Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Notes on a ‘Crude’ fortnight !

It has been a crude ol’ fortnight and there are loads of things to talk about. But first some “fused” thoughts from the Société Générale press boozer in London yesterday. There was consensus among crude commentators at the French investment bank most of whom asked that with commodities prices having been at or near record levels earlier this year, and subsequently subsiding only modestly, can anyone realistically say scribes or paranoid Western commentators are overstating the significance of China's presence in the global commodities markets? Nope! 

Additionally, should the existing commodities market conditions represent a bubble (of sorts); a deceleration in China could ultimately cause it to burst, they added. Most, but not all, also agreed with the Oilholic that IEA’s move to tap members’ strategic petroleum reserves (SPRs) may push Brent below US$100, but not US$90. At the moment it is doing neither. Finally, it is not yet time to hail shale beyond North America. Population concentration, politics and planning laws in Europe would make Poland a hell of a lot more difficult to tap than some American jurisdictions.

From an informal press party to a plethora of formal events at City law firms; of which there have been quite a few over the Q2 2011. Two of the better ones the Oilholic was invited to last quarter happened to be at Fulbright & Jaworski (May 10) and Clyde & Co (May 19).

The Fulbright event made Iraq and its “re-emergence” as an oil market as its central focus. Partners at the law firm, some of whom were in town from Houston, noted that since 2009 three petroleum licensing rounds have been held in Iraq with deals signed to cover of 51 billion barrels of reserves. There was enthusiastic chatter about the country’s ambitious plans to increase production from approximately 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) to 12 million bpd by 2017. The Oilholic was also duly given a copy of the Legal guide to doing business in Iraq which regrettably he has so far not found the time to read.

Moving on, the Clyde & Co. event focussed on legal implications one year on from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. While much of the discussion was along predictable tangents, David Leckie and Georgina Crowhurst of Clyde & Co. drew an interesting comparison between the Piper Alpha tragedy of 1988 in the North Sea and the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico spill. Agreed that regulatory regimes across the globe are fundamentally different, but observe this – Piper Alpha saw no corporate criminal prosecutions, no individual prosecutions and no top level political criticism. Deepwater Horizon will see FBI criminal and civil investigation, possible individual liability and we all remember President Obama’s “I am furious” remark. Shows how far we have come!

Continuing with Deepwater Horizon fiasco, met Tom Bergin last evening, a former broker turned Reuters oil & gas correspondent and a familiar face in crude circles. His book on BP – the aptly titled Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP – is due to be released on July 7th. Admittedly, books on the subject and on BP are aplenty since the infamous mishap of April 20th, 2010 and business book critics call them a cottage industry. However, the Oilholic is really keen to read Bergin’s work as he believes that akin to Bethany “Is Enron Overpriced?” McLean and Peter Elkind’s book on the Enron scandal which was outstanding (and surrounded by a cacophony of average “accounts”); this title could be the real deal  on BP and the spill.

Bergin knows his game, waited to present his thoughts and research in the fullness of time instead of a hurriedly scrambled “make a quick buck” work, has followed the oil major in question and the wider market for a while and has unique access to those close to the incident. Watch this space for a review!

Now, on to pricing and industry outlooks – nothing has happened since the Oilholic’s last blog on June 23rd that merits a crude change of conjecture. IEA’s move to tap in to members’ SPRs will not push Brent’s forward month futures contract below US$90 over the medium term. Feel free to send hate mail if it does! Analysts at ratings agency Moody's believe that (i) ongoing unrest in parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA); (ii) protracted supply disruptions in Libya; and (iii) lingering questions about OPEC supply are likely to keep crude at premium prices over the next 12-18 months.

In the past week, the press has received some ballpark figures from the agency. The release of 60 million barrels will take place in this month – but this will not be a straight cut case of two million bpd; the actual release will be much slower. The breakdown, as per IEA communiqués, will be -

  • USA: 30 million barrels (or 50% of the quota comprising largely of light sweet with delivery of their lot to be complete by the end of August), 
  • Europe: 18 million barrels (30%)
  • Asia: 12 million barrels (20%)
Finally, the British Bankers Association (BBA) conference last week also touched on crude matters. Gerard Lyons, Chief Economist & Group head of Global Research at Standard Chartered opined that Western economies are two years into a recovery and that growth prospects are far better in the East than in the West. Hence, he also expects energy prices to firm up next year.

Douglas Flint, Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings noted that China is now a major destination for Middle Eastern exports (to be read oil and gas, as there is little else). So we’re back where we started this post – in the East that is!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Pipeline in Alaska © Michael S. Quinton, National Geographic

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