Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecuador. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On another BP sale, another Chavez term & more

A not so surprising news flash arrived this week that BP has finally announced the sale of its Texas City refinery and allied assets to Marathon Petroleum for US$2.5 billion. A spokesperson revealed that the deal included US$600 million in cash, US$1.2 billion for distillate inventories and another US$700 million depending on future production and refining margins.
 
Following the Carson oil refinery sale in California, the latest deal ratchets BP’s asset divestment programme up to US$35 billion with a target of US$38 billion within reach. It is time for the Oilholic to sound like a broken record and state yet again that – Macondo or no Macondo – the oil major would have still divested some of its refining and marketing assets regardless.
 
However, for fans of the integrated model – of which there are quite a few including ratings agencies who generally rate integrated players above R&M only companies – the head of BP's global R&M business Iain Conn said, "Together with the sale of our Carson, California refinery, announced in August, the Texas City divestment will allow us to focus BP's US fuel investments on our three northern refineries."
 
Things have also picked-up pace on the TNK-BP front. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that BP’s Russian partners in the venture Alfa Access Renova (AAR) would rather sell their stake than end-up in a ‘devalued’ partnership with Kremlin-backed rival Rosneft. On Wednesday, the Russian press cited sources claiming a sale of BP’s stake to Rosneft has the full backing of none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Now that is crucial.

On a visit to Moscow and Novosibirsk back in 2004, the Oilholic made a quick realisation based on interaction with those in the know locally – that when it comes to natural resources assets the Kremlin likes to be in control. So if BP and the Russian government have reached some sort of an understanding behind the scene, AAR would be best advised not to scream too loudly.
 
Another hypothesis gaining traction, in wake of AAR’s intention to sell, is that instead of being the seller of its stake in TNK-BP, the British oil major could now turn buyer. BP could then re-attempt a fresh partnership with Rosneft; something which it attempted last year only for it to be scuppered by AAR.
 
There can be any amount of speculation or any number of theories but here again a nod from the Kremlin is crucial. Away from ‘British Petroleum’ (as Sarah Palin and President Obama lovingly refer to it in times of political need) to the British Government which reiterated its support for shale exploration earlier this week.
 
On Monday, Minister Edward Davey of UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) expressed hopes of lifting a suspension on new shale gas exploration. It was imposed in 2011 following environmental concerns about fracking and a series of minor earthquakes in Lancashire triggered by trial fracking which spooked the nation. In near sync with Davey, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that he was considering a 'generous new tax regime' to encourage investment in shale gas.
 
In case you haven’t heard by now, Hugo Chavez is back as president of Venezuela for another six year stint. This means it will be another rendezvous in Vienna for the Oilholic at the OPEC meeting of ministers in December with Rafael Ramirez, the crude Chavista likely to be hawkish Venezuela’s man at the table. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles believed in change, but sadly for the Venezuelan economy grappling with mismanagement of its ‘crude’ resources and 20% inflation, he fell short.
 
On January 10, 2012 when Chavez will be inaugurated for another term as Venezuela's president, he will be acutely aware that oil accounts for 50% of his government’s revenue and increasingly one dimensional economy. Bloomberg puts Chinese lending to Venezuela between 2006 and 2011 at US$42.5 billion. In a staggering bout of frankness, Ramirez admitted in September that of the 640,000 barrels per day (bpd) that Venezuela exported to China, 200,000 bpd went towards servicing government debt to Beijing.
 
The country's oil production is hardly rising. Just as Chavez’s health took a toll from cancer, national oil company PDVSA has not been in good health either. Its cancer is mismanagement and underinvestment. Most would point to an explosion in August when 42 people perished at the Amuay refinery – Venezuela’s largest distillate processing facility as an example. However, PDVSA has rarely been in good health since 2003 when it fired 40% of its workforce in the aftermath of a general strike aimed at forcing Chavez from power.
 
Staying with Latin America, the US Supreme Court has said it will not block a February 2011 judgement from an Ecuadorean court that Chevron must pay US$19 billion in damages for allegedly polluting the Amazonian landscape of the Lago Agrio region. The court’s announcement is the latest salvo in a decade-long legal tussle between Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, and the people of the Lago Agrio.
 
The Ecuadorians and Daryl Hannah (who is not Ecuadorian) wont rejoice as Chevron it is not quite done yet. Far from it, the oil major has always branded the Ecuadorian court’s judgement as fraudulent and not enforceable under New York law. It has also challenged it under an international trade agreement between the US and Ecuador.
 
The latter case will be heard next month – so expect some more ‘crude’ exchanges and perhaps some stunts from Ms. Hannah. That’s unless she is under arrest for protesting about Keystone XL! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’ or Elle Driver might come after you!
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: East Plant of the Texas City Refinery, Texas, USA © BP Plc

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The tussle for OPEC Secretary General’s post

The pre-meeting press scrum (which many scribes rather disingenuously call the ‘g*ng-b*ng’) is over and the Oilholic can tell you the OPEC quota is not the only thing the Hawks and Doves in the cartel are tussling over; it is the post of the new secretary general as well which is adding to the tension.

To being with, rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have fielded a candidate of their own. The reason given by delegates from both camps is that apart from having the ‘ideal’ candidate, neither country has held the position in just over three decades. Describing the relations between Riyadh and Tehran as tense and rooted in suspicion would be understating the acrimony. Simply put, both hate each others’ guts based on past histories.

Furthermore, the Saudis have put their money where their mouth is by declaring that they will make up for the absence of Iranian crude if sanctions on the latter intensify. Empirical and anecdotal evidence as well as rising Saudi production proves that this is the case to a certain extent. Then again, time and again, irrespective of ‘formal’ OPEC announcements (the latest of which is expected here at 1700CET), Saudis have done whatever they’ve wanted.

The Oilholic is not alone in his belief that neither a Saudi nor an Iranian will occupy the post of Secretary General; but that a compromise candidate in the shape of Ecuador or Iraq would be found. Of the two, Iraq – a founding member of the cartel – would be a better choice.

Even though internal problems persist, its output is rising and it hopes to raise its profile at OPEC; something many here feel it lost in wake of conflict and under the international sanction-laden rule of Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad's man at the table is Thamir Ghadhban, who was was named adviser to Iraq’s interim oil minister before himself becoming the minister in 2004. Pitted against three other candidates, Ghadhban is not a frontrunner – but we’ve been told there isn’t one among the other three either. Since a unanimous deciscion is requirement for the appointment, making predictions over who would win would be tricky.

Since OPEC was former, only one Iraqi has held the office of secretary general - Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz (1964-65). Another Iraqi - Fadhil al-Chalabi was only an ‘acting’ secretary general from 1983-88.

On a closing note, well there is one more footnote to all of this. While Iraq is a member of OPEC; it does not have a stated individual oil production quota which was suspended in wake of hostilities and later to facilitate a recovery. Negotiations are likely to take place once Iraqi production increases to at least 4 million bpd; this would be by 2015 based on current industry projections.

It’s hectic here, and apart from giving soundbites to the usual suspects, it was a pleasure speaking to Middle Eastern broadcasters, especially MBC. That’s all for the moment folks as we prepare to say goodbye to outgoing Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: OPEC HQ, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2011.

An OPEC seminar & an Indian minister

Indian oil minister S. Jaipal Reddy is rather sought after these days. You would be, if you represented one of the biggest consumers of the crude stuff. So it is just about right that OPEC’s 5th international seminar here in Vienna had Reddy speak at a session titled: “Oil and the World Economy.”

In face of growing international pressure to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil and running out of capital market mechanisms to actually pay for the stuff in wake of US/EU sanctions, the Indian minister certainly had a few things to say and wanted to be heard.

India is the world's fourth-largest oil importer with all of its major suppliers being OPEC member nations, viz. - Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Given what is afoot from a global macroeconomic standpoint, Reddy has called upon oil producing and consuming countries to work together to build trust and share market data to establish demand certainty in international oil markets.

Unsurprisingly, he admitted that in an oil-importing country like India, higher oil prices lead to domestic inflation, increased input costs, an increase in the budget deficit which invariably drives up interest rates and slows down the economic growth.

“There could not be a more direct cause and effect relation than high oil prices retarding economic growth of oil-importing countries,” Reddy said adding that a sustained US$10 per barrel increase in crude prices reduces growth in developing countries by 1.5%.

“We are meeting in difficult times. The Eurozone crisis, the continuing recession in the global economy, rising geopolitical tensions, a sustained phase of high and volatile international oil prices, extraneous factors continuing to influence the price formation of oil – all these pose serious challenges to the health of the global economy and stability of the world’s financial system. The current global financial crisis, which has lasted longer than we thought in 2008, is the greatest threat faced by the global economy since the Great Depression eight decades ago,” he said further.

Reddy revealed that between the Financial Year 2010-11 and 2011-12, India’s annual average cost of imported crude oil increased by US$27 per barrel, making India’s oil import bill rise from US$100 billion to a whopping US$140 billion.

“Furthermore, since we could not pass on the full impact of high international oil prices, we had to shell out subsidies to consumers amounting to US$25 billion dollars...India’s GDP grew at 6.9% during the last financial year down from the 8% plus growth rate experienced in the past few years,” he continued.

India and perhaps many others see themselves distinguishing two schools of thoughts here in Vienna. One school holds that the global economy has built up enough resilience to absorb oil price hikes due to (a) stronger demand from emerging economies and, (b) more enlightened Central Bank policies; the other school is categorical that high oil prices are one of the primary reasons for the weak conditions in the economies of the US and Europe.

“We subscribe to the latter view and hold that very high and volatile oil prices will continue to weaken global efforts for an expeditious recovery from the ongoing global economic recession and financial crisis,” Reddy concluded.

The viewpoint of an importers’ club member is always welcome at an exporting cartel’s event. For good measure, the representatives of Nigeria, Ecuador and Iran provided the exporters’ perspective and IFC’s spokesperson did the balancing act as a sideshow. As for the word “Iran” and the sanctions it faces; the Oilholic has been told in no uncertain terms by quite a few key people that it’s...er...ahem...a taboo subject at this meeting. That's all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Indian Gas Station © Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No OPEC Production Change & No Surprise

As expected, no major surprises came out of OPEC's 158th Meeting in the Ecuadorian capital Quito where the cartel left its production quotas unchanged this weekend. Some four of the twelve oil ministers from member nations – namely those of Kuwait, Qatar, Nigeria and Iraq – did not even turn up and sent junior officials instead.

It was interesting listening to an APTV recording of a press conference prior to the commencement of the OPEC meeting wherein none other than the Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi told a media scrum, “You guys really worry too much about prices. They go up, they go down. What’s new?”

We ask only because there is the little matter of the price of black gold capping US$90 per barrel either side of the pond for the first time in two years. He predicted a few seconds later that there would be no increase in OPEC production and here we are a few days hence. Interestingly, on the same day as Naimi was chiding reporters in Quito, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) opined that OPEC may come under pressure over 2011 to raise production.

IEA currently expects oil demand in 2011 to rise by 1.3 million bpd; 260,000 bpd more than previously forecast. In an accompanying statement, it said, "Although economic concerns remain skewed to the downside, not least if current high prices begin to act as a drag on growth, more immediately demand could surprise to the upside."

Overall, Global oil supply reached 88.1 million barrels a day last month, hitherto its highest ever level. Furthermore, the IEA forecasts world demand to expand 1.5 per cent in 2011 to 88.8 million barrels a day, which if recorded would also be a record. Its medium term projections for world oil demand for 2009-2015 is an average rise of 1.4 million bpd each year; an increment from its June assessment.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: OPEC Logo © Gaurav Sharma

Monday, October 18, 2010

Final Thoughts From the 157th OPEC Conference

Alongside Thursday’s decision by OPEC to hold its official oil production target at 24.84 million barrels a day, i.e. the level set following a production cut in December 2008; the cartel also noted that global oil demand had dipped in two concurrent years; a situation unseen since the 1980s.

It bemoaned the “rollercoaster” ride in crude prices, particularly between Q4 2007 and Q1 2009. As usual speculators were blamed, with OPEC noting that oil had increasingly emerged as an asset class, with “excessive speculation adding appreciably to market volatility.”

It also appears that the cartel is irked by renewable energy initiatives or at least the talk of renewable energy. OPEC believes that the ambiguity of a number of energy and environmental policies, often with “evidently over-ambitious targets”, particularly in developed regions, has led to uncertainty in regards to future oil demand requirements.

The 158th OPEC conference would be held in Quito, Ecuador on December 11th, where the cartel hopes to publish its Long Term Strategy, as discussed by its 12 member nations here in Vienna on Thursday. Following that, OPEC would meet again in June 2011 in Vienna.

In a surprise move, it was confirmed Iran would assume OPEC presidency in January 2011; it last held the post in 1975. And last but not the least, there is finally a lady at the OPEC table – Nigeria's petroleum minister - Diezani Kogbeni Alison-Madueke, who having been a Shell executive took a certain amount of delight in telling the assembled press scrum that she had been in male dominated industries before and pretty much held her own!

To summarise, OPEC – in line with prevailing sentiment – noted that the market remains well supplied and given the downside risk to the global economy, did not feel the need to raise production.

That’s it from Vienna – time to say Auf Wiedersehen!

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: Nigeria's petroleum minister Diezani Kogbeni Alison-Madueke (Centre), © Gaurav Sharma, OPEC 157th Conference, Vienna, Oct 14, 2010

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