Saturday, March 14, 2020

On Tankers, Travel Bans & Turbulence

The Oilholic is about to wrap up a week in Houston, Texas, gauging the oil market mood and related industry matters in the age of the coronavirus and the collapse of OPEC+, penning his thoughts by the banks of a rather calm Buffalo Bayou. 

Following on from the carnage of an oil price war, in the time yours truly has been in America's oil and gas capital, US President Donald Trump has announced a travel ban from Europe to the US; several countries are in lock-down mode or restricting access to foreigners; hoteliers, airliners, restaurateurs are all gearing up for a massive hit and with general gloom lurking in the air along with the virus - the equity and oil markets are down. 

In fact, in this blogger's latest weekly oil price assessment, Brent and WTI front month contracts closed down a massive 25.23% and 23.14% on today (Friday, March 13) on the Friday before (March 6). In over ten years of running this blog, that is the biggest weekly drop the Oilholic has logged and given that weekly assessments are supposed to wipe out daily volatility; the figures are telling. 

And the contango plays have begun yet again coming to the aid of a beleaguered oil shipping industry that must surely think Christmas has come early. More so because Saudi Aramco's bid to flood the market with its crude has sent VLCC tanker rates rising further, in some cases by as much as 678% when it comes to the lucrative Middle East to Asia maritime routes, as yours truly noted in his latest Forbes missive

Many in Houston expect an imminent prompt price decline to $25 per barrel, with limited upside as Russia and Saudi Arabia continue their oil price and market share war at a time of lacklustre demand. General consensus is that when oil hits $20, OPEC will come its senses. However, it doesn't look like that right now with other Gulf producers including the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait upping production in step with Saudi Arabia. 

And while Saudi discounts are the talk of H-Town trading circles, Trump's plans to purchase "American made crude-oil" for the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is providing yet more chatter. The SPR holds 713.5 million barrels at four primary oil storage sites. 

According to survey data, that level is currently at 635 million. So even if Trump goes for the maximum effect, the reserve can take another 78.5 million. The "American made" caveat means it could take that much primarily US light crude spread over the next 100-120 days from next week. 

While such a volume is not negligible, how much of a difference it will make is anyone's guess. Supply side is as complicated as ever and so is the demand side until the full impact of the virus is clearer. This turbulence will last a while and might rock most of 2020 at the very least in the opinion of many. And on that worrying note, its time for the flight home to London! Q1 has been a write-off; let's see what Q2 brings, stay strong, stay safe.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2020. Photo: Buffalo Bayou river, Houston, US © Gaurav Sharma, Friday March 13, 2020

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