Friday, December 31, 2010

Final Notes of Crude Year 2010

Recapping the last fortnight, I noted some pretty interesting market chatter in the run-up to the end of the year. Crude talk cannot be complete without a discussion on the economic recovery and market conjecture is that it remains on track.

In its latest quarterly Global Economic Outlook (GEO) Dec. edition, Fitch Ratings recently noted that despite significant financial market volatility, the global economic recovery is proceeding in line with its expectations, largely due to accommodative policy support in developed markets and continued emerging-market dynamism.

In the GEO, Fitch has marginally revised up its projections for world growth to 3.4% for 2010 (from 3.2%), 3.0% for 2011 (from 2.9%), and 3.3% for 2012 (from 3.0%) compared to the October edition of the GEO. Emerging markets continue to outperform expectations and Fitch has raised its 2010 forecasts for China, Brazil, and India due to still buoyant economic growth. However, the agency has revised down its Russian forecast as the pace of recovery proved weak, partly as a result of the severe drought and heatwave in the summer.

Fitch forecasts growth of 8.4% for these four countries (the BRICs) in 2010, and 7.4% for each of 2011 and 2012. While there are ancillary factors, there is ample evidence that crude prices are responding to positive chatter. Before uncorking something alcoholic to usher in the New Year, the oilholic noted that either side of the pond, the forward month crude futures contract capped US$90 per barrel for the first time in two years. Even the OPEC basket was US$90-plus.

Most analysts expect Brent to end 2012 at around US$105-110 a barrel and some are predicting higher prices. The city clearly feels a US$15-20 appreciation from end-2010 prices is not unrealistic.

Moving away from prices, in a report published on December 15th, Moody's changed its Oilfield Services Outlook to positive from stable reflecting higher earnings expectations for most oilfield services and land drilling companies in 2011.

However, the report also notes that the oilfield services sector remains exposed to significant declines in oil and natural gas prices, as well as heightened US regulatory scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing and onshore drilling activity, which could push costs higher and limit the pace and scale of E&P capital investment.

Peter Speer, the agency’s Senior Credit Officer, makes a noteworthy comment. He opines that although natural gas drilling is likely to decline moderately in 2011, many E&Ps will probably keep drilling despite the weak economics to retain their leases or avoid steep production declines. Any declines in gas-directed drilling are likely to be offset by oil drilling, leading to a higher US rig count in 2011.

However, Speer notes that offshore drillers and related logistics service providers pose a notable exception to these positive trends. "We expect many of these companies to experience further earnings declines in 2011, as the U.S. develops new regulatory requirements and permitting processes following the Macondo accident in April 2010, and as activity slowly increases in this large offshore market," he concludes.

Couldn’t possibly have ended the last post for the year without mentioning Macondo; BP’s asset sale by total valuation in the aftermath of the incident has risen to US$20 billion plus and rising. Sadly, Macondo will be the defining image of crude year 2010.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: Oil Rig © Cairn Energy Plc

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