Showing posts with label Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi. Show all posts

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

Saturday, June 01, 2013

OPEC & the downward bias in Black Gold’s value

The OPEC ministers have packed-up and left with no real surprises as the cartel maintained its daily output at 30 million barrels per day (bpd). But in the absence of any real surprises from OPEC, the downward bias in the direction of leading oil futures benchmarks is getting stronger, given the perceived oversupply and a flat, if not dicey, macroeconomic climate. The Brent forward month futures contract plummeted to nearly US$100, seeing a near 2.5% dip from last week (click on graph to enlarge). Given that the trading community had already factored in the outcome of the 163rd OPEC meeting even before it concluded, most appear to be waiting to see whether the US Federal Reserve continues with its monetary stimulus programme. Even if it does so, given the macroeconomic permutations, it is not worth holding your breath for a ‘crude’ bounceback.
 
Far from cutting production, there seem to be murmurs and concern in the hawkish camps of Iran and Venezuela about constantly improving production levels in Iraq. Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi, Iraq’s oil minister, confirmed at a media scrum in Vienna that the country plans to start production at two of its largest oilfields within “a matter of weeks.”
 
Production commencement at Majnoon (which is imminent) and Gharraf (due in July), followed by a third facility at West Qurna-2 (due by December if not earlier) would lift Iraqi capacity by 400,000 bpd according to al-Luaibi. The country’s current output is about 3.125 million bpd. The additional capacity would bolster its second position, behind Saudi Arabia, in the OPEC output league table.
 
The Iraqis have a monetary incentive to produce more of the crude stuff. Sadly for OPEC, it will come at a time the cartel does not need it. Instead of adherence, there will be further flouting of the recently agreed upon quota by some members. Iraq is not yet even included in the quota (and may not be until late into 2014).
 
Non-OPEC supply is seeing the ranks of the usual suspects Russia and Norway, joined ever more meaningfully by Brazil, Kazakhstan, Canada and not to mention (and how can you not mention) – the US, courtesy of its shale supplies and more efficient extraction techniques at Texan conventional plays. So a downward bias will prevail – for now.
 
In fact, Morgan Stanley did not even wait for the OPEC meeting to end before downgrading oil services firms, mostly European ones, based on the conjecture that IOCs as well as NOCs (several of whom hail from OPEC jurisdictions) would allocate relatively lower capex towards E&P.
 
Robert Pulleyn, analyst at Morgan Stanley, wrote and the Oilholic quotes: “With oil prices the key determinant of industry operating cash flow, and given our expectation for an increasingly range bound price environment, we expect industry-operating-cash-flow growth to fall from 14% compound annual growth rate (since 2003) to about 3% in the future. We expect capex growth to fall to around 5% a year to 2020, compared to 18% compound annual growth rate since 2003.”
 
Of the five it downgraded on Thursday – viz. Vallourec, SBM Offshore, CGG Veritas, TGS-NOPEC and Subsea 7 – only the latter avoided a dip in share price following the news. However, Morgan Stanley upgraded John Wood Group, saying it is better positioned to withstand a lower growth outlook for industry spending.
 
As for the price of the crude stuff itself, many analysts didn’t wait for OPEC either with Commerzbank, Société Générale and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML) all sounding bearish on Brent. BoAML cut its Brent crude price forecasts to $103 per barrel from $111 for the second half of 2013, citing lower global oil demand, rising supplies and higher inventories. The bank expects the general weakness to persist next year and reduced its 2014 average Brent price outlook from $112 to $105 per barrel. So there you have it and that’s all from Vienna folks!
 
Since it’s time to say Auf Wiedersehen, the Oilholic leaves you with a view of the city’s Irrgarten and Labyrinth at the Schönbrunn Palace grounds (see right). Once intended for the amusement of Austro-Hungarian royalty and their guests, this amazing maze is now for the public’s amusement.
 
While visitors to this wonderful place are getting lost in a maze for fun, OPEC ministers going round in circles over a key appointment to the post of Secretary General is hardly entertaining. At such a challenging time for it, the 12-member oil exporters’ club could do with a bit of unity. Yet it cannot even unite behind a single candidate for the post – something which has been dragging on for a year – as rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to hold out for their chosen candidate for the post. Furthermore, it’s taken an ugly sectarian tone along Shia and Sunni lines.
 
Worryingly, this time around, neither the Saudis nor the Iraqis are in any mood for a compromise as the rest of the 10 members wander around in a maze feeling dazed about shale, internal rivalries, self interest and plain old fashioned market anxieties. The Oilholic maintains it’s premature to suggest that a rise in unconventional production is making OPEC irrelevant, but its members are unwittingly trying really hard to do just that! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Graph: World crude oil futures benchmarks to May 25, 2013 © Société Générale. Photo: Irrgarten & Labyrinth, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2013.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shale & the 163rd OPEC ministers’ summit

The Oilholic has exchanged the blustery wind and rain in London for the blustery wind and rain in Vienna ahead of 163rd OPEC meeting of ministers here on May 31, which half the world’s media and energy analysis community have already dubbed a ‘non-event’. The other half are about to! Industry commentators here and beyond think the 12 member group is going to hold its current production quota at just above 30 million barrels per day (bpd).
 
Even before yours truly boarded the flight from London Heathrow, a Rotterdam based contact in the spot trading world suggested one needn’t have bothered with the market having already factored-in an “as you were” stance by OPEC. This is borne out in further anecdotal evidence; the futures market on leading benchmarks has been bearish in the past 48 hours (not solely down to OPEC).
 
Accompanying overtones describing the meeting as a non-event is the sentiment that OPEC is being haunted by North America’s shale revolution. As if with perfect timing, the US EIA announced on Thursday that the country's crude-oil supplies rose 3 million barrels for the week ended May 24, to 397.6 million barrels; the highest level on record since it began collecting data in 1978.
 
Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) added its take on North American production scenarios by suggesting that demand for OPEC's oil is expected to plummet as production from the US (and Canada) increases by a fifth to 11.9 million bpd by 2018, compared with this year.
 
Additionally, Iraqi production is returning to health. So to put things into context, by 2020 the IEA expects Iraq's oil output to more than double to 6.1 million bpd and were this to happen, OPEC’s unofficial production could rise well above 36 million bpd. As a knee-jerk reaction, the cartel – according to the agency – would have to withhold up to 2.3 million bpd from the market by 2015 (with its spare capacity rising well above 7 million bpd).
 
Given all of this, you might be excused for thinking the global crude market was facing a supply glut and everything was gloomy from OPEC’s standpoint. Yet, the price of oil – Brent or OPEC’s own basket of crude(s) – is still above US$100 per barrel. That’s exactly where most in OPEC want it to be.
 
Arriving a day (or two) ahead of the meeting, 7 out of 12 OPEC ministers have told various media outlets that a US$100 price was acceptable, where it needs to be and “necessary” for investment.  These include senior government officials from Angola, Ecuador, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Venezuela. A US$100 floor price is a uniting theme it seems and most have sounded intent on holding the current official production quota!
 
The conjecture is that as long that floor is maintained, the cartel won’t be cutting production. In fact, OPEC kingpin and Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Ali al-Naimi, who has been in Vienna since May 28, has said existing conditions represent the best environment possible for the market in the face of economic headwinds and that “demand is great.” Despite the best efforts of scribes, bloggers, wiremen and analysts collective, neither Iran nor Venezuela, both of whom are always pushing for cuts to boost the price, have uttered much in the past 24 hours.
 
In contrast, Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi, oil minister for Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, said, “There is balance between demand and supply, and this is reflected on prices, they are stable. We don’t want any shock to the market, the stability of prices is important for the global economy.”
 
The Oilholic thinks the cartel will maintain status quo until the floor dips to US$80 per barrel, if it does. However, the unity will disappear the moment the oil price dips below US$99 with Venezuela and Iran being among the first to start clamouring for another production quota cut.
 
This brings us back to the hullabaloo about North American shale (and unconventional E&P) versus OPEC! The right wing commentators and the US media plus politicians of all stripes – some of whom of conveniently forget Canada’s part in the North American energy spectrum – make it sound as if OPEC, which still accounts for just over 40% of the world’s crude oil market, would suddenly become irrelevant overnight.
 
The IEA, as the Oilholic noted a few weeks ago, described it as nothing short of a paradigm shift in the context of the oil market, although in not these exact words. Then there is the dilemma of OPEC ministers – who are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If an OPEC minister acknowledges the impact of North American shale, he is described in the media as one who is resigned to the cartel’s decline. Conversely, if an OPEC minister dismisses it, the rebuttal is that he’s doing so because he’s scared!
 
Here is an example from this afternoon, when Iraqi minister al-Luaibi was asked for a comment, he said, “The US shale oil production increase – although it has some impact, it's not a significant impact on oil production or exports, and as you all might notice OPEC countries are all producing more oil than the agreed quota ceiling.”

Now, instead of the Oilholic doing so, do your own research on how the quote has been reported stateside? It will vindicate the sentiment expressed in the previous paragraph. Yours truly is not belittling the shale revolution stateside – but how on earth can the current level of incremental production be maintained beyond the medium term is beyond common sense. So its worth getting excited about but not overexcited about it too! Furthermore, a bit of pragmatism is needed in this debate – one which the Oilholic saw in a brilliant article in the FT by Ajay Makan.
 
In the column, Makan notes how within OPEC there is divide between the relatively comfortable Gulf producers (for e.g. Saudi Arabia) and the rest (most notably Iran, Venezuela and African members). The Saudis have welcomed the impact of shale as they can afford the price falling below US$100 level but some of their peers in OPEC can’t. For some more than the others, “a reckoning appears inevitable, particularly if growth in demand slows,” writes Makan.
 
Then again, beyond supply scenarios, it is worth asking whose shale bonanza is it anyway? First and foremost it is, and as the Oilholic was discussing with Phil Flynn of Price Futures a couple of months ago, price positive for American consumers, followed by LNG importing Asian jurisdictions. While Indian and Chinese policymakers are hardly jumping for joy and will for the foreseeable future continue to rely on OPEC members (and Russia) for majority of their crude cravings, some in the US are already fretting about what US exports would mean for domestic prices!
 
A group – America’s Energy Advantage – backed by several prominent US industrial brands including Alcoa, Huntsman chemicals and Dow Chemical, has claimed that "exporting proceeds of shale (to be read LNG) carries with it the potential threat of damaging jobs and investment in the US manufacturing sector as rising exports will drive up the price of gas to the detriment of domestic industries."
 
Boone Pickens, in a brilliant riposte, has asked can the US do what it has been criticising OPEC for since the cartel's inception and restrict exports? The inimitable industry veteran has a point! That's all for the moment from Vienna folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. OPEC logo on HQ exterior, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma.

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