Thursday, July 10, 2014

OPEC’s spare capacity & some corporate quips

Oil benchmarks have by and large remained calm in the face of escalating tensions in Iraq. Market sentiment was helped in no small parts by the US importing less crude and ISIS being kept at bay from Iraqi oilfields. Nonetheless, what does the current situation mean for OPEC's spare capacity, concerns over which have marginally eased as non-OPEC production is seen rising.

Over the first quarter of this year, OPEC's spare capacity was in the region on 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd), bulk of which – 1.75 million bpd – is in the hands of Saudi Arabia.

Société Générale CIB analysts Patrick Legland and Daniel Fermon, recently raised a very important question in a note to clients – so assuming that within OPEC, supply from Iran, Iraq, and Libya does not increase and Saudi spare capacity is not sufficient to offset a potential Iraqi crisis, what then? A scary prospect, especially if Iraqi tensions spill to southern oilfields.

SocGen's veteran analyst Mike Wittner assigns only a 20% probability of crude oil exports from southern Iraqi oil fields (of Basrah) being disrupted. Current output is in the region of 2.5-2.6 million bpd or 3% of global production. In line with other city commentators and the Oilholic's own conjecture, Wittner says were Basrah to be hit, Brent could move up quickly into the US$120-125 range.

Let's hope it doesn't get hit, as Legland and Fermon note, in the past 50 years, 5 out of 7 recessions coincided with an oil shock, with oil prices skyrocketing. "However, to date, no one is expecting the oil price to rise to $150 or above; so concerns over an oil-led recession appear exaggerated," they add.

Away from pricing matters, a couple of corporate quips starting with a small cap. London AiM-quoted North Africa focussed E&P firm Circle Oil has largely kept the market on its side despite niggles it faces in Egypt along with other operators in the country. From where this blogger stands, Circe Oil's operations in Morocco and Tunisia remain promising and its receivables position in Egypt is in line with most (around the 180 debtor day norm).

Investec analyst Brian Gallagher has reaffirmed the bank's buy rating. Explaining his decision in a note to clients, Gallagher observed that Circle Oil "generated operational cashflow in excess of $50 million in 2013 and we expect it to match or exceed this level again in 2014. This marks Circle out from many of its small cap E&P peers who struggle to fund exploration campaigns. Circle has two impact operations currently in process. Moroccan exploration recently began (successfully) while results from the Tunisian well, EMD-1, are imminent. In the background, Egypt continues to perform."

The company is busy prospecting in Oman as well, even though it's early days. So methinks, and Gallagher thinks, there's a lot to look forward to. Switching tack to a couple of large caps, Fitch Ratings revised BG Energy's outlook to negative at A- and maintained BP's at A+/stable.

Starting with the former, the agency said BG's negative outlook reflects completion risks associated with its new upstream projects, challenges that the company is facing in Egypt, and the potential that funds from operations (FFO) adjusted net leverage may stay above 2.5 times in the medium-term should there be any delays to project start-ups.

"Presently, we view the group's credit metrics as stretched for the current ratings because of BG's ambitious investments coinciding with declining production, despite a series of asset disposals intended to strengthen the group's balance sheet," Fitch noted, adding that it expects the company’s business profile to improve with the start-up of its major projects in Australia and Brazil.

On BP, Fitch views its operational profile as commensurate with the 'AA' category. "Presently, BP's rating direction depends largely on the outcome of legal proceedings related to the 2010 Macondo oil spill. At end the of the first quarter of 14, BP had provisioned $42.7 billion in total for claims and other related payments, of which it had paid out $34.9 billion."

Fitch says that total payments below $70 billion, including amounts already paid out and the balance paid over a period of several years, are likely to keep BP in the 'A' rating category, while payments exceeding this amount may push the company's ratings into the 'BBB' category.

On a broader footing, Fitch has maintained a stable outlook for its rated EMEA oil and gas companies. Senior director Jeffrey Woodruff says negative outlooks on certain companies such as BG was mainly due to company specific problems rather than broad based sector weakness. "It is worth highlighting, that more than 80% of issuers in Fitch's EMEA oil and gas portfolio have stable outlooks and the number of positive outlooks doubled since 2013 to 5% from 2.5%," he adds.

Finally, rounding the last four hectic weeks off, here is the Oilholic's latest article for Forbes touching on the recent jumpiness over the possibility of US crude oil exports. Yours truly does see a distinct possibility of it happening at some point in the future. However, it won’t happen any time soon and certainly not in an election year, with a race to the White House to follow.

Last month also saw this blogger head to Moscow for the 21st World Petroleum Congress and a predictable 165th OPEC summit prior to that, where the organisation maintained its quota and Abdalla Salem El-Badri stayed on as Secretary General. As usual there were TV soundbites aplenty - the Oilholic's including - plus hustle, bustle, bluster and differences of opinion that go along with events of this nature. So for a change, one is glad this month's pace would be a shade slower. That's all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Oil pump in Russia © Lukoil. Photo 2: Gaurav Sharma speaking on OPEC Webcast © OPEC, June 11, 2014.

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