff with all eyes on the Aug 2 deal deadline or the unthinkable.

Additionally, everyone is second guessing what crude price the Saudis would be comfortable with and MENA supply fears are easing. Quite frankly, all of these factors may collectively do more for the cause of those wishing for bearish trends than the IEA’s announcement last month – no not the one about the Golden Age of gas, but the one about it being imperative to raid strategic petroleum reserves in order to ‘curb’ rising prices! The Oilholic remains bullish and is even more convinced that IEA’s move was unwarranted and so are his friends at JP Morgan.

In an investment note, they opined that the effectiveness of IEA’s coordinated release is a matter of some debate and crude prices have rebounded quickly. “But while the US especially has demonstrated a willingness to use oil reserves as a stimulus tool in what has become a rather limited toolbox, a second release will require higher prices and a far more arduous task to achieve unity,” they concluded.

Now, going beyond the short to medium term conjecture, the era of cheap oil, or shall we say cheap energy is fading and fast. An interesting report titled – A new world order: When demand overtakes supply – recently published by Société Générale analysts Véronique Riches-Flores and Loïc de Galzain confirms a chain of thought which is in the mind of many but few seldom talk of. Both analysts in question feel that the last long cycle, which extended from the middle of the 1980s to the middle of the 2000s, was shaped by an environment that strongly favoured the development of supply; the next era will in all likelihood be dictated by demand issues.

Furthermore, they note and the Oilholic quotes: “According to our estimates, energy demand will at least double if not triple over the next two decades. This is significantly more than the IEA is currently projecting, with the difference being mainly attributable to our projections for emerging world energy consumption per capita, which we estimate will considerably rise as these countries develop. Applied to the oil market, these projections mean that today’s proven oil reserves, which are currently expected to meet 45 years of global demand based on the present rate of production, would be exhausted within 15-22 years.”

IEA itself estimates that demand will grow by an average of 1.47 million barrels a day (bpd) in 2012, up from the current 2011 average of 1.2 million bpd. Moving away from crystal ball gazing, Bloomberg’s latest figures confirm that record outflows from commodity ETPs (ETF, ETC and ETN) observed in May slowed abruptly. According to SG Cross Asset Research apart from net inflows into precious metals – the biggest sub-segment measured by assets under management – other categories such as Energy and base metals saw limited net outflows (see table on the left, click to enlarge).

Meanwhile, the London Stock Exchange (LSE) was busy welcoming another new issuer of ETFs – Ossiam – on to its UK markets on Monday. It is already the largest ETF venue in Europe by number of issuers; 20 to be exact. According to a spokesperson there are 481 ETFs listed on the LSE. In H1 2010 there were 369,600 ETF trades worth a combined £19 billion on the Exchange's order book, a 40.3% and 33.5% increase respectively on the same period last year.

Switching to corporates and continuing with the LSE, today Ophir Energy plc was admitted to the Main Market. The company listed on the Premium segment of the Main Market and raised US$375 million at admission and has a market capitalisation of US$1.28 billion.

Ophir is an independent firm with assets in a number of African countries particularly Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea. Since its foundation in 2004, the company has acquired an extensive portfolio of exploration interests consisting of 17 projects in nine jurisdictions in Africa.

The company is one of the top five holders of deepwater exploration acreage in Africa in terms of net area and could be one to watch. So far it has made five discoveries of natural gas off Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea and has recently started drilling in the offshore Kora Prospect in the Senegal Guinea Bissau Common Zone. For the LSE itself, Ophir brings the number of companies with major operations in sub-Saharan Africa listed on its books to 79.

Across the pond, Vanguard Natural Resources (VNR) announced on Monday that it will buy the rest of Encore Energy Partners LP it does not already own for US$545 million, gaining full access to the latter’s oil-heavy reserves. While its shares fell 8% on the news, the Oilholic believes it is a positive statement of intent by VNR in line with moves made by other E&P companies to secure reserves with an eye on bullish demand forecasts over the medium term.

Meanwhile, a horror story with wider implications is unfolding in the US, as ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline leaked oil into the Montana stretch of the Yellowstone River on July 1. The company estimates that almost 42,000 gallons may have leaked and invariably questions were again asked by environmentalists about the wisdom of giving the Keystone XL project the go-ahead. This is not what the US needed when President Obama was making all the right noises – crudely speaking that is.

In March, he expressed a desire to include Canadian and Mexican oil in the US energy mix, in May he said new leases would be sold each year in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, and oil and gas fields in the Atlantic Ocean would be evaluated as a high priority. To cap it all, last month, the President reaffirmed that despite the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, drilling there remained a core part of the country's future energy supply and new incentives would be offered for on and offshore development. Leases already held but affected by the President's drilling moratorium, imposed in wake of the BP spill, would be eligible for extensions, he added. The ExxonMobil leak may not impact the wider picture but will certainly darken the mood on Capitol Hill.

Russians and Norwegians have no hang-ups about crude prospection in inhospitable climates – i.e. the Arctic. Details are now emerging about an agreement signed by the two countries in June which came into effect on July 7. Under the terms, both countries’ state oil firms – i.e. Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil – will divide up their shares of the Barents Sea. USGS estimates from 2008 suggest the Arctic was likely to hold 30% of the world's undiscovered gas and 13% of its oil.

Finally, Sugar Land, Texas-based Industrial Info Resources (IIR) came-up with some interesting findings on the Canadian oil sands. In a report last week, the research firm noted that Canada's Top 10 metals and minerals industry projects are large scale oil sands and metal mining endeavours, with the No. 1 being in Alberta's oil sands.

IIR observed that what was once considered a “large project” was now being dwarfed by “megaprojects”. Not long ago a project valued at CAD$1 billion was considered a mega project; now the norm is more in the region of CAD$5 billion (and above) for a project to earn that accolade. Not to mention the fact that the Canadian dollar has been stronger in relative terms in recent years and not necessarily suffering from a mild case of the Dutch disease like its Australian counterpart. IIR’s findings take the Oilholic nicely back to his visit to Calgary in March, a report he authored for Infrastructure Journal and a conversation he had with veteran legal expert Scott Rusty Miller based in Canada's oil capital. We concurred that while the oil sands developments face myriad challenges they are certainly on the way up. The Canadians are developers with scruples and permit healthy levels of outside scrutiny more than many (or perhaps any) other jurisdictions.

IIR recorded US$176 billion worth of oil sands projects and all of the projected investment capital, except for one project in Utah, is in Alberta. It is becoming more likely than ever that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s dream of Canada becoming an energy super power will be realised sooner rather than later.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo 1: Pump Jacks Perryton, Texas © Joel Sartore, National Geographic. Photo 2: Shell Athabasca Oil Sands site work © Royal Dutch Shell. Table: Global Commodity ETPs: Inflows analysis by category © Société Générale July 2011.

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