Showing posts with label Dutch Disease. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dutch Disease. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On oil windfalls and African progress

Is the discovery of crude oil a blessing or curse for emerging economies? Does it further or hinder democracy and development? Is an oil rich nation’s currency destined to suffer from Dutch Disease?

These are profound questions and nowhere do they need to be answered more than in the continent of Africa. John Heilbrunn’s book Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa published by Cambridge University Press tackles the socioeconomic and political impact of oil in sub-Saharan Africa head on. 

In a somewhat refreshing take, Heilbrunn suggests that should historical and economic situations faced by African petrostates prior to the discovery of their oil be contextualised and discounted, there’s little evidence of a curse. Taking on a more optimistic tone than most, the author sets about a fascinating explanation of why he thinks even the most despotic and least accountable of African heads of state do use some proportion of oil revenues to improve their citizens' living standards.

Improvements have “failed to be uniform”, he admits, but that’s not to say there have been none. In a book of 270 pages, split by six detailed chapters, Heilbrunn writes there is much to be positive about while not losing sight of the biggest puzzle of them all – how the discovery of a natural resource changes the national and political psyche, as it is virtually impossible to predict “how political leaders respond to resource windfalls.”

While sum of all its parts makes this book a great read, Heilbrunn’s take on resource revenues, corruption and contracts in latter stages of the narrative should strike a chord with most readers. It has to be acknowledged that some African producers are pretty high on the corruption scale, but not every producer can be tarred with the same brush. 

All said, as Heilbrunn notes, oil can do nothing, being a mere mineral of variable qualities and marketability. “People choose how to oversee their extractive industries and the effects of oil production are consequences of policy choices.”

These choices alone determine the pace and scale of progress anywhere and not just Africa. Some of the book’s conclusions might surprise many readers, some might find the narrative a bit too optimistic for their linking, but for the Oilholic it’s a book containing some unassailable truths on African progress.

Heilbrunn is not attempting to gloss over what’s wrong at African petrostates. On the contrary, he puts forward what they are doing to get it right, with all their imperfections, following on from decolonisation and the inevitable expectations (plus subsequent windfall) a resource discovery brings with it.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend it to fellow analysts, those interested in the oil and gas business, African development, politics and the resource curse hypothesis. Last but not the least, that growing chorus of commentators calling upon the wider world to ditch archaic conclusions and reassess the impact of natural resources on developing economies would also enjoy many of Heilbrunn’s conclusions.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa © Cambridge University Press, June, 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A festive spike, ratings agencies & Omani moves

It's the festive season alright and one to be particularly merry if you'd gone long on the price of black gold these past few weeks. The Brent forward month futures contract is back above US$110 per barrel.

Another (sigh!) breakout of hostilities in South Sudan, a very French strike at Total's refineries, positive US data and stunted movement at Libyan ports, have given the bulls plenty of fodder. It may be the merry season, but it's not the silly season and by that argument, the City traders cannot be blamed for reacting the way they have over the last fortnight. Let's face it – apart from the sudden escalation of events in South Sudan, the other three of the aforementioned events were in the brewing pot for a while. Only some pre-Christmas profit taking has prevented Brent from rising further.

Forget the traders, think of French motorists as three of Total's five refineries in the country are currently strike ridden. We are talking 339,000 barrels per day (bpd) at Gonfreville, 155,000 bpd at La Mede and another 119,000 bpd at Feyzin being offline for the moment – just in case you think the Oilholic is exaggerating a very French affair!

From a French affair, to a French forex analyst's thoughts – Société Générale's Sebastien Galy opines the Dutch disease is spreading. "Commodity boom of the last decade has left commodity producers with an overly expensive non-commodity sector and few of the emerging markets with a sticky inflation problem. Multiple central banks from the Reserve Bank of Australia, to Norges bank or the Bank of Canada have been busy trying to mitigate this problem by guiding down their currencies," he wrote in a note to clients.

Galy adds that the bearish Aussie dollar view was gaining traction, though the bearish Canadian dollar viewpoint hasn't got quite that many takers (yet!). One to watch out for in the New Year! In the wind down to year-end, Moody's and Fitch Ratings have taken some interesting 'crude' ratings actions over the last six weeks. Yours truly can't catalogue all, but here's a sample.

Recently, Moody's affirmed the A3 long-term issuer rating of Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA), the (P)A3 rating for TAQA's MYR3.5 billion sukuk  programme, the (P)A3 for TAQA's $9 billion global medium-term note programme, the A3 rated debt instruments and the P-2 short-term issuer rating. Baseline Credit Assessment was downgraded to ba2 from ba1; with a stable outlook. It also upgraded the issuer rating of Rosneft International Holdings Limited (RIHL; formerly TNK-BP International) to Baa1 from Baa2.

Going the other way, it changed Anadarko's rating outlook to developing from positive. It followed the December 12 release of an interim memorandum of opinion by the US Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York regarding the Tronox litigation.

The agency also downgraded the foreign currency bond rating and global local currency rating of PDVSA to Caa1 from B2 and B1, respectively, and maintained a negative outlook on the ratings. Additionally, it downgraded CITGO Petroleum's corporate family tating to B1 from Ba2; its Probability of Default rating to B1-PD from Ba2-PD; and its senior secured ratings on term loans, notes and industrial revenue bonds to B1, LGD3-43% from Ba2, LGD3-41%.

Moving on to Fitch Ratings, given what's afoot in Libya, it revised the Italy-based Libya-exposed ENI's outlook to negative from stable and affirmed its long-term Issuer Default Rating and senior unsecured rating at 'A+'. 

It also said delays to the production ramp-up at the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan were likely to hinder the performance of ENI's upstream strategy in 2014. Additionally, Fitch Ratings affirmed Shell's long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'AA' with a stable outlook.

Moving away from ratings actions, BP's latest foray vindicates sentiments expressed by the Oilholic from Oman earlier this year. Last week, it signed a $16 billion deal with the Omanis to develop a shale gas project.

Oman's government, in its bid to ramp-up production, is widely thought to offer more action and generous terms to IOCs than they'd get anywhere else in the Middle East. By inking a 30-year gas production sharing and sales deal to develop the Khazzan tight gas project in central Oman, the oil major has landed a big one.

BP first won the concession in 2007. The much touted Block 61 sees a 60:40 stake split between BP and Oman Oil Company (E&P). The project aims to extract around 1 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day of gas. The first gas from the project is expected in late 2017 and BP is also hoping to pump around 25,000 bpd of light oil from the site.

The oil major's boss Bob Dudley, fresh from his Iraqi adventure, was on hand to note: "This enables BP to bring to Oman the experience it has built up in tight gas production over many decades."

Oman's total oil production, as of H1 2013, was around 944,200 bpd. As the country's ministers were cooing about the deal, the judiciary, with no sense of timing, put nine state officials and private sector executives on trial for charges of alleged taking or offering of bribes, in a widening onslaught on corruption in the sultanate's oil industry and related sectors.

Poor timing or not, Oman ought to be commended for trying to clean up its act. That's all for the moment folks! Have a Happy Christmas! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Oil Rig © Cairn Energy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On finite resources and China’s urges

We constantly debate about the world’s finite and fast depleting natural resources; that everything from fossil fuel to farmable acreage is in short supply. Some often take the line that the quest for mineral wealth would be a fight to the death. Others, like academic Dambisa Moyo take a more pragmatic line on resource scarcity and rationally analyse what is at stake as she has done in her latest book Winner Take All: China’s race for resources and what it means for us.

That the Chinese are in town for more than just a slice of the natural resources cake is well documented. Yet, instead of crying ‘wolf’, Moyo sequentially dissects and offers highly readable conjecture on how China is leading the global race for natural resources be it via their national oil companies, mergers, asset acquisitions, lobbying or political leverage on an international scale.

While cleverly watching out for their interests, the author explains, in this book of just over 250 pages split by two parts containing 10 chapters, that the Chinese are neck-deep in a global resources rush but not necessarily the causative agents of perceived resource scarcity.

However, that they are the dominant players in a high stakes hunt for commodities from Africa to Latin America is unmistakable. For good measure and as to be expected of a book of this nature, the author has examined a variety of tangents hurled around in a resource security debate. The Dutch disease, geopolitics, risk premium in commodities prices, resource curse hypothesis have all been visited versus the Chinese quest by Moyo.

The Oilholic found her arguments on the subject to be neither alarmist nor populist. Rather, she has done something commendable which is examine how we got to this point in the resources debate, the operations of commodity markets and the geopolitical shifts we have seen rather than sensationalise the subject matter. China, the author opines may be leading the race for resources, but is by no means the only hungry horse in town.

Overall, it is a very decent book and well worth reading given its relevance and currency in today’s world. The Oilholic would be happy recommend it to commodities traders, those interested in international affairs, geopolitics, financial news and resource economics. Finally, those who have made a career out of future projections would find it very well worth their while to absorb it from cover to cover.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Winner Take All © Allen Lane / Penguin Group UK.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Crude Oil prices & some governments

I have spent the last two weeks quizzing key crude commentators in US and Canada about what price of crude oil they feel would be conducive to business investment, sit well within the profitable extraction dynamic and last but certainly not the least won't harm the global economy.

Beginning with Canada, since there’s no empirical evidence of the Canadian Dollar having suffered from the Dutch disease, for the oil sands to be profitable – most Canadians remarked that a price circa of US$75 per barrel and not exceeding US$105 in the long term would be ideal. On the other hand, in the event of a price dive, especially an unlikely one that takes the price below US$40 per barrel would be a disaster for petro-investment in Canada. A frozen Bow River (pictured above) is ok for Calgarians, but an investment freeze certainly wont be!

The Americans came up with a slightly lower US$70-90 range based on consumption patterns. They acknowledge that should the price spike over the US$150 per barrel mark and stay in the US$120-150 range over the medium term, a realignment of consumption patterns would occur.

This begs the question – what have Middle Eastern governments budgeted for? Research by commentators at National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, the Oilholics’ feedback from regional commentators and local media suggests the cumulative average would be US$65 per barrel. Iran and Iraq are likely to have budgeted at least US$10 above that, more so in the case of the former while Saudi Arabia (and maybe Kuwait) would have budgeted for US$5 (to US$10) below that.

Problem for the Oilholic is getting access to regional governments’ data. Asking various ministries in the Middle East and expecting a straight forward answer, with the notable exception of the UAE, is as unlikely as getting a Venezuelan official to give accurate inflation figures.

Meanwhile, price is not the only thing holding or promoting investment. For instance, the recent political unrest has meant that the Egypt Petroleum Corp. has delayed the Mostorod refinery construction until at least May. The reason is simple – some 20-odd participating banks, who arranged a US$2.6 billion loan facility want the interim government to reaffirm its commitment to the project, according to a lawyer close to the deal. The government, with all due respect, has quite a few reaffirmations to make.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Bow River, Calgary, Alberta, Canada © Gaurav Sharma, April 2011

Monday, January 04, 2010

Fresh Takes on The Resource Curse Hypothesis

The hypothesis that oil damages countries it comes from, in more ways than one, has been with us for some time now. Industry observers and critics perhaps do find common ground in noting that discovery and extraction of crude oil, especially in case of developing economies exporting the stuff, has failed to provide the bonanza and even spread of prosperity that it should for these nations.

On the contrary, oil has stirred up troubles and conflicts. Furthermore, wherever one looks there is a political dimension to the dominance of this single commodity which is limited and will run out in the future, though not as dramatically as sometimes portrayed.

Adding to the debate are fresh thoughts contained in two very interesting books that I have read in recent months. The first is titled Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass. The second is titled False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Alan Beattie, the fourth chapter of which dwells on the subject (viz. Natural Resources: Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth? – Pages 95 to 120).

In his book, Maass opines interestingly that the commodity is itself the real villain here. His central argument is that oil has damaged nations it comes from as it artificially strengthens their currencies and makes the rest of the economy uncompetitive. More critically, while wealth creation occurs as a result of oil exports – it does not create what developing economies need most in appreciable numbers – jobs. Furthermore, he offers arguments that oil wealth removes the need for wise spending.

What I liked about this book is that it does not look for fall guys or hammers oil companies, who in the author’s opinion are like any other business seeking the maximum possible returns on investment. Rather, he opines that corruption, greed and strife are also by-products of the oil trade. It is an interesting and unique book though not rich on the economic analysis front.

Along this tangent, the aforementioned chapter in Beattie’s book offers more detailed economic insight. Like Maass, he agrees that it is in the nature of the oil business to benefit fewer workers, as oil and gas extraction is equipment intensive and not labour intensive. Experts believe it is labour intensive mass production industries that do more to lift people out of poverty in the form of job creation with more wages for more people. Hence, oil creates a unique problem for oil-rich developing economies.

Beattie also notes that a significant portion of the return on extraction is used by oil-exporting developing economies to purchase drilling equipment which they cannot manufacture. Throw in the geopolitical permutations and corruption that Peter Maass alludes to, add in the concept of Dutch disease, and we soon arrive at a self-inflicted tragic hotchpotch which may be labelled as a resource fuelled curse that both authors describe in some detail.

No one is discounting the fact that where managed well, oil as a resource has been good for economies exporting it. Norway is often cited as such a nation, but Beattie says it struck oil meaningfully only in the 1970s, by which time it was already a rich economy. Russia is criss-crossing between becoming a meaningful democracy and going down the old Soviet autocratic way. Oil and gas wealth ensures that it may well be, some say already is, heading in the latter direction.

Four of Africa’s longest serving autocrats are from oil exporting nations. More convincing details, especially on Equatorial Guinea, can be found in the work of Dr. Ricardo Soares de Oliveira published in 2007. For lack of a better metaphor, he aptly brands such nations as ‘failed successful states.’

Both these books, especially as they are aimed at a wider readership base rather than academia, rekindle the resource cruse discussion. I particularly like Beattie’s witty observation that oil is bulky, murky and harder to extract, but “like Visa or MasterCard, also widely accepted!”

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy Cairn Energy PLC

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