Friday, October 07, 2011

Brent-WTI price divergence, OPEC & Eni

Since Q1 2009, Brent has been trading at premium to the WTI. This divergence has stood in recent weeks as both global benchmarks plummeted in wake of the recent economic malaise. WTI’s discount reached almost US$26 per barrel at one point. Furthermore, waterborne crudes have also been following the general direction of Brent’s price. The Louisiana Light Sweet (LLS) increasingly takes its cue from Brent rather than the WTI, and has been for a while. Its premium to WTI stood at US$26.75 in intraday on Wednesday.

The fact that Brent is more indicative of the global economic climate has gone beyond conjecture. OPEC has its own basket of crudes to look at, but got spooked on Wednesday as Brent dipped below the US$100 mark, albeit briefly and WTI came quite close to settling below US$75.50.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister for energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, said that there was “no need” for the cartel to review its oil output at the next OPEC meeting (on December 14th in Vienna), but stopped shy of calling for a cut in oil production. Nonetheless, al-Shahristani did say that it would be “difficult” for his country to accept crude prices below the US$90 mark.

There also appears to be little appetite within the cartel to hold an emergency meeting and the Oilholic sees the chances of that happening being quite remote. If the oil price continues to slide, then it would be a different matter but quite simply a correction rather than a freefall would be the order of the day. On Thursday morning prices rose, aided by a weaker US Dollar, the US Fed’s indication of implementing further stimulus measures and the Bank of England’s move to initiate £75 billion worth of quantitative easing.

Sucden Financial research notes that after Tuesday’s bullish reversal, crude oil saw mixed trading early Wednesday as private reports about the US employment situation were mixed. Some optimism regarding more willingness to strike some solutions for the European debt issues seemed to underpin some trading as the euro generally maintained its gains.

“Technically, WTI futures may still have vulnerability toward the US$74 area but the recent gains have set technical potential for gains which could test toward US$83 area. Brent futures have technical patterns that may suggest tests of strength toward the area of US$106; supports may be expected near US$100 and US$95 areas,” Sucden notes further.

Whichever way you look at it, OPEC heavyweights led by Saudi Arabia, while not averse to cuts, have no appetite for an emergency meeting of the cartel as December is not that far away. Rounding things off, following Italy’s rating downgrade, it came as no surprise that debt ratings of Italian government-related issuers (GRIs) would be impacted, as Moody’s responded by downgrading the long term senior unsecured ratings of Italian energy firm Eni and its guaranteed subsidiaries to A1 from Aa3 and the senior unsecured rating of Eni USA Inc. to A2 from A1. The Prime-1 rating is unchanged.

Approximately €13.1 billion of long-term debt securities would be affected and the outlook for all ratings is negative. However, Moody’s notes that in the context of weakened sovereign creditworthiness, the likelihood of Eni receiving extraordinary support from the Italian government has significantly diminished.

Moody's has consequently removed the one-notch ratings uplift that had previously been incorporated into Eni's rating. It also added that Eni's A1 rating continues to reflect the group's solid business position as one of Europe's largest oil & gas companies.

“The group displays a sizeable portfolio of upstream assets that has been enhanced in recent years by a string of acquisitions. Looking ahead, the planned development of Eni's attractive pipeline of large-scale projects should help underpin its reserve base and production profile,” the agency concludes.

Eni, which is also Libya’s biggest producer, resumed production in the country for the first time since the uprising against Col. Moamar Gaddafi’s regime. A company source says it may begin exporting Libyan crude by the end of October or earlier.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Oil Drill Pump, North Dakota, USA © Phil Schermeister / National Geographic

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