Wednesday, January 18, 2012

IEA on demand, Lavrov on Iran plus crude chatter

In its latest monthly report, the IEA confirmed what the Oilholic has been blogging for the past few months on the basis of City feedback – that the likelihood of another global recession will inhibit demand for crude oil this year, a prevalent high oil price might in itself hit demand too and seasonally mild weather already is.

While geopolitical factors such as the Iranian tension and Nigerian strikes have supported bullish trends of late, the IEA notes that Q4 of 2011 saw consumption decline on an annualised basis when compared with the corresponding quarter of 2010. As a consequence, the agency feels inclined to reduce its 2012 demand growth forecast by 220,000 barrels per day (bpd) from its last monthly report to 1.1 million barrels.

"Two inherently destabilising factors are interacting to give an impression of price stability that is more apparent than real. The first is a rising likelihood of sharp economic slowdown, if not outright recession, in 2012. The second factor, which is counteracting bearish pressures, is the physical market tightening evident since mid-2009 and notably since mid-2010," it says in the report.

The IEA also suggests that a one-third downward revision to GDP growth would see this year's oil consumption unchanged at 2011 levels. On the Iranian situation and its threat to disrupt flows in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of global oil output passes, the agency notes, “At least a portion of Iran's 2.5 million bpd crude exports will likely be denied to OECD refiners during second half 2012, although more apocalyptic scenarios for sustained disruption to Strait of Hormuz transits look less likely.”

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has weighed in to the Iran debate with his own “chaos theory”. According to the BBC, the minister has warned that a Western military strike against Iran would be "a catastrophe" which would lead to "large flows" of refugees from Iran and would "fan the flames" of sectarian tension in the Middle East. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak earlier said any decision on an Israeli attack on Iran was "very far off".

Meanwhile, one of those companies facing troubles of its own when it comes to procuring light sweet crude for European refiners is Italy’s Eni which saw its long term corporate credit rating lowered by S&P from 'A' from 'A+'. In addition, S&P removed the ratings from CreditWatch, where they were placed with negative implications on December 8, 2011.

Eni’s outlook is negative according to S&P and the downgrade reflects the ratings agency’s view that the Italian oil major’s business risk profile and domestic assets have been impaired by the material exposure of many of its end markets and business units to the deteriorating Italian operating environment. Eni reported consolidated net debt of €28.3 billion as of September 30, 2011. Previously, Moody’s has also reacted to the Italian economy versus Eni situation over Q4 2011.

Elsewhere conflicting reports have emerged about the Obama administration’s decision to deny a permit to Keystone XL project something which the Oilholic has maintained would be a silly move for US interests as Canadians can and will look elsewhere. Some reports said the President has decided to deny a permit to the project while others said a decision was unlikely before late-February. This article from The Montreal Gazette just about sums up Wednesday's conflicting reports.

When the formal rejection by the US state department finally arrived, the President said he had been given insufficient time to review the plans by his Republican opponents. At the end of 2011, Republicans forced a final decision on the plan within 60 days during a legislative standoff.

The Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, criticised the Obama administration for its failure over a project that would have created "hundreds of thousands of jobs" while the President responded by starting an online petition so that the general population can express its opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

The merits and demerits of the proposal aisde, this whole protracted episode represents the idiocy of American politics. Canadians should now seriously examine alternative export markets; something which they have already hinted at. The Oilholic's timber trade analogy always makes Canadians smile. (Sadly, even Texans agree, though its no laughing matter).

On the crude pricing front, the short term geopolitically influenced bullishness continues to provide resistance to the WTI at the US$100 per barrel level and Brent at US$111. Sucden Financial's Myrto Sokou expects some further consolidation in the oil markets due to the absence of major indicators and mixed signals from the global equity markets, while currency movements might provide some short-term direction. “Investors should remain cautious ahead of any possible news coming out from the Greek debt talks,” Sokou warns.

Finally, global law firm Baker & McKenzie is continuing with its Global Energy Webinar Series 2011-2012 with the latest round – on International Competition Law – to follow on January 25-26 which would be well worth listening in to. Antitrust Rules for Joint Ventures, Strategic Alliances and Other Modes of Cooperation with Competitors would also be under discussion. Thats all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Refinery, Quebec, Canada © Michael Melford / National Geographic.

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