Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Penglai 19-3, Syrian oil & the latest price forecast

Starting with the latter point first, Société Générale’s latest commodities review for Q4 2011 throws up some crude points for discussion. In the review, the French investment bank’s analysts hold a largely bearish stance over the price of crude for the remainder of 2011; even for the forecasts where the possibility of a recession has not been factored in.

Société Générale’s global head of oil research Mike Wittner notes that oil markets have not yet priced in a weaker economic and oil demand growth environment. “As such, our view is that crude oil prices are due for a significant decline, which will ratchet the oil complex down into a lower trading range that will last through 2012,” he adds.

He notes that the crude price drop “should” begin within the next 30-45 days, for a variety of reasons. “Current bullish supply disruptions in Nigeria and the UK are temporary, and peak Atlantic hurricane season typically ends in mid-October. As these bullish factors fade, a bearish driver will begin to emerge,” Wittner adds.

As the Oilholic noted last week, this driver is the new Libyan government’s move toward a modest resumption of crude production by end-September. Couple this with weak economic data and Société Générale is not alone in bearish price forecasts. It projects ICE Brent crude to average US$98 in both Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 (each revised downward by US$15). Brent forecast for 2012 is US$100 (also down US$15).

Concurrently, NYMEX WTI crude is expected to average US$73 in both Q4 2011 and Q1 2012 (down US$28). Société Générale’s WTI projection for 2012 is US$80 (down US$23). The reason for the larger revisions to WTI is that the bank expects current price disconnect with waterborne crudes, such as LLS and Brent, to continue.

As widely expected, and in line with weaker economic growth, Société Générale also lowered its forecasts for global oil demand growth to 1.0 million barrels per day (bpd) in both 2011 and 2012 (revised downward by 0.4 million bpd and 0.5 million bpd, respectively). Additionally, it is now looking increasingly like that growth in non-OPEC supply and OPEC NGLs will be enough to meet demand, so OPEC will not need to increase crude output above the current 30.0 million bpd at its next meeting in December.

Moving away from pricing, the row over whether or not banning or restricting the import of Syrian crude oil is an effective enough tool to force President Bashar al-Assad to give up violent ways continues. While clamour had been growing for the past four weeks, it gained momentum when the EU has stepped up sanctions on Syria by banning imports of its oil, as protests against the rule of President Assad were brutally crushed last week. On the other side of the argument, Russia condemned the EU’s move as ‘ineffective.’

Quite frankly, in a crude hungry world, there is nothing to stop the Syrians from seeking alternative markets. Nonetheless, the Oilholic feels it is prudent to point out that EU member nations are buyers of 95% of Syrian crude. So a sudden ban could be a blow to Assad, albeit a temporary one. From a risk premium standpoint, Syrian contribution to global markets is not meaningful enough to impact crude prices.

Elsewhere, the State Oceanic Administration of China ordered ConocoPhillips China Inc (COPC) to stop all operations at the Penglai 19-3 oil field in the Bohai Bay off North-eastern China last week because of its dissatisfaction with COPC's progress in cleaning up an oil spill.

The field is operated under a Production Sharing Contract wherein COPC is the operator and responsible for the management of daily operations while CNOOC holds 51% of the participating interest for the development and production phase. However, ratings agency Moody’s thinks suspension of Penglai 19-3 work has no ratings impact on CNOOC itself.

"CNOOC expects the suspension of all operations at Penglai 19-3 will reduce the company's net production volume by 62,000 barrels per day, or approximately 6.7% of its average daily production in H1 2011. Although the reduction is sizable, the impact is mitigated by the higher-than-expected oil prices realised by CNOOC year-to-date, and which provide it with strong operational cash flow and a strong liquidity buffer," says Kai Hu, a Moody's Vice President and Lead Analyst for CNOOC.

Even after the volume reduction and a moderate retreat of crude oil prices to around US$90 is factored in, Moody’s estimates that CNOOC will still generate positive free cash flow in 2011 and 2012, on the assumption that there is no material change in its announced capex and investment plan, and that it will maintain prudent discipline in reserve acquisitions and development.

"CNOOC has maintained a solid liquidity profile, which is supported by a total of Rmb 88.37 billion in cash and short-term investments as of June 30, 2010, and compared with Rmb 40.66 billion in total reported debt (including Rmb 21.99 billion in short-term debt)," Hu concludes.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Alaska Pipeline, Brooks Range, USA © Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic

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