Friday, July 13, 2012

Brent & the ‘crude’ fortnight to Friday the 13th!

Despite crude economic headwinds, the Brent forward month futures price spiked back well above US$100 per barrel on July 3. No one was convinced it’d stay there and so it proved to be barely a week later. Since then it has lurked around the US$100 mark. Our crude friends in the trading community always like to flag up supply shocks – some real some and some perceived along with some profit taking thrown in the mix.

The Norwegian oil industry strike which began on June 24 was a very real threat to supply. When oil industry workers down tools in a country which is the world’s fifth largest exporter of the crude stuff, then alarm bells ought to ring and so they did. Being a waterborne crude benchmark, Brent was always likely to be susceptible to one of its main production sources. The Louisiana Light’s fluctuation over the hurricane season stateside would be a fair analogy for the way Brent responded to the news of the strike.

Quite frankly, forget the benchmark; the strike saw Norwegian oil production dip by 13% and its gas output by 4% over the 16 days that it lasted. So when a Reuters report came in that Norway's government had used emergency powers to step in and force offshore oil and gas workers back to work, more than the bulls eased off.

The dispute, which is by no means over, concerns offshore workers' demand for the right to retire early, at 62, with a full pension. The row revolves around the elimination of a pension add-on introduced in 1998 for workers who retire (at 62), five years ahead of Norway's official retirement age and three years ahead of the general age for oil workers.

Accompanying a very real supply shock in the shape of the Norwegian strike were empty threats from Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz in wake of the EU sanctions squeeze. Traders put two and two together and perhaps came-up with 22 out of a sense of mischief.

First of all, the Iranians would be mighty silly if they decided to close the Strait of Hormuz with the US Fifth fleet lurking around. It just would not work and Iran would hurt itself more for the sake of what would at best be a temporary disruption. Secondly, City estimates, for instance the latest one being put out by Capital Economics, suggest that the US and EU sanctions could ultimately reduce oil exports from Iran by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd).

While it is serious stuff for Iran, the figure is less than 2% of global supply. As such hardly anyone in the City expects the implementation of sanctions on Iran to be a game-changer from a pricing standpoint.

“We maintain our view that the imminent tightening of Western sanctions on Iran is unlikely to have anywhere near as large an impact on global oil prices as many had feared. Demand is weakening and other suppliers are both able and willing to meet any shortfall. Admittedly, much could still depend on how the Iranian regime chooses to respond,” said Julian Jessop of Capital Economics.

Causative effect of such a market sentiment predictably sees Brent back in US$90s to lower US$100 range. In fact Capital Economics, Société Générale, Moody’s and many other forecasters have a US$70-100 per barrel forecast for Brent for the remainder of the year.

A spokesperson for Moody’s told the Oilholic that the agency has lowered its crude price assumptions to US$100/barrel for Brent and US$90/barrel for WTI in 2012, with an additional expected decline to US$95/barrel for Brent and US$85/barrel for WTI in 2013.

Moody's also expects that the spread between benchmark Brent and WTI crude will narrow to about US$5 in 2014. In a report, the agency adds that a drop in oil prices and jitters over economic conditions in Europe, the US and China suggest the global exploration and production sector (E&P) will see its earnings grow more slowly over the next 12 to 18 months.

As such, Moody's expects E&P industry EBITDA to grow in the mid-to-high single digits year on year through mid-2013. Expectations for EBITDA growth in the sector above 10% would suggest a positive outlook, while a retreat of 10% or more would point to a negative outlook. Moody's changed its outlook for the E&P industry to stable from positive on June 27, 2012.

The agency also expects little change in US natural gas prices before the end of 2013 with a normal winter offering the best near-term support for natural gas prices as increased utility and industrial demand will ramp up slowly.

On the corporate front, in an interesting fortnight Origin Energy announced that the Australia Pacific LNG project (APLNG) – in which its stake is at 37.5% after completion of Sinopec's additional equity subscription – has received board approval for Final Investment Decision (FID) for the development of a second LNG train.

The expanded two-train project is expected to cost US$20 billion for a coal seam gas (CSG) to liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Queensland, Australia. Elsewhere, India’s Essar Energy subsidiary Essar E&P Ltd is to sell a 50% stake in Vietnam's offshore gas exploration block 114 to Italy’s ENI.

Under the terms of the transaction, which is still subject to approval from the Vietnamese government, ENI is also assuming operator status for the block. Yours truly guesses the Indian company finally decided it was time to indulge in a bit of risk diversification.

Continuing with corporate stuff, the Oilholic told you BP’s planned divestment in TNK-BP won’t come about that easily or smoothly. One of its oligarch partners - Mikhail Fridman - has alleged that there are no credible buyers for BP’s 50% stake in the dispute ridden Russian venture.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on June 29, Fridman said, "We doubt it has any basis in fact. They are trying to buy time, to reassure investors."

However, BP said it stood by its announcement. It also announced an agreement to sell its interests in the Alba and Britannia fields in the British sector of the North Sea to Mitsui for US$280 million. The sale includes BP’s non-operating 13.3% stake in Alba and 8.97% stake in Britannia. Completion of the deal is anticipated by the end of Q3 2012, subject to UK regulatory approvals.

Net production from the two fields averages around 7,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. It is yet another example of BP’s smart management of its asset portfolio in wake of Macondo as the company refocuses on pastures and businesses new.

Elsewhere in the North Sea, Dana Petroleum expects to start drilling at two new oil fields off Shetland named - Harris and Barra – by Q2 2013. The first crude consignment from what’s described as the Western Isles project will come onstream in 2015. A spokesperson said field production could run for 15 years.

The region needs all the barrels it can pull as the UK’s budgetary watchdog – the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – has projected that future oil and gas revenues from the North Sea may be much lower than previous forecasts.

OBR sees the Brent prices rise from US$95/barrel in 2016 to US$173/barrel in 2040. “This compares lower with a projection in our assessment last year of a rise from US$107/barrel in 2015, rising to US$206/barrel in 2040," a spokesperson said.

As a result the OBR now projects tax receipts will be about 0.05% of GDP by 2040-41; half the level it projected in last year. It identified lower projected oil and gas prices as the key driver for the reduced figures given this year. The Oilholic won’t be called upon to vote on Scottish independence; but if yours truly was a Scottish Nationalist then there’d be a lot to worry about.

Finally, it looks like UK regulator – the Takeover Panel – has had enough of the protracted battle for the takeover of Cove Energy between Royal Dutch Shell and Thailand's PTTEP. It has given both parties a deadline of July 16 to make their final offers.

The Takeover Panel announced on Friday 13, July 2012 that if no offer is accepted by the said date, the sale of Cove will be decided by an auction on July 17. It could be lucky for neither, if they pay over the odds. That’s all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: North Sea oil rig © Cairn Energy.

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