Sunday, October 21, 2012

Speculators, production & San Diego’s views

It is good to be in the ‘unified’ port of San Diego, California for a few days to get some crude views, especially those of the trading types who have a pad on the city’s Ocean Beach waterfront looking out to the Pacific. While the view from one of their living room windows is a testament to the current serenity of the Pacific Ocean (an example on the left), markets are anything but serene with politicians blaming paper traders for the current volatility.

Instead of shrugging and quipping ‘typical’, most admit candidly that the ratio of paper (or virtual) barrels versus physical barrels will continue to rise. Some can and quite literally do sit on the beach and trade with no intention of queuing at the end of pipeline in Cushing, Oklahoma to collect their crude cargo.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratio of paper versus physically traded barrels has risen from 8:1 at the turn of millennium to as high as 33:1 in 2012. Furthermore, one chap reminds the Oilholic not to forget the spread betting public. “They actually don’t even enter the equation but have a flutter on the general direction of crude benchmarks and in some cases – for instance you Brits – all winnings are tax free,” he added.

Nonetheless, on his latest visit to the USA, yours truly sees the supply and demand dynamic stateside undergoing a slow but sure change. In fact old merchant navy hands in San Diego, which is a unified port because the air and sea ports are next to each other, would tell you that American crude import and export dispatch patterns are changing. Simply put, with shale oil (principally in Eagle Ford) and rising conventional production in Texas and North Dakota in the frame and the economy not growing as fast as it should – the US is importing less and less of the crude stuff from overseas.

The IEA projects a fall of 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in imports by US refiners and reckons the global oil trading map and direction of oil consignments would be redrawn by 2017. Not only the US, but many nations with new projects coming onstream would find internal use for their product. India’s prospection drive and Saudi Arabia’s relatively new oilfield of Manifa are noteworthy examples.

So a dip in Middle Eastern crude exports by 2017 won’t all be down to an American production rise but a rise in domestic consumption of other producer nations as well. Overall, the IEA reckons 32.9 million bpd will trade between different regions around the globe; a dip of 1.6 million bpd over last year. With some believing that much of this maybe attributed to dipping volumes of light sweet crude demanded by the US; the thought probably adds weight to Eastward forays of oil traders like Vitol, Glencore and Gunvor. Such sentiments are also already having an impact on widening Brent’s premium to the WTI with the latter not necessarily reflecting global market patterns.

Elsewhere, while the Oilholic has been away, it seems BP has been at play. In a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Monday, BP said it had agreed 'heads of terms' to sell its 50% stake in Russian subsidiary TNK-BP to Rosneft for US$28 billion via a mixture of US$17.1 billion cash and shares representing 12.84% (of Rosneft). BP added that it intends to use US$4.8 billion of the cash payment to purchase a further 5.66% of Rosneft from the Russian government.

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said, “TNK-BP has been a good investment and we are now laying a new foundation for our work in Russia. Rosneft is set to be a major player in the global oil industry. This material holding in Rosneft will, we believe, give BP solid returns.”

With BP’s oligarch partners at AAR already having signed a MoU with Rosneft, the market is in a state of fervour over the whole of TNK-BP being bought out by the Russian state energy company. Were this to happen, Rosneft would have a massive crude oil production capacity of 3.15 million bpd and pass a sizeable chunk of Russian production from private hands to state control. It would also pile on more debt on an already indebted company. Its net debt is nearing twice its EBITA and a swoop for the stake of both partners in TNK-BP would need some clever financing.

Continuing with the corporate front, the Canadian government has rejected Petronas' US$5.4 billion bid for Progress Energy Resources. The latter said on Sunday that it was "disappointed" with Ottawa’s decision. The company added that it would attempt to find a possible solution for the deal. Industry Minister Christian Paradis said in a statement on Friday that he had sent a letter to Petronas indicating he was "not satisfied that the proposed investment is likely to be of net benefit to Canada."

Meanwhile civil strife is in full swing in Kuwait according to the BBC World Service as police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse large numbers of people demonstrating against the dissolution of parliament by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah whose family have ruled the country for over 200 years.

In June, a Kuwaiti court declared elections for its 50-seat parliament in February, which saw significant gains for the Islamist-led opposition, invalid and reinstated a more pro-government assembly. There has been trouble at the mill ever since. Just a coincidental footnote to the Kuwaiti unrest – the IEA’s projected figure of 2.6 million bpd fall in crude imports of US refiners by 2017, cited above in this blog post, is nearly the current daily output of Kuwait (just to put things into context) ! That’s all from San Diego folks! It’s nearly time to say ‘Aloha’ to Hawaii. But before that the Oilholic leaves you with a view of USS Midway (above right), once an aircraft carrier involved in Vietnam and Gulf War I and currently firmly docked in San Diego harbour as a museum. In its heydays, the USS Midway housed over 4,000 naval personnel and over 130 aircraft.

According to a spokesperson, the USS Midway, which wasn’t nuclear-powered, had a total tank capacity of 2.5 million gallons of diesel to power it and held 1.5 million gallons of jet fuel for the aircraft. It consumed 250,000 gallons of diesel per day, while jet fuel consumption during operations came in at 150,000 gallons per day during flying missions. Now that’s gas guzzling to protect and serve before we had nuclear powered carriers. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Ocean Beach, San Diego. Photo 2: USS Midway, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

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