Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Oil storage, Chinese imports & Afren’s CEO

When the oil price is rocky, it seems storage in anticipation of better days is all the rage. Afterall, it does take two to play contango, as the Oilholic recently opined in a Forbes column. But leaving those wanting to play the markets by the side for a moment, wider industry attention is indeed turning to storage like never before.

We are told the US hub of Cushing, Oklahoma has never had it so good were we to rely on Genscape’s solid research on what’s afoot. In trying times, the industry turns to the most economical onshore storage option on the table. For some, actually make that many, Cushing is such a port of call.

As of February-end, Genscape says 63% of Cushing’s storage capacity has already been utilised. Capacity has never exceeded 80%, since Genscape began monitoring storage at Cushing in 2009. So were heading for interesting times indeed!

Meanwhile, the country now firmly established as the world’s top importer of crude oil – i.e. China – might well be forced to import less owing to shortage of storage capacity! Well established contacts in Shanghai have indicated to this blogger that in an era of low prices, Chinese policymakers were strategically stocking up on crude oil.

With Chinese economic data being less than impressive in recent months, it probably explains where a good portion of the 7.1 million barrels per day (bpd) imported by the country in January and February went. However, now that available storage is nearly full, anecdotal evidence suggests Chinese oil imports are going to drop off.

Import volumes for April are not likely to be nearly as strong. As for the rest of the year, the Oilholic expects Chinese imports to stay flat. Furthermore, Barclays analysts believe putting faith in China’s economic growth to support oil prices would be “premature” at best, with the country undergoing structural changes.

On a related note, lower oil prices will also slow the revenue growth of Chinese oilfield services (OFS) companies as their upstream counterparts continue to cut capex. Putting it bluntly, Chenyi Lu, Senior Analyst at Moody’s noted: "In addition to the impact on revenues, Chinese OFS companies will also see their margins weaken over the next two years as their exploration and production customers negotiate lower rates."

Finally, before yours truly takes your leave, it seems the beleaguered London-listed independent upstart Afren has finally named a new CEO following its boardroom debacle. Industry veteran Alan Linn will take-up his post as soon as the company’s “imminent” $300 million bailout is in place. We wish him all the luck, given his task at hand. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil pipeline, Fairfax, Virginia, USA © O. Louis Mazzatenta / National Geographic

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