Showing posts with label Bakken. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bakken. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The oil market in 2013: thoughts & riddles aplenty

Over a fortnight into 2013 and a mere day away from the Brent forward month futures contract for February expiring, the price is above a Nelson at US$111.88 per barrel. That’s after having gone to and fro between US$110 and US$112 intra-day.

As far as the early January market sentiment goes, ICE Future Europe said hedge funds and other money managers raised bullish positions on Brent crude by 10,925 contracts for the week ended January 8; the highest in nine months. Net long positions in futures and options combined, outnumbered short positions by 150,036 lots in the week ended January 8, the highest level since March 27 and the fourth consecutive weekly advance.

On the other hand, bearish positions by producers, merchants, processors and users of Brent outnumbered bullish positions by 175,478, down from 151,548 last week. It’s the biggest net-short position among this category of market participants since August 14. So where are we now and where will we be on December 31, 2013?

Despite many market suggestions to the contrary, Barclays continues to maintain a 2013 Brent forecast of US$125. The readers of this blog asked the Oilholic why and well the Oilholic asked Barclays why. To quote the chap yours truly spoke to, the reason for this is that Barclays’ analysts still see the Middle East as “most likely” geopolitical catalyst.

“While there are other likely areas of interest for the oil market in 2013, in our view the main nexus for the transmission into oil prices is likely to be the Middle East, with the spiralling situations in Syria and Iraq layered in on top of the core issue of Iran’s external relations,” a Barclays report adds.

Macroeconomic discontinuities will continue to persist, but Barclays’ analysts reckon that the catalyst they refer to will arrive at some point in 2013. Nailing their colours to mast, well above a Nelson, their analysts conclude: “We are therefore maintaining our 2013 Brent forecast of US$125 per barrel, just as we have for the past 21 months since that forecast was initiated in March 2011.”

Agreed, the Middle East will always give food for thought to the observers of geopolitical risk (or instability) premium. Though it is not as exact a science as analysts make it out to be. However, what if the Chinese economy tanks? To what extent will it act as a bearish counterweight? And what are the chances of such an event?

For starters, the Oilholic thinks the chances are 'slim-ish', but if you’d like to put a percentage figure to the element of chance then Michael Haigh, head of commodities research at Société Générale, thinks there is a 20% probability of a Chinese hard-landing in 2013. This then begs the question – are the crude bulls buggered if China tanks, risk premium or no risk premium?

Well China currently consumes around 40% of base metals, 23% major agricultural crops and 20% of ‘non-renewable’ energy resources. So in the event of a Chinese hard-landing, not only will the crude bulls be buggered, they’ll also lose their mojo as investor confidence will be battered.

Haigh thinks in the event of Chinese slowdown, the Brent price could plummet to US$75. “A 30% drop in oil prices (which equates to approximately US$30 given the current value of Brent) would ultimately boost GDP growth and thus pull oil prices higher. OPEC countries would cut production if prices fall as a result of a China shock. So we expect Brent’s decline to be limited to US$75 as a result,” he adds.

Remember India, another major consumer, is not exactly in a happy place either. However, it is prudent to point out the current market projections suggest that barring an economic upheaval, both Indian and Chinese consumption is expected to rise in 2013. Concurrently, the American separation from international crude markets will continue, with US crude oil production tipped to rise by the largest amount on record this year, according to the EIA.

The independent statistical arm of the US Department of Energy, estimates that the country’s crude oil production would grow by 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2013 to 7.3 million bpd. While the rate of increase is seen slowing slightly in 2014 to 600,000 bpd, the total jump in US oil production to 7.9 million bpd would be up 23% from the 6.4 million bpd pumped domestically in 2012.

The latest forecast from the EIA is the first to include 2014 hailing shale! If the agency’s projections prove to be accurate, US crude oil production would have jumped at a mind-boggling rate of 40% between 2011 and 2014.

The EIA notes that rising output in North Dakota's Bakken formation and Texas's Eagle Ford fields has made US producers sharper and more productive. "The learning curve in the Bakken and Eagle Ford fields, which is where the biggest part of this increase is coming from, has been pretty steep," a spokesperson said.

So it sees the WTI averaging US$89 in 2013 and US$91 a barrel in 2014. Curiously enough, in line with other market forecasts, bar that of Barclays, the EIA, which recently adopted Brent as its new international benchmark, sees it fall marginally to around US$105 in 2013 and falling further to US$99 a barrel in 2014.

On a related note, Fitch Ratings sees supply and demand pressures supportive of Brent prices above US$100 in 2013. “While European demand will be weak, this will be more than offset by emerging market growth. On the supply side, the balance of risk is towards negative, rather than positive shocks, with the possibility of military intervention in Iran still the most obvious potential disruptor,” it said in a recent report.

However, the ratings agency thinks there is enough spare capacity in the world to deal with the loss of Iran's roughly 2.8 million bpd of output. Although this would leave little spare capacity in the system were there to be another supply disruption. Let’s see how it all pans out; the Oilholic sees a US$105 to US$115 circa for Brent over 2013.

Meanwhile, the spread between Brent and WTI has narrowed to a 4-month low after the restart of the Seaway pipeline last week, which has been shut since January 2 in order to complete a major expansion. The expanded pipeline will not only reduce the bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma but reduce imports of waterborne crude as well. According to Bloomberg, the crude flow to the Gulf of Mexico, from Cushing, the delivery point for the NYMEX oil futures contract, rose to 400,000 bpd last Friday from 150,000 bpd at the time of the temporary closure.

On a closing note, and going back to Fitch Ratings, the agency believes that cheap US shale gas is not a material threat to the Europe, Middle East and Africa’s (EMEA) oil and gas sector in 2013. It noted that a lack of US export infrastructure, a political desire for the US to be self-sufficient in gas, and the prevalence of long term oil-based gas supply contracts in Europe all suggest at worst modest downward pressure on European gas prices in the short to medium term.

Fitch’s overall expectation for oil and gas revenues in EMEA in 2013 is one of very modest growth, supported by continued, if weakened, global GDP expansion and potential supply shocks. The ratings agency anticipates that top line EMEA oil and gas revenue growth in 2013 will be in the low single digits. There remains a material – roughly 30% to 40% – chance that revenue will fall for the major EMEA oil producers, but if so this fall is unlikely to be precipitous according to a Fitch spokesperson.

That’s all for the moment folks! One doubts if oil traders are as superstitious about a Nelson or the number 111 as English cricketers and Hindu priests are, so here’s to Crude Year 2013. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Holly Rig, Santa Barbara, California, USA © James Forte / National Geographic.

Friday, October 26, 2012

For US President, the Oilholic endorses 'neither'!

Whilst lounging on Hawaii’s beautiful White Sands Beach in Kona, the Oilholic wondered if the dear readers of this blog know what is a Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (pronounced ‘humu – humu – nuku – nuku – apa – wapa’)? Revelation on what it is and how it relates to energy policy stances of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney follows. The Presidential debates are over, all banners are up and the speeches are reaching a last minute fervour as Romney and Obama begin the concluding phases of their face-off ahead of the November 6, 2012 US Presidential election day.

As decision day draws nearer, the Oilholic endorses neither as both leading candidates have displayed a near lack of vision required to steer US energy policy in light of recent developments. The USA, despite its oil imports dynamic, believe it or not is the world’s third largest producer of crude oil by volume and among the market leaders in the distillates business.

With the next generation of independent wildcatters’ knack for finding value and economies of scale for small volumes (mostly in Texas and North Dakota), shale oil and an overall rise in countrywide oil output, things can only get better with the right man in charge at the White House. Additionally, the shale gas bonanza bears testimony to just about everything from American ingenuity and the benefits of an impressive pipeline (to market) network to a favourable legislative framework.

Yet both Obama and Romney sound unconvincing on respective plans for the energy industry despite their country’s domestic good fortune in recent years. The President’s policy has been a near failure while his opponent’s plans are insipid at best. Starting with the President first, since the Oilholic is in his birthplace of Hawaii and having arrived from California which hasn’t voted Republican in recent decades, bar the exception of Ronald Regan’s bid for the White House.

On the plus side, the Obama administration has opened up new US regions to oil and gas prospection though red tape persists. It has made noteworthy moves as a proponent of energy efficiency and energy economy drives for motorists and businesses alike. But on this briefest of note, the positivity ends. The BP Deepwater Horizon spill was as much about the failure of the company involved, as it was about the initial fuzzy response of the Obama administration followed by political points scoring as public anger grew when the spill wasn’t plugged for months.

Then of course there is the Solyndra boondoggle and supposed plans for “clean coal” where the less said the better, unless you are an opponent of the President. Shenanigans of the US Congress put paid to any plans he may have had for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Then of course there are politically fishy manoeuvres ranging from not offering proactive support to shale prospection and delaying the Keystone XL pipeline project from Canada until after the election and to reach (and then again subsequently threaten to reach) US strategic petroleum reserves as petrol prices rose at US pumps.

Yet for all of his incompetence, the American energy industry is not in an unhappy place thanks largely to the Bush administration’s recognition of the domestic reserve potential and Dick Cheney’s super-aggressive push on shale. What is disappointing is that it could have been much better under Obama but wasn’t. Remember all those “Yes we can” posters of his from the 2008 campaign. The Oilholic was hard pressed not to find at least one Obama banner once every four or five streets in major Californian metropolitan areas on a visit back then (using Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Sacramento as a basis).

Last week in San Diego yours truly found none and this week in Hawaii has been the same. For the US energy business, the absence of “Yes we can” banners conveys the same metaphorical message of being let down perhaps as the rest of the country. Things are tagging along in the energy business despite of Obama not because of anything in particular that he has done. Of course, he did make a tall claim of a cut in US oil imports from the Middle East which is true. However, the Oilholic agrees with T. Boone Pickens on this one – yes the US production rise has contributed to reduced importation of crude oil but so has the dip in economic performance which cuts energy usage and makes the citizenry energy frugal. What has Obama done?

Well so much so for the President, but what about his challenger? Sigh...The Right Honourable Mitt Romney’s policy is to make (and switch) a policy on the go accompanied by jumbled statements. Or, in something that would make the fictitious British civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby from BBC’s political satire Yes Minister proud – the Romney campaign’s policy is not to have a policy unless asked about a particular facet of the energy business.

So what do we know so far? Romney stands for less regulation, a more lenient approach to environmental regulations and will cut addiction to subsidies. But political waffle aside, all we have had is him blast Obama over the Solyndra affair, call for a repeal of Clean Air Act without outlining his ‘clean’ alternative and a proposal to allow wind power subsidies to lapse (again without spelling out the Romney plan for Wind Power).

He flags up the shale boom without being mindful that it too needed incentives to begin with before market forces kicked-in. Admittedly, the wind energy sector works to a different dynamic and is indeed subsidy addicted. But a quip to cut subsidies without a cohesive back-up plan reeks of political opportunism. The only way Romney scores better than Obama on energy policy is that he is not Obama and who knows if that might be reason enough to vote for good ol’ Mitt.

Both men have the fuzziest of plans with erratic changes in stance suited to the political climate in an election year. This brings us back to the Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa which is the Hawaiian state fish from the tropical reef triggerfish family. The local name simply means "the fish that grunts like a pig" for the sound it makes when caught. It is also prone to sudden erratic changes in position and swimming patterns while negotiating the Hawaiian coral reefs according to a local marine biologist. Kinda like the two main US Presidential candidates isn’t it?

That’s all from Hawaii folks as the Oilholic prepares for the long journey home. It has been a memorable week in another memorable part of America. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Yours truly leaves you with a photo of Hawaiian residents of the Punaluʻu Black Sand beach – the Hawksbill and Green sea turtles (above right) and moi at Old Kona State Airport recreation beach and park.

You can cycle down 30 miles along the Kona coastline and stop every 15 mins to ask “Is that a view? Or is that a view?” and you’ll conclude that that’s a view! The people are lovely, the food is great, the place oozes natural history and tales of human history. Since this blogger also drove 260 miles circling the entire Big Island via its main highway with the help of veteran local tour guide John Mack, one can confirm that different parts of this Hawaiian isle get 11 of the 13 climate ranges known to mankind.

It is a privilege to have spent a week here, where for a change blogging on oil did not reign supreme. Next stop Los Angeles International followed by London Heathrow – a day long up in the air affair! Keep reading; keep reading it ‘crude’ – but its goodbye to the ‘Aloha’ state!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: White Sands Beach Park, Kona. Photo 2: Oilholic at the Old Kona State Airport recreation beach park, Kona Kailua. Photo 3: Punaluʻu Black Sand beach, Hawaii, USA © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Non-OPEC supply, volatility & other matters

One of the big beasts of the non-OPEC supply jungle – Russia – held its latest high level meeting with OPEC earlier this week. Along with the customary niceties came the expected soundbites when Alexander Novak, Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation and Abdalla Salem El-Badri, OPEC Secretary General, met in Vienna on Tuesday.
 
Both men accompanied by “high-level” delegations exchanged views on the current oil market situation and “underscored the importance of stable and predictable markets for the long term health of the industry and investments, and above all, the wellbeing of the global economy.”
 
OPEC is also eyeing Russia’s Presidency of the G-20 in 2013 where the cartel has only one representative on the table in the shape of Saudi Arabia, which quite frankly represents itself rather than the block. However, non-OPEC suppliers are aplenty – Canada, Brazil, Mexico and USA to name the major ones alongside the Russians. The Brits and Aussies have a fair few hydrocarbons to share too.
 
Perhaps in light of that, OPEC and Russia have proposed to broaden their cooperation and discuss the possible establishment of a joint working group focused on information exchange and analysis of the petroleum industry. The two parties will next meet in the second quarter of 2013 by which time, unless there is a geopolitical flare-up or a massive turnaround in the global economy, most believe healthy non-OPEC supply growth would have actually been offset by OPEC cuts.
 
So the Oilholic thinks there’s quite possibly more to the meeting on September 25 than meets the eye…er…press communiqué. Besides, whom are we kidding regarding non-OPEC participants? Market conjecture is that non-OPEC supply growth itself is likely to be moderate at best given the wider macroeconomic climate.
 
Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Société Générale, notes that non-OPEC supply growth is led by rapid gains in North America: tight oil from shale in the US and oil sands and bitumen in Canada. North American supply is forecast to grow by 1.04 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2012 and 0.75 million bpd in 2013. The reason for the overall higher level of non-OPEC growth next year, compared to 2012, is that this year’s contraction in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan has  already taken place and will not be repeated.
 
“We are projecting output in Syria and Yemen flat through 2013, with disruptions continuing; we are forecasting only small increases in South Sudan beginning well into next year, as the recent pipeline agreement with Sudan appears quite tenuous at this point. With non-OPEC supply growth roughly the same as global demand growth next year, OPEC will have to cut crude production to balance the market,” he added.
 
With more than anecdotal evidence of the Saudis already trimming production, Société Générale reckons total non-OPEC supply plus OPEC NGLs production may increase by 0.93 million bpd in 2013, compared to 0.75 million bpd in 2012. Compared to their previous forecast, non-OPEC supply plus OPEC NGLs growth has been revised up by 50,000 bpd in 2012 and down by 60,000 bpd in 2013. That’s moderate alright!
 
The key point, according to Wittner, is that the Saudis did not replace the last increment of Iranian flow reductions, where output fell by 300 kb/d from May to July, due to EU and US sanctions. “The intentional lack of Saudi replacement volumes was – in effect – a Saudi cut; or, if one prefers, it was the Saudis allowing Iran to unintentionally and unwillingly help out the rest of OPEC by cutting production and exports,” he concluded.
 
Let’s see what emerges in Vienna at the December meeting of ministers, but OPEC crude production is unlikely to average above 31.5 million bpd in the third quarter of 2012 and is likely to be cut further as market fundamentals remain decidedly bearish. In fact, were it not for the geopolitical premium provided by Iran’s shenanigans and talk of a Chinese stimulus, the heavy losses on Wednesday would have been heavier still and Brent would not have finished the day remaining above the US$110 per barrel mark.
 
On a related note, at one point Brent's premium to WTI increased to US$20.06 per barrel based on November settlements; the first move above the US$20-mark since August 16. As a footnote on the subject of premiums, Bloomberg reports that Bakken crude weakened to the smallest premium over WTI oil in three weeks as Enbridge apportioned deliveries on pipelines in the region in Tuesday’s trading.
 
The Western Canadian Select, Canada’s most common benchmark, also usually sells at a discount to the WTI. But rather than the “double-discount” (factoring in WTI’s discount to Brent) being something to worry about, National Post columnist Jameson Berkow writes how it can be turned into an advantage!
 
But back to Europe where Myrto Sokou, analyst at Sucden Financial Research, feels that very volatile and nervous trading sessions are set to continue as Eurozone‘s concerns weigh on market sentiment. “The rebound on Thursday morning followed growing discussions of a further stimulus package from China that improved market sentiment and increased risk appetite,” she said.
 
However, Sokou sees the market remaining focussed on Spain as news of its first draft budget for 2013 is factored in. “It is quite a crucial time for the markets, especially following the recent refusal from Germany, Holland and Finland to allow ESM funds to cover legacy assets, so that leaves the Spanish Government to fund their Banks,” she added.
 
On the corporate front, Canadians find themselves grappling with the Nexen question as public sentiment is turning against CNOOC’s offer for the company just as its shareholders approved the deal. Many Members of Parliament have also voiced their concerns against a deal with the Chinese NOC. For its part, if a Dow Jones report is to be believed, CNOOC is raising US$6 billion via a one-year term loan to help fund the possible purchase of Nexen. The Harper administration is yet to give its regulatory approval.
 
Meanwhile, the Indian Government has confirmed that one of its NOCs – ONGC Videsh – has made a bid to acquire stakes in Canadian oil sands assets owned by ConocoPhillips with a total projected market valuation of US$5 billion. ConocoPhillips aims to sell about 50% of its stake in emerging oil sands assets, according to news reports in Canada. Looks like one non-OPEC destination just won’t stop grabbing the headlines!
 
Moving away from Canada, Thailand’s state oil company PTTEP has finalised arrangements for its US$3.1 billion share offer for Mozambique’s Cove Energy. Earlier this year, PTTEP won a protracted takeover battle for Cove over Shell. Concluding on a lighter note, the Oilholic has learned that the Scottish distillery of Tullibardine is to become the first whisky distillery in the world to have its by-products converted into advanced biofuel, capable of powering vehicles fuelled by petrol or diesel.
 
The independent malt whisky producer in Blackford, Perthshire has signed a memorandum of understanding with Celtic Renewables Ltd, an Edinburgh-based company which has developed the technology to produce biobutanol from the by-products of whisky production. Now that’s worth drinking to, but it’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Oil Drilling site, North Dakota, USA © Phil Schermeister / National Geographic.

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