Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bears in the crude jungle don’t scare Al-Naimi

Having had enough of briefing scribes and analysts over the past few days and giving little away, Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi told all surplus inquirers to bugger off at this morning’s pre-conference OPEC media scrum.

He has stubbornly stuck to the quip that the market has been where it is at the moment before and it will stabilise like it has always done in the past.

The only problem is the current supply scenario is unlike anything we’ve witnessed over the last two decades in the Oilholic’s humble opinion, with plenty of the crude stuff around much lower than anticipated demand.

Contrary to what some might feel here at OPEC HQ, Al-Naimi is not ignoring this profound change but rather tackling it head on for his country first and foremost. It’s an instinct called self-preservation.

Separate discounts on asking price offered to Asian and US buyers by Saudi Aramco, along with anecdotes about the Saudis sending direct feelers on longer term deals with buyers in the Far East are stacking up. If the US is not buying much, China, India, Japan and South Korea are still in the market for and when (not if) there is an uptick demand.

The Saudis do not want to see a return to the 1980s. If that’s the case, what’s afoot at OPEC with Al-Naimi not attaching importance to a cut in output, is collateral damage. Upsetting a few who don’t like you anyway, thereby making a dysfunctional organisation more dysfunctional should matter little in a high stakes game.

Furthermore, Al-Naimi’s soundbites leading up to and at the OPEC meeting seem to suggest he feels the price correction is likely to continue well into 2015. Barely days before the OPEC meeting, Moody’s said on Monday that the steep drop in prices since the middle of this year has led it to lower its pricing assumptions for Brent and WTI by $10 in 2015 and $5 in 2016.

Its revised average spot prices assumption for Brent stand at $80 per barrel for 2015 and to $85 per barrel in 2016, and for WTI at $75 per barrel in 2015 and $80 per barrel in 2016 and thereafter. Steve Wood, managing director at Moody’s says, "Global demand has not kept pace with strong oil production worldwide, leading to the recent drop in oil prices and to our revised price assumptions. We expect that rising demand for crude will put a floor beneath crude prices in 2015 and beyond, limiting further price drops and pointing to a gradual correction.”

As a footnote, Moody's also changed its outlook for the global independent exploration and production sector to negative from positive, for the global oilfield services and drilling sector to negative from stable, and for the global integrated oil and gas sector to stable from positive.

Most non-governmental Middle Eastern commentators known to the Oilholic see the price dropping to as low as $60 per barrel. Agreed, the price might get temporary support from a potential OPEC production cut along with colder chimes that a Northern Hemisphere winter brings with it. Yet, a further drop in price is all but inevitable before supply correction and improving economics provide a floor later on in 2015.

In the meantime some at OPEC will continue to struggle, especially Venezuela, a country that needs a fiscal breakeven of over US$160 per barrel, as will Iran which would need $130 upwards. Fitch Ratings’ Paul Gamble says Ecuador is another OPEC member to keep an eye on if the oil price slide continues. This is in marked contrast to IMF estimates about Saudi Arabia needing an average oil price of $90.70, UAE $73.30, Kuwait $53.30 and Qatar $77.60.

Some at OPEC have a very different problem - that of finding new buyers and diverting the crude stuff originally extracted with the US in mind. That includes Angola and Nigeria.

At a media scrum earlier in the day, Angolan oil minister Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos told the Oilholic that ensuring diversity of the country’s client base was crucial.

Having been on record as being “unhappy” about the current oil price, de Vasconcelos said, “The market suffers ups and downs. As an exporting nation we are looking to diversify our pool of importing partners. This includes the obvious push to Asia and Europe.”

Choosing not to comment about entering into a bidding war with fellow OPEC member and neighbour Nigeria, de Vasconcelos said there was room for everyone and new partners to ensure stability of supply.

Meanwhile, from the standpoint of forex markets, Kit Juckes, Global Head of Forex at Société Générale, says if OPEC fails to deliver any oil price bolstering production cuts this afternoon in Vienna, oil will probably fall further in the months ahead. “That will further anchor bond yields, probably undermine the dollar after a very strong run and support higher-yielding currencies.”

“We'd get a bigger reaction to a successful output reduction, of course than to the lack of change that is now widely expected. If oil prices do continue their fall the winners are more likely to be the emerging markets currencies rather than the G10 ones.” Its 14:30GMT and there’s no agreement yet. That’s all for the moment from Vienna folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi. Photo 2: Angola's Oil Minister Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos speaking at 166th OPEC Ministers Meeting in Vienna, Austria on November 27th, 2014 © Gaurav Sharma

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