Monday, July 23, 2012

Crude profit taking & Browne’s Shale hypothesis

Concerns over a conflict in the Middle East involving Iran did ease off last week but apparently not far enough to prevent a further slide in the price of the crude stuff. A relative strengthening of the US dollar was also seen supporting prices to the upside despite Eurozone woes. So Brent resisted a slide below US$107 on Friday while the WTI resisted a slide below US$91 a barrel.

In fact, the WTI August contract reached a high of US$92.94 while Brent touched US$108.18 at one point; the highest for both benchmarks since May 22. This meant that the end of last week saw some good old fashioned profit taking with conditions being perfect for it.

However, on this crude Monday afternoon, we see both benchmarks dipping again. When the Oilholic last checked, Brent was resisting a slide below US$102 per barrel while the WTI was resisting a US$88 level. With the Middle East risk premium easing marginally, City traders have turned their attention to Spain.

Last week the country’s government predicted that the Spanish recession may well extend into next year. Additionally, the regional administration of Valencia asked for federal help from Madrid to balance its books. So what have we learnt over the last seven or eight trading sessions and what has changed? Well not much except that oil price forecasting often resembles an inexact task based on fickle market conjecture.

The bullish sentiments of last week were an aberration prompted by the perceived risk of a conflict in the Middle East which the Iranians would be incredibly barmy to trigger. Add the temporary lowering of oil production courtesy a Norwegian strike and you provide the legs to a perfect short term prancing bull!

Existing economic fundamentals and current supply demand scenarios did not merit last week’s pricing levels either side of the pond. The Oilholic agrees with the EIA’s opinion that the Brent price would indeed range between US$97.50 and US$99.50 a barrel up until the end of 2013. Analysts at investment banks and ratings agencies are also responding.

For instance, Société Générale has downgraded Brent price estimates by 10% over 2012-14, from US$117 a barrel to US$105. The French bank views oil market fundamentals as neutral for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, should the Brent price weaken below US$90, like others in the City, Société Générale says a Saudi response is to be expected.

For what it is worth, at least Brent’s premium to the WTI has been constantly taking a knock. By some traders' accounts, it is presently below US$15 a barrel for the September settlement contract having been at US$26.75 at one point over Q4 2011. As a direct consequence of the linkage between waterborne light sweet crudes, the Louisiana Light Sweet’s premium to the WTI is down as well to around US$16 a barrel according to Bloomberg.

Moving away from pricing, Lord Browne – the former boss of BP and a director of fracking firm Cuadrilla – believes shale prospection would rid the US of oil imports. Speaking in Oxford at the Resource 2012 forum on water, food and energy scarcity, Browne said the US will not need to import any crude within two decades.

He quipped that the amount of shale gas in the US was effectively “infinite". On a sombre note, Browne said, “Shale gas has a very bad reputation, as a result of the weak players cutting corners. Regulation tightening would be welcome."

His Lordship is known to be a member of the “All hail shale” brigade. Back in March he told The Independent newspaper that if fracking took off meaning fully in the UK, it could generate 50,000 British jobs. The country could very well need its own shale drive especially as a government watchdog recently warned of declining oil and gas revenues.

A consultation period is currently underway in London. All UK fracking activity ground to a halt last year, when a couple of minor quakes majorly spooked dwellers of Lancashire where Cuadrilla was test fracking. Given the incident and environmental constrictions, the Oilholic suspects that Lord Browne knows it is too early to get excited about shale from a British perspective. However, Americans see no cause for curbing their enthusiasm. That’s all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil tankers in English Bay, British Columbia, Canada © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

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