Thursday, March 31, 2016

Preparing for an oil slump away from US pumps

The Oilholic is delighted to be back in lovely San Francisco, California, some 5350 miles west of London town. And what a 'crude' contrast it has been between two visits - when yours truly was last here little less than two years ago, the oil price was in three figures and our American cousins were (again!) bemoaning oil prices at the pump, not all that unaware about even higher prices we pay in Europe.

Not so anymore – for we’re back to under $3 per gallon (that’s 3.785 litres to Europeans). Back in January, CNBC even reported some pumps selling at rock bottom prices of as little as 46 cents per gallon in eastern US; though its doubtful you’ll find that price anywhere in California. 

Nonetheless, the Bay Area’s drivers are smiling a lot more and driving a lot more, though not necessarily honking a lot less in downtown San Francisco. By and large, you might say its happy days all around; that’s unless you run into an oil and gas industry contact. Most traders here are pretty prepared for first annual decline in global oil production since 2009, underpinned by lower US oil production this year.

Ratings agency Moody’s predicts a peak-to-trough decline in US production of at least 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) that is about to unfold. On a related note, Genscape expects North American inventories to remain at historically high levels for 2016, and production to fall by -581,000 bpd in 2016, and -317,000 bpd in 2017, as surging blended Canadian production is expected to grow at +84,000 bpd year-over-year in 2016.

Most reckon the biggest US shale declines will occur in the Bakken followed by the Eagle Ford, with Permian showing some resilience. Genscape adds that heavy upgrader turnarounds in Spring 2016 will impact near-term US imports from Canada.

All things being even, and despite doubts about China’s take-up of black gold, most Bay Area contacts agree with the Oilholic that we are likely to end 2016 somewhere in the region of $50 per barrel or just under.

As for wider domino effects, job losses within the industry are matter of public record, as are final investment decision delays, capital and operating expenditure cuts that the Oilholic has been written about on more than one occasion in recent times. Here in the Bay Area, it seems technology firms conjuring up back office to E&P software solutions for the oil and gas business are also feeling the pinch.

Chris Wimmer, Vice President and Senior Credit Officer at Moody's, also reckons the effects of persistently low crude oil prices and slowing demand in the commodities sectors are rippling through industrial end markets, weakening growth expectations for the North American manufacturing sector.

Industry conditions are unfavourable for almost half of the 15 manufacturing segments that Moody's rates, with companies exposed to the energy and natural resource sectors at the greatest risk for weakening credit metrics.

As a result, Moody's has lowered its expectations for median industry earnings growth to a decline of 2%-4% in 2016, from its previous forecast for flat to 1% growth this year. "This prolonged period of low oil prices initially affected companies in the oil & gas and mining sectors, but is spreading to peripheral end markets," Wimmer said.

"Slackening demand and cancelled or deferred orders in the commodities sectors will constrain growth for a growing number of end markets as the fallout from commodities weakness and lackluster economic growth expands."

Everyone from Caterpillar to Dover Corp has already warned of lower profits owing to weak equipment sales to customers in the agriculture, mining, and oil and gas end markets. The likelihood of deteriorating performance will continue to increase until the supply and demand of crude oil balance and macroeconomic weakness subsides, Wimmer concluded.

Finally, as the Oilholic prepares to head home, not a single US analyst one has interacted with seems surprised by a Bloomberg report out today confirming the inevitable – that China will surpass the US as the top crude oil importer this year. As domestic shale production sees the US import less, China’s oil imports are seen rising from an average of 6.7 million bpd in 2015 to 7.5 million bpd this year.

And just before one takes your leave, Brent might well be sliding below $40 again but all the talk here of a $20 per barrel oil price seems to have subsided. Well it’s the end of circling the planet over an amazing 20 days! Next stop London Heathrow and back to the grind. That's all from San Francisco folks. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo I: Vintage Tram in Downtown San Francisco. Photo II: Gas prices in Fremont. Photo III: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma, March 2016.

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