Showing posts with label 21st World Petroleum Congress Moscow 2014. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 21st World Petroleum Congress Moscow 2014. Show all posts

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Crude year that was & oil price forecasts for 2015

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at what the Oilholic was up to and how the oil and gas sector performed in general. The only place to start would be the oil price where those in the business of charting it had a year of two halves.

First six months of the year saw Brent, considered a global proxy benchmark, comfortably over $100 per barrel only to see a dramatic decline over the second half of the year that accelerated rapidly in the face of a global supply glut.

The US went in general retreat from the global oil markets in meaningful volumes, not needing to import as much given rising domestic shale and tight oil production. Global demand didn’t stack-up like it did in 2013, but producers were unrelenting with output rising from Canada to Russia and OPEC’s production quota staying where it was at 30 million barrels per day (bpd).

In fact, make it 30.7 million bpd if you believe in market consensus. End result was (and still is) a buyers’ market with China leading the way, but not importing as much as it used owing to stunted economic activity. From $115 per barrel in the summer, Brent is barely managing to resist a $60 price floor having already breached it once in December. WTI is also plummeted in tandem and is currently trading below $60.

Both OPEC Ministers’ meets for 2014 couldn’t have been held in more divergent circumstances. In June, the quota was held where it was because most in the cartel were happy with a $100-plus Brent price. In November, the quota stayed where it was because the Saudis refused to budge from their position of not wanting a production cut fearing a loss of market share. While Iran and Venezuela did not share their view, the Saudis prevailed as usual for a cut without their backing would have been meaningless.

Quite frankly, by not calling an extraordinary meeting when oil hit $85, OPEC missed a trick. Nonetheless, given the existing glut one doubts whether an OPEC cut in November would have had any tangible medium term impact anyway. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi probably thought the same. But where does the price go from here? One has to admit that for the first time since this blog appeared on cyberspace in 2009; price averages for both Brent and WTI fell below the Oilholic’s median 2014 forecast.

Being a supply-side analyst one has long bemoaned the high oil price right from the days it became manifestly apparent that the US was no longer importing like it used to. And yet net long bets persisted well into the summer of this year courtesy hedge funds and other speculators, until physical traders of the crude stuff refused to buy in to a false spike injected by Iraqi disturbances.

Instead of contango, backwardation set in and price hasn’t recovered since with good reason. However, it wasn’t until October that the decline really took hold with OPEC’s decision not to cut production really accelerating the drop over the fourth quarter. The Oilholic would say the market is undergoing profound change of the sort that only comes around once in 20 years or so.

Given there so much oil out there and importers aren’t importing as much, risk premium has turned to risk fatigue, while a sellers’ market in the most lukewarm of times has become a buyers’ market in uncertain times. Nonetheless, supply correction is inevitable as unprofitable, especially unconventional exploration, takes a hit and non-OECD demand picks up. The Oilholic is fairly certain that come December 2015, we would once again be around the $80 level for Brent.

For the moment, barring a financial tsunami knocking non-OECD economic activity, the Oilholic's prediction is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75 for 2015. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range. This blogger also does not believe legislative impediments over the US exporting oil are going away anytime soon as the 2016 presidential election draws ever closer.

Moving away from pricing, 2014 also saw the oil and gas world mourn the sad death of Total CEO and Chairman Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash in Moscow. Here is the Oilholic's tribute to one of the industry’s most colourful characters. Wider human tragedies overlapping the crude world including Russia’s bid to influence events in Ukraine and the spectre of ISIS over Iraq loomed large.

The oil price began hurting Russia by the end of the year with the rouble taking a plastering. Meanwhile in Iraq, given that ISIS controlled areas were far removed from the port of Basra and major Iraqi oil production facilities, risk premium from the unfolding events did not have a lasting impact on oil price barring a momentary spike in June.

Nigeria and Libya's troubles continued. In case of the latter, the country now has two oil ministers, two prime ministers but thankfully only one National Oil Company. Yet, geopolitical flare-ups aren't likely to have much of an impact over the first half of 2015 given the amount of oil there is in the market.

Away from it all and on a more personal footing, yours truly started writing for Forbes as well as commentating on Tip TV on a regular basis over 2014, alongside various other ‘crude’ engagements. Going on the road (or air) in pursuit of ‘crude’ intel, saw the Oilholic visit Rotterdam, Istanbul, San Francisco, Zagreb, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The 21st World Petroleum Congress meant a return to the host city of Moscow after a gap of 10 years. Invariably, the Ukrainian stand-off cast a shadow over an event dubbed the Olympics of the oil and gas business.

One also got a chance to interview ex-Enron whistleblower turned academic Dr Vincent Kaminski in Houston and IEA Chief Economist Dr Fatih Birol more closer to home. Among several senior executives one got a chance to interact with were C-suite executives from EDF, Tethys Petroleum, Frontier Resources, Primagaz and Rompetrol to name but a few.

Many fellow analysts, commentators, traders, academics, legal and financial experts shared their insight and valuable time on on-record while others preferred an off-record chat. Both sets have the Oilholic’s heartfelt thanks. Rather unusually, this blogger found political satirist and comedian Jon Stewart’s take on the farce that’s become of the Keystone XL project bang on the money. Finally, the Oilholic also reviewed some ‘crude’ books to help you decide whether they are for you or not.

It's been a jolly crude year and one that wouldn't have been half as spiffing without the support of you all - the dear readers of this blog. Here goes the look back at Crude Year 2014. As the Oilholic Synonymous Report embarks upon its sixth year on the Worldwide Web and the eighth year of its virtual existence – here's wishing you a very Happy New Year! That’s all for 2014 folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Oil pipeline, India © Cairn India

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The inimitable Mr de Margerie (1951 – 2014)

The Oilholic woke up to the sad news that Total CEO and Chairman Christophe de Margerie had been killed in a plane crash at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. This tragedy has robbed the wider oil & gas fraternity of arguably its most colourful stalwart.

Held in high regard by the industry, de Margerie had been the CEO of Total since 2007, later assuming both Chairman and CEO roles in 2010. Instantly recognisable by his trademark thick moustache, de Margerie increased the focus of Europe’s third-largest oil and gas company on its proven reserves ratio like never before.

He joined Total in 1974 straight after graduating from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Paris and spent his entire professional life at the company. Rising through the ranks to the top of the corporate ladder, de Margerie was instrumental in taking Total into markets the company hadn’t tested and to technologies it hadn’t adopted before. Wider efforts to improve Total’s access to the global hydrocarbon pool often saw de Margerie take actions frowned upon by some if not all. 

For instance, Total went prospecting in Burma and Iran in the face of US sanctions. France has a moratorium on shale oil & gas drilling, but de Margerie recently saw it fit to get Total involved in UK's shale gas exploration. Over the last decade, as this blogger witnessed Total ink deals which could be subjectively described by many as good, bad or ugly, one found many who disagreed with de Margerie, but few who disliked him.

Even in the face of controversy, the man nicknamed “Big Moustache” always kept his cool and more importantly a sense of humour. Each new deal or the conquering of a corporate frontier saw de Margerie raise a spot of Scotch to celebrate. That’s some tipple of choice when it came to a celebration given he was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, the founder of Taittinger champagne.

The Oilholic’s only direct interaction with the man himself, in December 2011 at the 20th World Petroleum Congress (20th WPC) in Doha, was indeed a memorable one. Jostling for position while the Total CEO was coming down from a podium, this blogger inquired if there was time for one question. To which the man himself said one could ask three provided they could all be squeezed into the time he had between the auditorium and VIP elevator!

In a brief exchange that followed, de Margerie expressed the opinion that exploration and production (E&P) companies would find it imperative to venture into "geologically challenging and geopolitically difficult" hydrocarbon prospects.

“All the easy to extract oil & gas is largely already onstream. We’re at a stage where the next round of E&P would be much more costly,” he added. One could have gone on for hours, but alas a few minutes is all what Qatari security would permit. Earlier at the auditorium he was leaving from, de Margerie had participated in deliberations on Peak Oil, a subject of interest on which he often “updated” his viewpoint (photo above left).

“There will be sufficient oil & gas and energy as a whole to cover global demand…Even using pessimistic assumptions, I cannot see how energy demand will grow less than 25% in twenty years time. Today we have roughly the oil equivalent of 260 million barrels per day (bpd) in total energy production, and our expectation for 2030 is 325 million bpd,” he said.

De Margerie forecast that fossil fuels will continue to make up 76% of the energy supply by 2050.

“We have plenty of resources, the problem is how to extract the resources in an acceptable manner, being accepted by people, because today a lot of things are not acceptable,” the late Total CEO quipped.

He concluded by saying that if unconventional sources of oil, including heavy oil and oil shale, were to be exploited, there will be sufficient oil to meet current consumption for up to 100 years, and for gas up to 135 years. What he astutely observed at the 20th WPC does broadly stack-up today.

In wake of sanctions on Russia following the Ukrainian standoff, de Margerie called for channels of dialogue to remain open between the wider world and country’s energy sector. Total is a major shareholder in Russian gas producer Novatek, something which De Margerie was always comfortable with. He ignored calls for a boycott of industry events in Russia, turning up at both the St Petersburg forum in May and the 21st World Petroleum Congress in Moscow in June this year.

However, the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July prompted him to suspend buying more shares in Novatek. That cast a shadow over Total’s participation in Yamal LNG along with Novatek and CNPC. Nonetheless, de Margerie was bullish about boosting production in Russia. 

According to Vedomosti newspaper, he was in town on Monday to meet Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and discuss the climate for foreign direct investment in the energy sector. As events conspired, it turned out to be the last of his many audiences with dignitaries and heads of capital, state and industry.

Later that foggy Monday evening, the private jet carrying de Margerie from Vnukovo airport collided with a snow plough and crashed, killing all on-board including him and three members of the crew. Confirming the news, a shocked Total was left scrambling to name a successor or at least an interim head to replace de Margerie.

In a statement, the company said: “Total’s employees are deeply appreciative of the support and sympathy received, both in France and in the many countries where Christophe de Margerie was admired and respected.

“Mr de Margerie devoted his life to building and promoting Total in France and internationally. He was equally devoted to Total’s 100,000 employees. As he would have wished, the company must continue to move forward. Total is organised to ensure the continuity of both its governance and its business, allowing it to manage the consequences of this tragic loss.”

According to newswire AFP, Total’s third quarter results would be released as scheduled on October 29. Paying tribute, French President Francois Hollande said the country had lost “a patriot” while OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri said the industry had lost “an extraordinary and charming professional, who will be sorely and sadly missed by all who had the honour of knowing and working with him.” 

In a corporate sense, Total will move on but French commerce and the oil & gas business would be intellectually poorer in wake of de Margerie’s death. His forthright views sparked debates, his stewardship of France’s largest company inspired confidence, his commanding presence at market briefings made them more sought after and his sense of humour lit up forums. But above all, in the Oilholic’s 17 years as a scribe, one has never met a more down-to-earth industry head. Rest in peace sir, you will be sorely missed.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: The late Christophe de Margerie, former CEO and Chairman of Total, addresses the 20th World Petroleum Congress, Doha, Qatar, December 2011 © Gaurav Sharma.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

‘Crude’ sanctions on others always hurt Japan

The Oilholic finds himself in a rain-soaked Tokyo one final time before the big flying bus home! How Asian importing countries cope with sanctions on major oil & gas exporting jurisdictions is an interesting topic in this region reliant on foreign hydrocarbons for obvious reasons.

Mentioning Iran and of late curbs on Russia, deliberations over the past week with market commentators here in Tokyo, as well as Shanghai and Hong Kong, resulted in a consensus of opinion that Japan’s 30-odd oil & gas companies and regional gas-fired utilities feel the pain of such curbs more than corporate citizens of most other Asian importing nations.

The reason is simple enough; of the quartet of major Asian importers – namely China, Japan, India and South Korea – it’s the Japanese who are the most compliant when international pressures surface. Now, whether or not they can afford to is a different matter. According to the EIA and local publications, Japan consumed nearly 4.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2013, down from 4.7 million bpd in 2012. 

Going by the IEA’s latest projections, Japan is the third largest petroleum consumer in the world, behind the US and China. Yet domestic reserves are paltry in the region of 45.5 million barrels of oil equivalent, concentrated along the country’s western coastline. Inevitably, Japan imports most of its hydrocarbon requirements as a major industrialised nation.

Given the equation, if sanctions knock out or have the potential to knock out imports from one of its major partners, finding an alternative is neither easy nor simple. Forward planning also gets thrown right out of the window. We’ll discuss the recent Russian conundrum in a moment, but let’s examine the 2012 Iranian sanctions and the Japanese response to them first.

The country, almost immediately complied with requests to import less oil from Iran when European Union and US sanctions escalated in Q1 2012. At the time, Japan accounted for 17% of Iranian exports, above South Korea and India, but below China. The Japanese phased bid to reduce Iranian oil imports was lauded by the West, whereas China largely ignored the call, South Korea asked for more time and the Indians came up with ingenious ways to make remittances to Iran, until curbs on the insurance of tankers carrying Iranian crude began to bite.

Make no mistake, the sanctions on Iran hurt all four back in 2012, but Japan had to contend with the biggest refocusing exercise based on the level and speed of its compliance in moving away from Iranian crude. In the Oilholic’s opinion, for better or worse, that’s the price of being a G7 nation; and “having internationalism factored into the thinking,” adds a contact.

Fast forward to 2014, and the potential for securing of natural gas supplies from Russia to Japan seems to be taking a hit in wake of the Ukraine crisis. At the 21st World Petroleum Congress in June, when the tension had not escalated to the current level, prior to the downing of MH17, policymakers in on both sides were cooing over the potential for cooperation. 

The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan and the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences even put out a joint white paper at the Congress contemplating a subsea gas pipeline route from Korsakov, Russia, to Kashima, Japan with an onshore Ishikari-Tomakomai section. It was claimed that technical feasibility of the ambitious project, capable of carrying a projected 8 bcm of natural gas to the Pacific Coast of Eastern Japan, had been positive.

Now it’s all gone a bit cold. One can’t directly attribute it to Russia’s face-off with the West, but currently both Japan and Russia describe the project as “just another idea”. This blogger can assure you, people were way more excited about it in June at the WPC than they are at the moment, and one wonders why?

Afterall, post-Fukushima with the rise of natural gas in Japan’s energy mix, however wild a project might be, carries weight rather than being relegated to just an idea. Contrast this with China, which has recently inked a long-term supply contract with the Russians. Quod erat demonstrandum!


With the evening drawing to a close, it’s time to digress a little and disclose the venue of this animated conversation – that’s none other than Tokyo’s iconic Hotel Okura. While a wee tipple is not cheap (average JPY1,700 for a swig of single malt), visiting this modernist institution is something special. 

When Tokyo first hosted the Olympic Games in 1964, the hotel was built in preparation to welcome the world. Since then, Hotel Okura has hosted every serving US President from Richard Nixon onwards.

Author Ian Fleming made James Bond fictitiously check-in to the hotel while in Tokyo in a chapter of "You only live twice". In recent work of fiction, the hotel also makes an appearance in Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. It’s eclectic lobby, paneling, general sense of tranquility and overall panache of modern Japan is simply splendid (see above left). 

So here’s to 007, Murakami, Queen and Country and all the rest; but also it could be the Oilholic’s last drink at Hotel Okura as we know it. Alas, this grand place is about to fall prey to cultural philistinism in the name of progress as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympic Games once again in 2020. 

Last time around, for the 1964 games, Tokyo got the wretched Nihonbashi Expressway, a ‘clever’ project which included building an expressway over the Nihonbashi bridge, obscuring the magnificent view of Mount Fuji from the bridge and covering-up an ancient river flowering through the heart of Tokyo with steel and much more (see below left)!

Now atop a lot of flattening and rebuilding plans all over town, it seems Hotel Okura’s original main wing has been marked for demolition in August 2015, leaving only the South Tower operational. A proposed spending plan of US$980 million will see the wing open in the spring of 2019, reborn according to an employee as a “mixed-use tower” with 550 guest rooms and 18 stories of office space.

Life it seems will never be the same again for Hotel Okura and its many admirers including the Oilholic, who’d made it his mission not to leave Tokyo without visiting. Glad one got to see it before the demolition men get in. Well that’s all from the Far East folks as its time to bid a sad goodbye to the region!

Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau and Shanghai, planes, trains, speedboats and automobiles – it was one heck of a crude ride that one will treasure forever. Next stop is London Heathrow, a reminder that all good things must end! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Tokyo Stock Exchange. Photo 2: Lobby of the Hotel Okura, Tokyo. Photo 3: The Oilholic at Hotel Okura’s Orchid Bar. Photo 4: Nihonbashi Expressway, Tokyo, Japan  © Gaurav Sharma, September, 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

OPEC’s spare capacity & some corporate quips

Oil benchmarks have by and large remained calm in the face of escalating tensions in Iraq. Market sentiment was helped in no small parts by the US importing less crude and ISIS being kept at bay from Iraqi oilfields. Nonetheless, what does the current situation mean for OPEC's spare capacity, concerns over which have marginally eased as non-OPEC production is seen rising.

Over the first quarter of this year, OPEC's spare capacity was in the region on 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd), bulk of which – 1.75 million bpd – is in the hands of Saudi Arabia.

Société Générale CIB analysts Patrick Legland and Daniel Fermon, recently raised a very important question in a note to clients – so assuming that within OPEC, supply from Iran, Iraq, and Libya does not increase and Saudi spare capacity is not sufficient to offset a potential Iraqi crisis, what then? A scary prospect, especially if Iraqi tensions spill to southern oilfields.

SocGen's veteran analyst Mike Wittner assigns only a 20% probability of crude oil exports from southern Iraqi oil fields (of Basrah) being disrupted. Current output is in the region of 2.5-2.6 million bpd or 3% of global production. In line with other city commentators and the Oilholic's own conjecture, Wittner says were Basrah to be hit, Brent could move up quickly into the US$120-125 range.

Let's hope it doesn't get hit, as Legland and Fermon note, in the past 50 years, 5 out of 7 recessions coincided with an oil shock, with oil prices skyrocketing. "However, to date, no one is expecting the oil price to rise to $150 or above; so concerns over an oil-led recession appear exaggerated," they add.

Away from pricing matters, a couple of corporate quips starting with a small cap. London AiM-quoted North Africa focussed E&P firm Circle Oil has largely kept the market on its side despite niggles it faces in Egypt along with other operators in the country. From where this blogger stands, Circe Oil's operations in Morocco and Tunisia remain promising and its receivables position in Egypt is in line with most (around the 180 debtor day norm).

Investec analyst Brian Gallagher has reaffirmed the bank's buy rating. Explaining his decision in a note to clients, Gallagher observed that Circle Oil "generated operational cashflow in excess of $50 million in 2013 and we expect it to match or exceed this level again in 2014. This marks Circle out from many of its small cap E&P peers who struggle to fund exploration campaigns. Circle has two impact operations currently in process. Moroccan exploration recently began (successfully) while results from the Tunisian well, EMD-1, are imminent. In the background, Egypt continues to perform."

The company is busy prospecting in Oman as well, even though it's early days. So methinks, and Gallagher thinks, there's a lot to look forward to. Switching tack to a couple of large caps, Fitch Ratings revised BG Energy's outlook to negative at A- and maintained BP's at A+/stable.

Starting with the former, the agency said BG's negative outlook reflects completion risks associated with its new upstream projects, challenges that the company is facing in Egypt, and the potential that funds from operations (FFO) adjusted net leverage may stay above 2.5 times in the medium-term should there be any delays to project start-ups.

"Presently, we view the group's credit metrics as stretched for the current ratings because of BG's ambitious investments coinciding with declining production, despite a series of asset disposals intended to strengthen the group's balance sheet," Fitch noted, adding that it expects the company’s business profile to improve with the start-up of its major projects in Australia and Brazil.

On BP, Fitch views its operational profile as commensurate with the 'AA' category. "Presently, BP's rating direction depends largely on the outcome of legal proceedings related to the 2010 Macondo oil spill. At end the of the first quarter of 14, BP had provisioned $42.7 billion in total for claims and other related payments, of which it had paid out $34.9 billion."

Fitch says that total payments below $70 billion, including amounts already paid out and the balance paid over a period of several years, are likely to keep BP in the 'A' rating category, while payments exceeding this amount may push the company's ratings into the 'BBB' category.

On a broader footing, Fitch has maintained a stable outlook for its rated EMEA oil and gas companies. Senior director Jeffrey Woodruff says negative outlooks on certain companies such as BG was mainly due to company specific problems rather than broad based sector weakness. "It is worth highlighting, that more than 80% of issuers in Fitch's EMEA oil and gas portfolio have stable outlooks and the number of positive outlooks doubled since 2013 to 5% from 2.5%," he adds.

Finally, rounding the last four hectic weeks off, here is the Oilholic's latest article for Forbes touching on the recent jumpiness over the possibility of US crude oil exports. Yours truly does see a distinct possibility of it happening at some point in the future. However, it won’t happen any time soon and certainly not in an election year, with a race to the White House to follow.

Last month also saw this blogger head to Moscow for the 21st World Petroleum Congress and a predictable 165th OPEC summit prior to that, where the organisation maintained its quota and Abdalla Salem El-Badri stayed on as Secretary General. As usual there were TV soundbites aplenty - the Oilholic's including - plus hustle, bustle, bluster and differences of opinion that go along with events of this nature. So for a change, one is glad this month's pace would be a shade slower. That's all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Oil pump in Russia © Lukoil. Photo 2: Gaurav Sharma speaking on OPEC Webcast © OPEC, June 11, 2014.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maintaining 2014 price predictions for Brent

Since the initial flare-up in Iraq little over a fortnight ago, many commentators have been revising or tweaking their Brent price predictions and guidance for the remainder of 2014. The Oilholic won't be doing so for the moment, having monitored the situation, thought hard, gathered intelligence and discussed the issue at length with various observers at the last OPEC summit and 21st World Petroleum Congress earlier this month.

Based on intel and instinct, yours truly has decided to maintain his 2014 benchmark price assumptions made in January, i.e. a Brent price in the range of US$90 to $105 and WTI price range of $85 to $105. Brent's premium to the WTI should in all likelihood come down and average around $5 barrel. Nonetheless, geopolitical premium might ensure an upper range price for Brent and somewhere in the modest middle for the WTI range come the end of the year.

Why? For starters, all the news coming from Iraq seems to indicate that fears about the structural integrity of the country have eased. While much needed inward investment into Iraq's oil & gas industry will take a hit, majority of the oil production sites are not under ISIS control.

In fact, Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi recently claimed that Iraq's crude exports will increase next month. You can treat that claim with much deserved scepticism, but if anything, production levels aren't materially lower either, according to anecdotal evidence gathered from shipping agents in Southern Iraq.

The situation is in a flux, and who has the upper hand might change on a daily basis, but that the Iraqi Army has finally responded is reducing market fears. Additionally, the need to keep calm is bolstered by some of the supply-side positivity. For instance, of the two major crude oil consumers – US and China – the former is importing less and less crude oil from the Middle East, thereby easing pressure by the tanker load. Had this not been the case, we'd be in $120-plus territory by now, according to more than one City trader.

Some of the market revisions to oil price assumptions, while classified as 'revisions' have been pragmatic enough to reflect this. Many commentators have merely gone to the upper end of their previous forecasts, something which is entirely understandable.

For instance, Moody's increased the Brent crude price assumptions it uses for rating purposes to $105 per barrel for the remainder of 2014 and $95 in 2015. In case of the WTI, the ratings agency increased its price assumptions to $100 per barrel for the rest of 2014, and to $90 in 2015. Both assumptions are within the Oilholic's range, although they represent $10 per barrel increases from Moody's previous assumptions for both WTI and Brent in 2014 and a $5 increase for 2015.

"The new set of price assumptions reflects the agency's sense of firm demand for crude, even as supplies increase as a response to historically high prices. New violence in Iraq coupled with political turmoil in that general region in mid-2014 have led to supply constraints in the Middle East and North Africa," Moody's said.

But while these constraints exist, Moody's echoed vibes the Oilholic caught on at OPEC that Saudi Arabia, which can affect world global prices by adjusting its own production levels, has appeared unwilling to let Brent prices rise much above $110 per barrel on a sustained basis.

Away from pricing matters to some ratings matters with a few noteworthy notes – first off, Moody's has upgraded Schlumberger's issuer rating and the senior unsecured ratings of its guaranteed subsidiaries to Aa3 from A1.

Pete Speer, Senior Vice-President at the agency, said, "Schlumberger's industry leading technologies and dominant market position coupled with its conservative financial policies support the higher Aa3 rating through oilfield services cycles. The company's growing asset base and free cash flow generation also compares well to Aa3-rated peers in other industries."

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings says the Iraqi situation does not pose an immediate threat to the ratings of its rated Western investment-grade oil companies. However, the agency reckons if conflict spreads and the market begins to doubt whether Iraq can increase its output in line with forecasts there could be a sharp rise in world oil prices because Iraqi oil production expansion is a major contributor to the long-term growth in global oil output.

The conflict is closest to Iraqi Kurdistan, where many Western companies including Afren (rated B+/Stable by Fitch) have production. However, due to ongoing disagreements between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government, legal hurdles to export of Iraqi crude remain, and therefore production is a fraction of the potential output.

Other companies, such as Lukoil (rated BBB/Negative by Fitch), operate in the southeast near Basra, which is far from the areas of conflict and considered less volatile.

Alex Griffiths, Head of Natural Resources and Commodities at Fitch Ratings, said, "Even if the conflict were to spread throughout Iraq and disrupt other regions, the direct loss of revenues would not affect major investment-grade rated oil companies because Iraqi output is a very small component of their global production."

"In comparison, disruption of gas production in Egypt and oil production in Libya during the "Arab Spring" were potential rating drivers for BG Energy Holdings (A-/Stable) and Eni (A+/Negative), respectively," he added.

On a closing note, here is the Oilholic's latest Forbes article discussing natural gas pricing disparities around the world, and why abundance won't necessarily mitigate this. That's all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Oil drilling site © Shell photo archives

Friday, June 20, 2014

Final ‘crude’ thoughts from 21 WPC Moscow

The 21st World Petroleum Congress came to a close last evening at the mammoth Crocus Expo Center in Moscow, and its almost sundown here at the Red Square. A hectic five days gave plenty of food for thought and 'crude' tangents for discussion.

As noted on Tuesday, the Ukraine standoff failed to overshadow the event, as a veritable who's who of the oil & gas industry turned up regardless. Most movers and shakers, whether correctly, conveniently or cleverly, cited the premise that the Congress was a global event being hosted by Russia, and not a Russian event. So, in the eyes of most, there was no place for international politics. But it was certainly the place for industry intelligence gathering on an international scale.

If anything, it was the events in Iraq that cast a shadow over discussions rather than Ukraine. And with a rather eerie coincidence, just as the Congress came to a close on Thursday, the Brent front month futures price spiked to an intraday high of US$115.71 per barrel. That's the highest on record since September last year.

Most analysts here for the Congress noted that the speed with which the events are unfolding is most troubling and has serious implications for the oil price. For the present moment, the Oilholic is maintaining his price range prediction for Brent in the range of $90-105 circa. Instead of rushing to judgement, given that the US need for Middle Eastern crude oil is narrowing, this blogger would like to monitor the situation for another few weeks before commenting on his price prediction.

Meanwhile, Iran is out in force in Moscow pitching $100 billion worth of oil & gas projects. Additionally, among the many views on where to turn for new hydrocarbon resources, Arctic oil & gas exploration seems to be all the rage here. Here is the Oilholic's take in a Forbes article.

Elsewhere, executives from Saudi Aramco to Shell stressed the need to reduce output costs. Or to cite one senior executive, "We're seeking to either equal or better costs incurred by US unconventional plays." Drilling for oil has various permutations, but if natural gas is the objective, the target should be around $2 per thousand cubic feet, according to various US commentators here.

The oil & gas industry as whole is likely to need financing of $1 trillion per annum over the next 20 years as unconventional plays become commonplace, at least that's the macro verdict. Speaking in Moscow, Peter Gaw, managing director of oil, gas and chemicals at Standard Chartered, said the banking sector could meet the demands despite a tough recovery run from the global financial crisis.

Anecdotal evidence here and wider empirical evidence from recent deals suggest private equity firms will continue to be players in the services business. But Gaw also saw hybrid finance deals involving hedge funds and pension funds on the cards.

Andy Brogan, global leader of EY's oil & gas transactions, said the diversity of projects both in region and scope is evident. Asia Pacific and Latin America should be the two regions on the radar as some financiers attempt to move beyond North America. Sounding cautiously optimistic, Brogan added that the post-crisis "appetite" is gradually returning.

A senior US industry source also told the Oilholic that Bakken capex could top all industry estimates this year and might well be in the $20-25 billion range. Away from financing, a few other snippets, the Indian delegation left pledging more information on a new rationalised tax regime, licensing policy, and a move on its highly political subsidies regime.The world's fourth largest energy consumer is looking to stimulate foreign investment in its oil & gas sector. However, to facilitate that, India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows he has to shake things up.

Meanwhile, BP, already an investor in India, has inked a $20 billion LNG sale and purchase agreement with CNOOC, China's leading LNG projects developer.

While the rest of us were in Moscow, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and British Prime Minister David Cameron were among onlookers as the deal for up to 1.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG starting from 2019 was being inked.

Lastly, it has to be said that over the first two days of the Congress, the Oilholic nipped in and out of 8 forums, talks and presentations and one keynote. Not a single one passed without 'shale' being mentioned for better or for worse!

That brings yours truly to the final thoughts from Moscow and there's more than one. Firstly, the Congress has widely acknowledged the US shale bonanza is now firmly beyond doubt. Secondly, the thought that Arctic oil & gas exploration is the next 'final frontier' is getting firmly entrenched in the thinking of most here in Moscow.

Finally, Istanbul should be congratulated on being named the host city of the 22nd World Petroleum Congress. By the time delegates arrive in town in 2017, the 'Kanal İstanbul' project should be well underway and the fate of the world's second-busiest oil & gas shipping artery – the Bosphorus – could make a good starting point.

On that note, its time to say Dos Vedanya to Russia and take the big flying bus home to London Heathrow! Here is a selection the Oilholic's photos from the Congress, which has been a memorable outing. It was an absolute pleasure visiting the Russian capital after a gap of 10 years, but sadly that's all from Moscow folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Red Square, Moscow, Russia. Photo 2: Logo of the 22nd World Petroleum Congress scheduled to be held in Istanbul. © Gaurav Sharma, June 2014.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Iran O&G projects: A possible market comeback?

The Oilholic has been tweeting like mad from the 21st World Petroleum Congress over a hectic few days, though not all of the chirps are 'crude' of course.

Away from tweeting today, one found an opening to talk to members of the Iranian delegation who are using the Congress – their first since a partial lifting of sanctions – to declare the country's oil & gas sector open for business. The aim is to bring in more foreign investment and technological know-how, in wake of securing limited international sanctions relief from a November interim agreement to temporarily curb its nuclear activities.

Setting out its stall, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has floated the idea of 41 projects aimed at the development of oil & gas fields, establishment of natural gas liquid (NGL) plants, and the collection of ancillary petroleum gas at oilfields. The latter project slant is of great significance, as the Iranians usually burned off the gas in the past due to lack of infrastructure, rather than tap it as an additional resource.

The total valuation is in the region of US$100 billion, as confirmed by an NIOC official and a new contractual framework is on the table. According an official, under the terms of the previous buy-back contracts, the said contractors were a set price for oil & gas produced. Under the planned new system (the Iranian Petroleum Contract), state-run energy companies will establish joint ventures with their international counterparts, which will be paid with a share of the output.

All sounds clear enough, but unless the sanctions are lifted further, one doubts how international players can circumvent the existing sanctions and proceed anyway. Nonetheless, there seems to be a very relaxed atmosphere within the Iranian camp here in Moscow, who are at the forefront of making their country's pitch. And there is some bluster too as usual.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has said that the country's oil industry would go ahead with the projects, with or without sanctions, which have "not hindered progress." The Oilholic doubts that, but agrees with Zanganeh's assertion, back in April, that in order for Iran to revise how it regulates oil & gas contracts further, sanctions must be lifted more meaningfully.

Companies are still queuing up though led by CNPC, Gazprom and Petronas. The Oilholic can confirm Eni and Total are also in talks with Iran, according to a senior source. However, US oil & gas majors are largely staying away and BP is understood to be "monitoring the situation" with nothing concrete having materialised so far. With proven reserves in the region of 360 billion barrels of oil (boe) equivalent, there is a lot at stake, so watch this space!

Among what the country holds, the Northern Iranian states should be pretty interesting, according to Farrokh Kamali, a recently retired technical advisor to the Iran LNG Company. In 2011 and 2012, Iran found potential for 10 billion barrels of crude and 5 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas in its territory of the Caspian Sea. Kamali describes the findings as "economically viable".

Meanwhile, the Indians are making waves too. People turned up in their hordes to hear what the newly appointed Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan had to say about the Narendra Modi government's planned revision to India's highly political subsidy system, which if significantly altered, could aid investment in the country's oil & gas sector.

First off, Pradhan stressed on the ties and friendship between Delhi and Moscow. Secondly, he noted that energy policy must serve broader economic growth and its benefits should not exclude "the poor and the vulnerable." Thirdly, he noted that the oil & gas industry's efforts must focus on promoting fiscal and regulatory regimes that are stable and equitable to both investors and owners of natural resources.

Fourthly, he called for enhancing technological collaboration across the value chain since the nations have to "delve deeper" and explore in more difficult areas for hydrocarbons. And then he left! Some were disappointed with Pradhan, but the Oilholic wasn't. A new minister, in a new government was hardly going to go down the path of saying something beyond the box – that's India, correction politics, for you.

Sticking with India, a Bharat Petroleum official gave fascinating insight into how the company is improving surveillance of its vast pipeline network. Manoj Kumar Jadhaw, manager of pipelines at the Indian state-owned company, said they are trialling a GPS tracking system for their 'line walkers' to ensure the walkers are actually walking and monitoring (and not skiving) along the length of the pipeline to prevent resource tapping or pilferage, a common occurrence in that part of the world.

Initial feedback has been great but the project only extends to 300km. When you are talking 40,000km of pipelines, there's some way to go yet! That's all from Moscow for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: National Iranian Oil Company enclosure at 21st World Petroleum Congress, Moscow, Russia. © Gaurav Sharma, June 2014.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

21 WPC Moscow: Who is here & said what so far

The Oilholic finds himself in Moscow for the 21st World Petroleum Congress, following on from the last one in Doha three years ago. However, what's different here is that while the Congress is a global event – often dubbed the Olympics of the oil & gas business – the 2014 host government Russia is involved in a face-off with the West over Ukraine.

There were whispers on Sunday that some governments and corporates alike would boycott the Congress. However, based on evidence here on the ground over the first day and half, the gossip seems to be unfounded.

At the mammoth Crocus Expo Centre, mingling with some 5,000 delegates are IOC and NOC bosses of every colour, stripe or nationality. Government representatives from around the world seem to be in solid attendance too. For instance, India's new Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan seems to be a popular man with delegates doubtless wishing to gain insights into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's energy policy.

On the other hand, the US government has sent no high level representative and while the Canadians are here, the all important oil producing province of Alberta has decided, as one source says "not to participate." That aside, doing a like-for-like comparison with Doha, this blogger sees no reduced levels of participation.

Those who are here saw ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, attending (and addressing) his fourth WPC. Tillerson called for a push on unconventional including Arctic drilling accompanied by "wise environmental stewardship."

"We must recognise the global need for energy is projected to grow, and grow significantly," he added. Close on Tillerson's heels, OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri told the Congress: "In a global energy future, and with connected markets, no one party can act alone. We need shared solutions for market stability."

Acknowledging his hosts, El-Badri added that there were healthy partnerships between Russian oil companies and OPEC member NOCs choosing to flag-up the global footprint of Lukoil as an example."Russia a key partner in the global energy supply equation as the world's second-largest oil exporter," El-Badri said further.

This morning, BP's boss Bob Dudley said the US shale bonanza had to be taken into context before jumping to global conclusions.

"Not all shale is good from a commercial standpoint," he said sharing the stage with Daniel Yergin (Pulitzer Prize winning author and IHS Vice chairman) and Jose Alcides Santoro Martins (Director of energy & gas and board member of Petrobras).

Dudley also said oil & gas sector project investment these days was driven by much better capital discipline. The industry had learnt and there was ever greater ROCE (return on capital employed) scrutiny.

Earlier, Dudley's PR boys managed a bit of a coup by timing the release of the company's latest Statistical Review of World Energy, one of the industry's most recognised annual research reports, on the first day of the Congress. BP's 63rd annual statistical trend update since 1952 noted that last year China, USA and Russia were the three largest consumers of oil and gas.

US and China collectively accounted for 70% of global crude oil demand. More generally, non-OECD demand for 2013 came in below average, while OECD demand, propped up by the US was above average, according to BP Chief Economist Christof Ruhl, soon to be Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's inaugural global head of research.

Tight oil plays edged US production up by over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) to 10 million bpd; the country's highest production rate since 1996. Ruhl opined that this was largely behind relatively stable global oil prices as North American output matched each supply disruption in the Middle East and North Africa virtually "barrel for barrel."

Finally, general analyst consensus here about Iraq is that the trouble itself is not as worrying as the speed with which it has unfolded, raising serious questions about the territorial integrity of the country. Additionally, there could be some long term implications for the oil price.

Alex Griffiths, head of natural resources and commodities at Fitch Ratings, acknowledges that the seizure of Mosul and attacks on Tikrit by ISIS are not an immediate threat to Iraq's oil production, or the ratings of Western investment-grade oil companies.

The areas under attack are not in Iraq's key oil-producing regions in the south or the additional fields in the northeast as discussed earlier on this blog.

"However, if conflict spreads and the market begins to doubt whether Iraq can increase its output in line with forecasts there could be a sharp rise in world oil prices because Iraqi oil production expansion is a major contributor to the long-term growth in global oil output," Griffiths added. That's all from Moscow for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Logo of the 21st World Petroleum Congress, Moscow, Russia. Photo 2: (Left to Right) Jose Alcides Santoro Martins (Petrobras), Daniel Yergin (IHS) and Bob Dudley (BP) © Gaurav Sharma, June 2014.

Oilholic’s photo clicks @ the 21st WPC host city

The Oilholic is by no means a photojournalist, but akin to the last congress in Doha, there is no harm in pretending to be one armed with a fully automatic Olympus FE-4020 digital camera here in Moscow!

The 21st World Petroleum Congress also marked this blogger's return to Russia and its wonderful capital city after a gap of 10 years.

The massive Crocus Expo International Center (above left) happens to be the Russian venue for the Congress from June 15 to June 19, with events also held at the Kremlin. Hope you enjoy the virtual views of the venue as well as Moscow, as the Oilholic is enjoying them here on the ground. (click on images to enlarge)

Crowds at 21WPC exhibition floor

Oil giants out in force at 21WPC exhibition
Shell's FLNG Model

Luxury cars right at home in Crocus Expo Center

Repsol Honda on display at 21WPC Exhibition floor   

The Virtual Racing Car experience thanks to ExxonMobil
Author Daniel Yergin (left) & BP Boss Bob Dudley
Highlighting Sakhalin region's potential
Gazprom's mammoth stand at 21WPC




Russian Hammer & Sickle at a Moscow Metro Station

Grand interior of a Moscow Metro Station






















Rush hour at motorway off the Red Square
























Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow























© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photos from the 21st World Petroleum Congress, Moscow, Russia © Gaurav Sharma, June 2014.

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