Showing posts with label Alexei Kudrin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alexei Kudrin. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oil markets take in the 'Rouble Trouble' saga

The Oilholic is feeling somewhat melancholy today! A crisp rouble note yours truly kept as a memento following a visit to Moscow in June is now worth considerably less when pitted against one’s lucky dollar! 

At one stage over the past 24 hours, the US$1 banknote on the left was worth 79% of the RUB100 note on the right. One doubts whether a dollar would fetch a 100 roubles - but just putting it out there.

Barring a brief jump when the Russian government went for a free float of the currency back in November, there hasn’t been much to be positive about the rouble. Last evening’s whopper of an announcement by the Central Bank of Russia to raise interest rates by 650 basis points to 17% from 10.5% did little more than provide temporary respite.

Since January till date, Russia has spent has spent over $70 billion (and counting) in support of the rouble. Yet, the currency continues to feel the strain of escalating sanctions imposed by the West in tandem with a falling oil price.

However, there is a very important distinction to be made here. A falling oil price does not necessarily imply that Russian oil companies are in immediate trouble, repeat ‘immediate’ trouble. While a weak rouble makes imports costlier for the wider economy, which will almost certainly tip into a recession next year; oil – priced and exported in dollars - will get more ‘domestic’ bang for the converted bucks.

The Russian Treasury also adjusts tax and ancillary levies on oil exports in line with a falling (or rising) oil price. The policy is likely to keep things on a sound footing for the country’s oil & gas companies, including state-owned behemoths, for at least another 12 months.

How things unfold beyond that is anybody’s guess. First off, several Russian oil & gas players would need their next round of refinancing late next year or early on in 2016. With several international debt markets off limits owing to Western sanctions, the state will have to step in at least partially.

Secondly, the oil price is unlikely to stage a recovery before the summer, and would be nowhere near $100 per barrel. If it is still below $85 come June, as the Oilholic thinks it would be and the rouble does not recover, then corporate profits would take a plastering regardless of however much the Russian Treasury adjusts its tax takings. 

Of course, not all in trouble would be Russian. Austrian, French and German banks with exposure to the country, accompanied by Russia-centric ETFs and Arctic oil & gas exploration will be hit hard.

Oil majors with exposure to Russia are already taking a hit. In particular, BP springs to mind. However, as the Oilholic opined in a Forbes article earlier this year - while BP could well do without problems in Russia, the company can indeed cope. For Total and Exxon Mobil, the financial irritants that their respective Russian forays have become of late would not be of major concern either.

Taking a macro viewpoint, market chatter about a repetition of the 1998 crisis is just that – chatter! Never say ‘never’ but a Russian default is highly unlikely.

Kit Juckes, global head of forex at Société Générale, says, “Comparisons with past crises – and 1998 in particular – are inevitable. The differences are more important than the similarities. Firstly, emerging market central banks (including and especially Russia) have vastly larger currency reserves with which to defend their currencies.

“Secondly, US real Fed Funds are negative now, where they had risen sharply from 1994 onwards. That's a double-edged sword as merely the thought of Fed tightening has been enough to spark a crisis after such a long period of zero rates, but when the dust settles, global investors will still need better yields than are on offer on developed market bonds.”

The final difference, Juckes says, is that the rouble, in particular, is falling from a very great height in real terms. “It has only fallen below the pre-1998 peak in the last few days. It's still not cheap unless we believe that the gains in the last 16 years are all justified by productivity – an argument that works for some emerging market economies rather more than it does for Russia.," he concludes.

Finally, there is no disguising one pertinent fact in the entire ongoing Russian melee – the manifestly obvious lack of economic diversification with the country. Russia has remained stubbornly reliant on oil & gas exports and its attempts to diversify the economy seem even feebler than Middle Eastern sheikdoms of late.

For this blogger, the lone voice of reason within Russia has been former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. As early as 2012, Kudrin repeatedly warned of impending trouble and overreliance on oil & gas exports. Few Kremlin insiders listened then, but now many probably wish they had! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Image: Dollar versus Rouble: $1 and RUB100 banknotes © Gaurav Sharma, 2014.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Price correction, Saudis hurt Canada & Russia!

Finally, we have a price correction which saw both global oil benchmarks reflect the wider macroeconomic climate accompanied by a dip in stock markets and a downgrade of 15 of the world’s largest banks by Moody’s. NYMEX WTI forward month futures contract fell below US$80 per barrel on Thursday for the first time since October 2011 while Brent is just about resisting the US$90-level trading at US$90.77 when last checked.

The benchmarks have shown bearish trends for almost three months but they were still not reflecting the wider macroeconomic climate; until yesterday that is. The ‘only way is up’ logic based on a linear supply-demand permutation oversimplifies the argument as the current situation demonstrates. Factors such as the absence of QE3 by the US Federal Reserve, a stronger US Dollar, and weaker Chinese, Indian and European data finally influenced market sentiment – not to provide the perfect storm but to provide the perfect reality! A decline in German business confidence levels reinforces bearish trends which will last for a while yet.

Despite negative sentiments and the possibility of Brent trading below US$100 per barrel for prolonged periods between now and Q1 2013, OPEC did not cut its quota last week. Saudi Arabia, which is so dominant within the cartel, actually wanted to send the price lower as it can contend with Brent falling to US$85 per barrel.

From a geopolitical standpoint, Saudis not only kicked a sanction hit Iran (maybe gleefully) but delivered bad news for Russia (perhaps intentionally) and Canada (almost certainly unwittingly). Saudi rivalry with Iran has more than a ‘crude’ dimension, but one with Russia almost certainly revolves around market dominance. The Oilholic’s hypothesis is that this intensified when Russian production first overtook Saudi production in 2009.

As the world’s leading producer for over two years, Moscow was causing Riyadh some discomfort. So the Saudis raised their game with the Libyan conflict and Iranian sanctions giving them ample excuses to do so. Constantly flouting OPEC production quotas, this February Saudi Arabia regained its top spot from Russia. Now with prices in reverse, it is the Russians who are sweating having rather bizarrely balanced their budget by factoring in an oil price in the circa of US$110 to US$120 per barrel.

Several independents, ratings agencies (for example S&P) and even former finance minister Alexei Kudrin repeatedly warned Russia about overreliance on oil. The sector accounts for nearly 70% of Russian exports and Vladimir Putin has done little to alter that dynamic both as prime minister and president in successive tenures.

Realising the Russian position was not going to change over the short term and with a near 10% (or above) dip in production at some of their major fields; the Saudis ramped up their production. A masterstroke or precisely a deft calculated hand played by Minister Ali Al-Naimi planked on the belief that amid bearish trends the Russians simply do not have the prowess, or in fact the incentive, to pump and dump more crude on the market has worked.

A Russian production rise to 10 million bpd is possible in theory, but very difficult to achieve in practice in this macroeconomic climate. So the markets (and the Saudis) expect Russia to fall back on their US$500 billion in reserves to balance the books over the short to medium term rather than ramp-up production. Furthermore, unless the Russians invest, the Saudis’ hand will only be strengthened and their status as ‘crude’ stimulus providers enhanced.

Canada’s oil sands business while not a direct Saudi target is indeed an accidental victim. The impact of a fall in the price of crude will also be very different as Canada’s economy is far more diversified than Russia’s. Instead of a decline in production, the ongoing oil sands and shale prospection points to a potential rise.

Canadian prospection remains positive for Canadian consumers and exporters alike; provincial and federal governments want it, justice wants it, PM wants it and the public certainly want it. However, developing the Athabasca oil sands and Canadian shale plays (as well as US’ Bakken play) is capital and labour intensive.

For the oil sands – holding the world’s second largest proven oil resource after Saudi Arabia’s Dhahran region – to be profitable, crude price should not plummet below US$60 per barrel. Three visits by the Oilholic to Calgary and interaction with colleagues at CAPP, advisory, legal and energy firms in Alberta between 2008 and 2011 threw up a few points worth reiterating amidst this current crude price correction phase. First of all, anecdotal evidence suggests that while it would rather not, Alberta’s provincial administration can even handle a price dip to US$35 to 40 per barrel.

Secondly, between Q2 2007 and Q1 2008 when the price of crude reached dizzy heights, oilfield services companies and engineering firms hired talent at top dollar only to fire six months later when the price actually did plummet to US$37 per barrel in wake of the financial crisis. Following a wave of redundancies, by 2010 Calgary and Fort McMurray were yet again witnessing a hiring frenzy. The cyclical nature of the industry means this is how things would be. Canadians remain committed to the oil & gas sector and in this blogger’s humble opinion can handle cyclical ups and downs better than the Russians.

Finally, Canada neither has a National Oil Company nor is it a member of any industry cartel; but for the sake of pure economics it too needs a price of about US$80 a barrel. On an even keel, when the price plummets or the Saudis indulge in tactical production manoeuvres, as is the case at present, you’d rather be a Canadian than a Russian.

The Oilholic has long suspected that the Saudis look upon the Canadians as fellow insurers working to prevent ‘oil demand destruction’ and vying for a slice of the American market; for them the Iranians and Russians are just market miscreants. That the market itself is mischievous and Canadians might join the 'miscreants' list if proposed North American pipelines come onstream is another matter! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Russian pump jacks © Lukoil. Photo 2: Red Square, Moscow, Russia © Gaurav Sharma 2004. Photo 3: Downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada © Gaurav Sharma 2011.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Canadian & Russian supply risk scenarios

Happy Easter folks! Following on from California, the Oilholic is once again back in Beautiful British Columbia, as vehicle licence plates from the province would point out, should you need reminding in these serene picturesque surroundings. When talking non-OPEC supply of the crude stuff – Russia and Canada always figure prominently in recent discussions, the latter more so than ever.

In fact, when it comes to holding exposure to oil price sensitivity, as recommended by some analysts for the next two quarters, via mixed bag of investments – Russian equities and “natural resources linked” (and not yet showing signs of Dutch disease) Forex including the Russian Rouble and the Canadian dollar are flagged-up more often than ever. In fact the Canadian Dollar, often called south of the border by Americans as the “Loonie” (based on a common bird on the CAD$1 coin), is proving pricier and more worthy than the world’s reserve currency itself in the post-Global financial crisis years.

Between Russia and Canada, given that the latter has a more diverse range of exports, the Russians have a bigger problem when it comes to oil price swings. In fact, ratings agency S&P reckons that a sustained fall in the price of oil could damage the Russian economy and public finances and consequently lead to a cut of the long-term sovereign rating.

"We estimate that a US$10 decline in oil prices will directly and indirectly lead to a 1.4% of GDP decline in government revenues. In a severe stress scenario, where a barrel of Urals oil drops to, and stays at, an average US$60, we would expect the general government to post a deficit above 8% of GDP. In that scenario, the long-term ratings on the Russian Federation could drop by up to three notches," says S&P credit analyst Kai Stukenbrock.

The rise in oil prices over the past decade has supported an expansionary fiscal policy, while still allowing the country to build up fiscal reserves. Still, fiscal expansion, not least significant countercyclical spending during the recent crisis, has led to a significant increase in expenditures relative to GDP.

As a result, despite record revenues from oil in 2011, S&P estimates the general Russian government surplus at merely 0.8% of GDP. To balance the budget in 2012, the agency thinks the government will require an average oil price of US$120 per barrel.

While former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin has also expressed fears of Russian over reliance on the price of oil, most analysts have a base price range of US$90 to 100 for 2012. So a fear it may well be; it remains what it is – a fear! Another ratings agency – Moody’s noted last month that as a result of financial flexibility built up over the past two years, rated Russian integrated oil & gas companies will be able to accommodate volatility in oil prices and other emerging challenges in 2012 within their current rating categories.

"In 2011, rated Russian players continued to demonstrate strong operating and financial results, underpinned by elevated oil prices," says Victoria Maisuradze, an Associate Managing Director in Moody's Corporate Finance Group. "Indeed, operating profits are likely to remain stable in 2012 as an increased tax and tariff burden will offset the benefits of high crude oil prices. All issuers have stable outlooks and our outlook for the sector is stable."

Nevertheless, developing reserves in new regions remains a major challenge for Russia as traditional production areas deplete; a problem which the Canadians don’t have to contend with. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose hand is now politically more stronger than ever, told an audience in London that Canada was ranked third in the world for gas production, seventh in oil production, the market leader in hydroelectricity and uranium. He described it six years ago as “just the beginning.”

Harper’s journey to make Canada an ‘energy superpower’ is well and truly underway. The Oilholic charted the view from Calgary on his visit to Alberta last year and has followed the shenanigans related to the US ‘dis’-approval of Keystone XL pipeline project over the course of 2011-12. Over the coming days, yours truly would revisit the subject with a take on prospective exports to Asia via British Columbia.

Continuing with non-OPEC supplies, the Oilholic’s old contact in Warsaw – Arkadiusz Wicik, Director of Energy, Utilities and Regulation at Fitch Ratings – believes Shale gas in Poland could still be a game changer for the country's energy sector despite the disappointing shale gas reserve estimate published in March by the Polish Geological Institute (PGI).

PGI assessed most likely recoverable shale gas reserves to be between 0.35 and 0.77 trillion cubic meters (tcm), which is about one-tenth the 5.3 tcm estimated by the US Energy Information Administration in April 2011. PGI estimates maximum recoverable shale gas reserves at 1.92 tcm.

Wicik believes it is still too early to make any meaningful assumptions about the future of shale gas in Poland, believed to have one of the highest development potentials in Europe. “Less than 20 exploration wells have been drilled by domestic and foreign companies, in many cases with disappointing results. From a credit perspective, we view shale gas exploration as high risk and capital intensive. Partnerships among domestic companies to share exploration risks and costs, or more participation by foreigners would be positive,” he says.

Exploration by Poland's energy companies at an early stage gives them a chance to become major players should the commercial availability of gas be proven over the next several years. This was not the case in the US, where the shale gas industry was developed by a number of smaller, independent players as the Oilholic noted in a special report for Infrastructure Journal. Large US oil and gas companies have only recently started to be active in the sector, mostly through acquisitions.

Wicik notes, “We do not expect that the success in the US, which led to about a 50% decrease in US gas prices between 2008 and 2011, will be easily replicated in Poland. Commercial production in the first five to 10 years is unlikely to substantially lower gas prices given high breakeven costs. Also, Poland and the US differ both in terms of shale formations and the gas market structure.”

A number of foreign companies already have exploration concessions for shale gas in Poland, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips (through a service agreement with Lane Energy), Marathon Oil and Eni. Local players that have been granted exploration concessions include PGNiG, PKN Orlen, Grupa Lotos and Petrolinvest.

Another three large domestic companies - PGE, Tauron, and KGHM - also plan to enter shale gas exploration. In January 2012, they signed three separate letters of intent with PGNiG regarding cooperation in shale gas projects. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Refinery, Quebec, Canada © Michael Melford / National Geographic.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Talking Crude: Of Profits, Tax rebates & Asset Sales

Last week was an eventful one in crude terms. Well it’d have to be if Shell and Exxon Mobil declare bumper profits. Both saw their quarterly profits almost double. Beginning with Shell, the Anglo-Dutch firm reported profits of US$4.5 billion on a current cost (of supply) basis, up from US$2.3 billion noted over the corresponding quarter last year.

Excluding one-off items, Shell's profit was $4.2 billion, compared with $3.1 billion last year. Unlike BP, Shell said it would pay a second quarter dividend of $0.42 per share. The oil giant's restructuring plans also appear to be bearing fruit achieving cost savings of $3.5 billion, beating the stated corporate savings target by about 15% and some six months ahead of schedule.

Furthermore, it is thought that as a result of the restructuring, 7,000 employees would leave Shell nearly 18 months ahead of schedule. It also said it expected to sell $7-$8 billion of assets over 2010-11. Concurrently, oil giant Exxon Mobil reported quarterly profits of $7.6 billion, well above the $4.1 billion it posted over the corresponding quarter last year. Revenue for the quarter rose 23% in year over year terms on annualised basis from $72.5 billion to $92.5 billion.

Meanwhile, rival BP reported a record $17 billion second quarter loss which the market half expected. The figure included funds to the tune of $32 billion set aside to cover the costs of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sticking with BP, it has emerged that the beleaguered oil giant included a tax credit claim of almost $10 billion in its Q2 results as it seeks to take the edge off the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on its corporate finances. Its income statement for the second quarter carries a pre-tax charge of $32.2 billion related to the oil spill and a tax credit of $9.79 billion.

Under domestic tax laws in the US, BP is entitled to deduct a proportion of its losses against US tax. The issue is likely to turn political – especially in an election year, when much more has been made out of far less. However, legally the US government can do precious little to prevent BP from claiming the tax credit.

Crude asset sales seem to be the order of the day. Following on from BP’s sale of assets and Shell’s announcement that it will sell too, news emerged that the Russian government also wants to join the party.

It plans to sell $29 billion worth of assets (not all which are energy sector assets) on the open markets. In the absence of official confirmation, local media speculation suggests minor stakes in Rosneft and Transneft may be put up for sale.

However, speaking to reporters in Moscow on July 29th, the country’s Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said, "We will sell significant stakes in state companies on the market. We plan to keep controlling stakes. Assets will be valued publicly, in line with market prices and tenders will be open. We are fully ruling out a situation when somebody sells something to someone at an artificially low price."

According to communiqués, the Russian government wanted to rake in $10 billion next year from asset sales. It has also approved a decision to increase mineral extraction taxes on gas producers by 61% from 2011.

Finally from a macro strandpoint, market consensus and comments from BP, Shell and Exxon officials seem to indicate that the top bosses of all three see mixed signals in the global economy. While their earnings figures, excluding BP for obvious reasons, have improved markedly from the quarterly lows of 2009, the overall industry outlook remains uncertain.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo courtesy © Shell

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