Monday, February 22, 2016

Get used to crude swings & volatility

Oil markets are likely to face further bouts of volatility. When Saudi Arabia and Russia, together with Venezuela and Qatar, offered the false hope of a so-called production freeze packaged in the shape of market support last week, the Oilholic wasn't the only one who did not buy it.

Predictably, oil futures rose by over 7% towards the middle of last week, but rapidly slipped into negative territory as Iran, while welcoming the move, did not say whether it would participate. In any case, the move itself was a farce of international proportions.

The Russians can’t raise their production further, while the Saudis have little exporting to room to justify a further output hike. So for market consumption it was packaged as a freeze, subsequently undermined by both countries who said they had no intentions of cutting production. It might well have been the first joint move on output matters between OPEC and non-OPEC producers, but it virtually came to naught.

Unless a clear pattern of production declines appears on the horizon, market volatility will persist. That sort of clarity won’t arrive at least before June, with swings between $25-40 likely to continue, and yes a drop to $20 is still possible.

OPEC will need to announce a real terms production cut of 1.5 million barrels per day to make any meaningful short-term difference to the oil price by $7-10 per barrel, and even that may not be sustainable with non-OPEC producers likely to be the primary beneficiaries of such a move.

Expect more of the same, and more downgrades of oil and gas companies by ratings agencies of the sort the market has gotten used to in recent months. After Fitch Ratings downgraded Shell last week, Moody’s moved to place another 29 of its rated US exploration and production firms on review for downgrade over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the latter also said continued low oil prices could have an increasingly negative impact on banks across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This could occur both directly - by a weakening in governments' capacity and willingness to support domestic banks - and indirectly, through a weakening of banks' operating conditions, Moody’s added.

Khalid Howladar, senior credit officer at Moody's, said, "Despite low oil prices and a high dependency on oil revenues across the GCC countries, banks' ratings in the region continue to benefit from their governments' willingness to tap accumulated wealth to support counter-cyclical spending."

But continued oil price declines signal "increasing challenges" to the sustainability of this dynamic, he added.

Finally, some news from the North Sea to end with – Genscape has flagged up the shutdown and restart of BP’s 1.15mn bpd Forties Pipeline System in a note to clients. It caused the April ICE Brent futures contract price to spike before falling slightly on February 12, but nothing to be overtly concerned about.

The system was shut due to an issue at the Kinneil fractionaction terminal, located where the flow from the North Sea on the Forties pipeline system is stabilised for consumption. Elsewhere, North Sea E&P firm First Oil is reportedly filing for involuntary administration, according to the BBC.

Enquest and Cairn Energy will takeover its 15% stake in Kraken field, east of Aberdeen in the British sector of the North Sea. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Oil rig in the North Sea © BP

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