Showing posts with label Goldman Sachs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Goldman Sachs. Show all posts

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Brent’s premium gets dents as oil price dips

It’s definitely a moment worth recording and the Oilholic was rather glad he was awake earlier today when it happened. For at one point in Asian trading, both Brent and WTI were in perfect sync at US$48.05 per barrel as the oil markets rout continues (see screen grab below, click to enlarge). What's more, for a precious few minutes, the WTI actually traded at a premium of a few cents to Brent marking only the third such occurrence since 2010.


Of course, Brent’s premium has been since been restored back to well over a dollar and rising. However, it is a far cry from 2012 when the premium was averaging around $20 per barrel above the WTI, and did touch $25 at one point if this blogger’s memory serves him well.

The near coming together of both global benchmarks shouldn’t come as a surprise as it was on the horizon. What transpired today was merely for the sake of a record which might not be all that unique over the coming weeks and months of volatility. That said, once the projected supply correction kicks in around midway point of this year, the Oilholic does see Brent’s single digit premium to the WTI climb up to around $5.

As of now, one's 2015 oil price forecast is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range.

Meanwhile, a Baron’s article is suggesting oil could fall to $20, while industry veteran T. Boone Pickens says he’s seen several slumps in his lifetime and reckons a return to a $100 level within the next “12 to 18 months” is inevitable.

Additionally, the Oilholic has called an end to the so-called “commodities supercycle” in his latest quip for Forbes. On a related note, Goldman Sachs has trimmed its six and 12 month 2015 estimates for Brent to $43 and $70, from $85 and $90, and to $39 and $65, from $75 and $80, for the WTI.

Finally, as talk of a Venezuelan default gains market traction, Moody’s has downgrades ratings of PDVSA and its wholly-owned US-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum. PDVSA’s long term issuer rating and senior unsecured notes were downgraded by the agency to Caa3 from Caa1. Moody’s changed its outlook on the ratings to stable from negative. 

Citgo Petroleum's Corporate Family Rating was downgraded to B3 from B1; its Probability of Default rating to B3-PD from B1-PD; and its senior secured ratings on term loans, notes and industrial revenue bonds to B3 from B1.

Additionally, the rating on Citgo's senior secured revolving credit facility was downgraded to B2 from B1, reflecting a lower expected loss in case of default vis-à-vis other classes of debt in the company's capital structure. The rating outlook was also changed to stable from negative.

The rating actions follow Moody's downgrade of the Venezuelan government's bond ratings to Caa3 from Caa1 with a stable outlook, earlier this week. The principal driver of the decision to downgrade Venezuela's sovereign rating was "a marked increase in default risk owing to lower oil prices," the agency said. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Bloomberg screen grab as Brent and WTI futures achieve parity on January 15, 2015 © Bloomberg

Monday, July 15, 2013

Speculators make the oil price belie market logic

The fickle crude oil market is yet again giving an indication about how divorced it is from macroeconomic fundamentals and why a concoction of confused geopolitics and canny speculation is behind the recent peaks and troughs. To give a bit of background – the WTI forward month futures contract surpassed the US$106 per barrel level last week; the highest it has been in 16 months. Concurrently, the spread between WTI and Brent crude narrowed to a near 33-month low of US$1.19 in intraday on July 11 [versus a high of US$29.70 in September 2011].
 
Less than a couple of weeks ago Goldman Sachs closed its trading recommendation to buy WTI and sell Brent. In a note to clients, the bank’s analysts said they expected the spread to narrow in the medium term as new pipelines help shift the Cushing, Oklahoma glut, a physical US crude oil delivery point down to the Houston trading hub, thus removing pressure from the WTI forward month futures contract to the waterborne Brent.
 
Goldman Sachs' analysts were by no means alone in their thinking. Such a viewpoint about the spread is shared by many on Wall Street, albeit in a nuanced sort of way. While Cushing's impact in narrowing the spread is a valid one, the response of the WTI to events elsewhere defies market logic.
 
Sadly Egypt is in turmoil, Syria is still burning, Libya’s problems persist and Iraq is not finding its feet as quick as outside-in observers would like it to. However, does this merit a WTI spike to record highs? The Oilholic says no! Agreed, that oil prices were also supported last week by US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments that economic stimulus measures were "still" necessary. But most of the upward price pressure is speculators' mischief - pure and simple.
 
Less than two months ago, we were being peddled with the argument that US shale was a game changer – not just by supply-side analysts, but by the IEA as well. So if that is the case, why are rational WTI traders spooked by fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East? Syria and Egypt do not even contribute meaningfully to the global oil market supply train, let alone to the North American market. Furthermore, China and India are both facing tough times if not a downturn.
 
And you know what, give this blogger a break if you really think the US demand for distillates rose so much in 10 days that it merited the WTI spiking by the amount that it has? Let's dissect the supply-side argument. Last week's EIA data showed that US oil stocks fell by about 10 million barrels for a second consecutive week. That marked a total stockpile decline of 20.2 million barrels in two weeks, the biggest since 1982.
 
However, that is still not enough to detract the value of net US inventories which are well above their five-year average. Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest thus far that the equation would alter for the remainder of 2013 with media outlets reporting the same. The latest one, from the BBC, based on IEA figures calmly declares the scare over 'peak oil' subsiding. US crude production rose 1.8% to 7.4 million barrels per day last week, the most since January 1992 and in fact on May 24, US supplies rose to 397.6 million, the highest inventory level since 1931!
 
But for all of that, somehow Bernanke's reassurances on a continuation of Federal stimulus, flare-ups in the Middle East [no longer a big deal from a US supply-side standpoint] and a temporary stockpile decline were enough for the latest spike. Why? Because it is a tried and tested way for those who trade in paper barrels to make money.
 
A very well connected analogy can be drawn between what's happening with the WTI and Brent futures' recent "past". Digging up the Brent data for the last 36 months, you will see mini pretexts akin to the ones we've seen in the last 10 days, being deployed by speculators to push to the futures contract ever higher; in some instances above $110 level by going long. They then rely on publicity hungry politicians to bemoan how consumers are feeling the pinch. Maybe an Ed Markey can come alone and raise the issue of releasing strategic petroleum reserves (SPRs) and put some downward pressure – especially now that he's in the US Senate.
 
Simultaneously, of course the high price starts hurting the economy as survey data factors in the drag of rising oil prices, usually within a three-month timeframe, and most notably on the input/output prices equation. The same speculators then go short, blaming an economic slowdown, some far-fetched reason of "uptick" in supply somewhere somehow and the Chinese not consuming as much as they should! And soon the price starts falling. This latest WTI spike is no different.

Neither the underlying macroeconomic fundamentals nor the supply-demand scenarios have altered significantly over the last two weeks. Even the pretexts used by speculators to make money haven't changed either. The Oilholic suspects a correction is round the corner and the benchmark is a short! (Click graph above to enlarge)
 
Away from crude pricing matters to some significant news for India and Indonesia. It seems both countries are reacting to curb fuel subsidies under plans revealed last month. The Indian government agreed to a new gas pricing formula which doubled domestic natural gas prices to $8.40/million British thermal units (mmbtu) from $4.20/mmbtu.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is working on plans to increase the price of petrol by 44% to Rupiah 6,500 ($2.50) per gallon and diesel by 22% to Rupiah 5,500. With the hand of both governments being forced by budgetary constraints, that's good economics but bad politics. In Asia, it's often the other way around, especially with general elections on the horizon - as is the case with both countries.
 
Elsewhere, yours truly recently had the chance to read a Moody's report on the outlook for the global integrated oil and gas industry. According to the ratings agency, the outlook will remain stable over the next 12 to 18 months, reflecting the likelihood of subdued earnings growth during this period.

Analyst Francois Lauras, who authored the report, said, "We expect the net income of the global oil and gas sector to fall within the stable range of minus 10% to 10% well into 2014 as robust oil prices and a slight pick-up in US natural gas prices help offset ongoing fragility in the refining segment." 
 
"Although oil prices may moderate, we expect demand growth in Asia and persistent geopolitical risk to keep prices at elevated levels," he added.
 
The agency anticipates that integrated oil companies will concentrate on reinvesting cash flows into their upstream activities, driven by "robust" oil prices, favourable long-term trends in energy consumption and the prospects of higher returns.
 
However, major projects are exerting pressure on operating and capital efficiency measures as they are often complex, highly capital intensive and have long lead times. In the near term, Moody's expects that industry players will continue to dispose of non-core, peripheral assets to complement operating cash flows and fund large capex programmes, as well as make dividend payouts without impairing their balance sheets.
 
Finally, the agency said it could change its outlook to negative if a substantial drop in oil prices were triggered by a further deterioration in the world economy. It would also consider changing its outlook to positive if its forecast for the sector's net income increased by more than 10% over the next 12-18 months.

Moody's has maintained the stable outlook since September 2011. In the meantime, whatever the macroeconomic climate might be, it hardly ever rains on the speculators' parade. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Pump Jacks, Perryton, Texas, USA © Joel Sartore / National Geographic. Graph: WTI Crude Futures US$/barrel © BBC / DigitalLook.com

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brent’s ‘nine-month high’, Aubrey, BP & more

Oh boy, what one round of positive data, especially from China, does to the oil market! The Brent forward month futures contract for March is within touching distance of a US$120 per barrel price and the bulls are out in force. Last Friday’s intraday price of US$119.17 was a nine-month high; a Brent price level last seen in May 2012. The cause – and you have heard this combination before – was healthy economic data from China, coupled with Syrian turmoil and an Iranian nuclear stalemate.
 
The Oilholic has said so before, and will say it again – the last two factors touted by market commentators have been broadly neutral in terms of their impact for the last six months. It is the relatively good macroeconomic news from China which is principally behind the rally that nearly saw the Brent price breach the US$120 level.
 
The bull-chatter is already in full force. In a note to clients, Goldman Sachs advised them last week to maintain a net long position in the S&P GSCI Brent Crude Total Return Index. The investment bank believes this rally is "less driven by supply shocks and instead by improving demand."
 
"Global oil demand has surprised to the upside in recent months, consistent with the pick-up in economic activity," the bank adds in an investment note. Really? This soon – on one set of data? One thing is for sure, with many Asian markets shut for the Chinese New Year, at least trading volumes will be lighter this week.
 
Nonetheless, the ‘nine-month high’ also crept into the headline inflation debate in the UK where the CPI rate has been flat at 2.7% since October, but commentators reckon the oil spike may nudge it higher. Additionally, the Brent-WTI spread is seen widening yet again towards the US$25 per barrel mark. On a related note, Enterprise Product Partners said that capacity on its Seaway pipeline to the US Gulf of Mexico coast from Cushing, Oklahoma will remain limited until much later this year.
 
Moving away from pricing, news arrived end-January that the inimitable Aubrey McClendon will soon vacate the office of the CEO of Chesapeake Energy. It followed intense scrutiny over the last nine months about revelations, which surfaced in May, regarding his borrowings to finance personal stakes in company wells.
 
As McClendon announced his departure on January 29, the company’s board reiterated that it had found no evidence to date of improper conduct by the CEO. McClendon will continue in his post until a successor is found which should be before April 1st – the day he is set to retire. The announcement marks a sad and unspectacular exit for the great pioneer who co-founded and led Chesapeake Energy from its 1989 inception in Oklahoma City and has been a colourful character in the oil and gas business ever since.
 
Whatever the circumstances of his exit may be, let us not forget that before the so called ‘shale gale’ was blowing, it was McClendon and his ilk who first put their faith in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The rest, and US’ near self-sufficiency in gas supplies, is history.

Meanwhile, BP has been in the crude news for a number of reasons. First off, an additional US$34 billion in claims filed against BP by four US states earlier this month have provided yet another hurdle for the oil giant to overcome as it continues to address the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
 
However, Fitch Ratings not believe that the new round of claims is a game changer. In fact the agency does not think that any final settlement is likely to be enough to interfere with BP's positive medium term credit trajectory. The latest claims come on top of the US$58 billion maximum liability calculated by Fitch. If realised, the cost of the spill could rise up to as much as US$92 billion.
 
The agency said the new claims should be put in the context of an asset sale programme that has raised US$38 billion. “This excludes an additional US$12 billion in cash to come from the sale of TNK-BP this year – upside in our analysis because we gave BP no benefit for the TNK-BP stake. BP had US$19 billion of cash on its balance sheet at 31 December 2012. That is after it has already paid US$38 billion in settlements or into escrow,” it added.
 
Away from the spill, the company announced that it had started production from new facilities at its Valhall field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea on January 26 with an aim of producing up to 65,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the second half of 2013. Valhall's previous output averaged about 42,000 barrels per day (bpd), feeding crude into the Ekofisk oil stream.
 
Earlier this month, BP also said that both consortiums vying to link Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz gas field in the Caspian Sea, into Western European markets have an equal chance of success. BP operates the field which was developed in a consortium partnership with Statoil, Total, Azerbaijan’s Socar, LukAgip (an Eni, LUKoil joint venture) and others.
 
A decision, whether to pipe gas from the field into Austria via the proposed Nabucco (West) pipeline or into Italy through the rival Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) project, is expected to be made by mid-2013. Speaking in Vienna, Al Cook, head of BP's Azeri operations, said, “I genuinely believe both pipelines at the moment have an equal chance. There's certainly no clear-cut answer at the moment.”
 
BP is aiming for the first gas from Shah Deniz II to be delivered to existing customer Turkey in 2018. Early 2019 is the more likely date for the first Azeri gas to reach Western Europe via this major development often touted as one which would reduce European dependence on Russia for its energy supplies.
 
The Shah Deniz consortium owns equity options in both the pipeline projects and Cook did not rule out that both Nabucco (West) and TAP could be built in the long term. Specifically, BP's own equity options, which are part of the Shah Deniz stakes, are pegged at 20% in TAP and 14% in Nabucco. Cook said BP was not “actively seeking” to increase its stake in either project – a wise choice indeed.
 
On February 4, BP said its Q4 2012 net profit, adjusted for non-operating items, currency and accounting effects, fell to US$3.98 billion from US$4.98 billion recorded over the corresponding quarter last year. Moving away from BP, Royal Dutch Shell posted a 6% dip in 2012 profits to US$27 billion on the back of weak oil and gas prices and lower exploration and production (E&P) margins.
 
The Anglo-Dutch oil major reported Q4 earnings of US$7.3 billion, a rise of 13%. However, on an adjusted current cost of supply basis and one-off asset sales, the profit came in at US$5.58 billion. In particular, Shell’s E&P business saw profits dip 14% to US$4.4 billion, notwithstanding an actual 3% increase in oil and gas production levels. However, the company did record stronger refining margins.
 
Ironically, while acknowledging stronger refining margins, Shell confirmed its decision to close most of its Harburg refinery units in Hamburg, Germany. The permanent shutdown of much of its 100,000 bpd refinery is expected next month in line with completing a deal made with Swedish refiner Nynas in 2011.
 
Finally, in a typical Italian muddle, several oil executives in the country are under investigation following a probe into alleged bribery offences related to the awarding of oil services contracts to Saipem in Algeria. Eni has a 43% stake in Saipem which is Europe’s biggest oil services provider. While the company itself denied wrongdoing, the probe was widened last Friday to include Eni CEO Paolo Scaroni.
 
The CEO’s home and office were searched as part of the probe. However, Eni is standing by their man and said it will cooperate fully with the prosecutor’s office in Milan. So far, Pietro Franco Tali (the CEO of Saipem) and Eni’s Chief Financial Officer Alessandro Bernini (who was Saipem’s CFO until 2008) have been the most high profile executives to step down in wake of the probe. Watch this crude space! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo 1: Asian oil rig © Cairn Energy. Photo 2: Gas extraction site © Chesapeake Energy.