Showing posts with label Margaret Thatcher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margaret Thatcher. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The year that was & ‘crude’ predictions for 2014

As crude year 2013 came to a close, the Oilholic found himself in Rotterdam gazing at the Cascade sculpture made by Atelier Van Lieshout, a multidisciplinary contemporary arts and design company.

This eight metre high sculpture, in a city that was once the world's busiest port [before Shanghai overtook it in 2004], comprises of 18 stacked oil drums, which give an appearance of having descended from the sky. They combine to form a monumental column from which the life-size drums drip a viscous mass acquiring the shapes of human figures [see left, click to enlarge].

Perhaps these figures and barrels symbolise us and our sticky relationship with the crude oil markets. For all the huffing and puffing, bears and bulls, predictions and forecasts, dips influenced by macroeconomics and spikes triggered by geopolitics – the year-end Brent crude oil price level came in near where it was at the end of 2012; in fact it was 0.3% lower! On the other hand, the WTI reversed its 7 percent annualised reversal recorded at the end of 2012, to finish round about 8 percent higher in year-over-year terms on the last day of trading in 2013.

Was there an exact science in the good and bad predictions about price levels we saw last year – nope! Does the Oilholic feel both benchmark prices are running contrary to supply-side dynamics given the current macroeconomic backdrop – yup! Did paper barrels stuff the actual merchants waiting at the end of  pipelines to collect their crude cargo – you bet!

Watching Bloomberg TV on January 2 brought home the news that money managers raised their net-long positions for WTI by 4.4 percent in the week ended December 24; the fourth consecutive increase and longest streak since July, according to the broadcaster. This side of the pond, money managers followed their friends on the other side and raised net bullish bets on Brent crude to the highest level in 10 weeks, according to ICE Futures Europe.

Speculative bets that prices will rise [in futures and options combined], outnumbered short positions by 136,611 lots in the week ended December 31, according to ICE's weekly Commitments of Traders report. The addition of 7,670 contracts, or 6 percent, brought the net-long positions to the highest level since October 22. It seems for some, the only way is up, because the fine line between pragmatic trading and gambling has long gone in actual fact.

The Oilholic predicted a Brent price in the range of US$105 to $115 in January last year. As Brent came in flat at year-end, yours truly was on the money. The heart said then, as it does now, even that range – despite being proved correct – was in fact overtly bullish but workable in this barmy paper barrel driven market.

For 2014, hoping that some of the supply-side positivity would be factored in to the mindset of traders, the Oilholic's prediction is for a Brent price in the range of $90 to $105 and WTI price range of $85 to $105. Brent's premium to the WTI should in all likelihood come down and average around $5 barrel.

The Oilholic's opinion is in sync with some, but also quite contrary to many of the bullish City forecasts. That's for them to maintain – this blogger is quietly confident that more Iraqi and Iranian crude will come on the market at some point over 2014. The US isn't importing as much and incremental barrels will henceforth come on to the markets. These will hopefully trigger a much needed price correction.

Of all the price prediction notes in this blogger's Inbox over the first week of 2014, one put out by Steven Wood and Terry Marshall of Moody's appears to be the most pragmatic. Their price assumptions, used for "ratings purposes only rather than as predictions", are for Brent to average $95 per barrel in 2014 and $90 in 2015, compared to $90 per barrel in 2014 and $85 in 2015 for WTI. As both analysts noted: "Oversupply will cool oil prices in 2014."

"A drop in Chinese growth and a surge in OPEC production pose the biggest risks to oil prices as we head into the New Year. Prices could fall if Chinese GDP growth slows significantly and OPEC members go above targeted production of 30 million barrels per day (bpd)," they added.

Away from crude price predictions on a standalone basis and reflecting on the year that was, the US EIA said prices of energy commodities decreased only modestly or increased last year, while prices of non-energy commodities like wheat and copper generally fell significantly.

Natural gas, western coal, electricity and WTI crude prices increased, while Brent, petroleum products and eastern coal prices decreased slightly. "In total, the divergence between price trends for energy and non-energy commodities grew after the summer of 2013. This is in contrast to 2012 when metals prices were stable or experienced slight increases, and a severe drought drove prices of some agricultural commodities higher in the second half of the year," it added.

From the EIA to OPEC where both its meetings in lovely Vienna last year, duly attended by the Oilholic, turned out to be predictable affairs with the "official" quota still at 30 million bpd. And we still don't have a long overdue successor to Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri. The Oilholic also managed to grab a moment with Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi at a media scrum in May. Away from the meetings, the year actually began in terrible fashion for OPEC following a terror attack on an Algerian facility, but easing of tensions with Iran towards the end of the year, was a positive development.

It was also the year in which the Brits not only got excited about their own shale exploration prospects, but also inked their first contract to import proceeds of the US shale bonanza via Sabine Pass. Analysts liked it, Brits cheered it, but US politicians and energy intensive industries stateside didn't. The Keystone XL pipeline project, stuck in the quagmire of US politics, also dragged on.

That yours truly moaned about the banality of market forecasts based on short-termism more than once was not unexpected; a blog on the bankrolling of Thatcherism by the oil and gas sector after the Iron Lady's death in May certainly was.

Apart from routine visits to OPEC, ever the intrepid traveller, this blogger blogged from lands far away and some not so far away. The year began with a memorable visit to the Chicago Board of Trade at the kind invitation of Phil Flynn of Price Futures; a friend and analyst who never sits on the fence in any debate and is most likely to be vindicated as the Brent-WTI spread narrows over 2014.

This was followed by a hop across The Lakes to Toronto to gauge opinion on Keystone XL. Jaunts to the G8 2013 Summit in Northern Ireland, crude ol' Norway, Abu Dhabi and a first visit to Muscat and Khasab to profile Oman's oil and gas sector followed thereafter.

Before calling time on 2013 in Rotterdam, the Oilholic headed out to the Oil Capitals of Europe and North America – chasing the uptick in oilfield services sector activity in Aberdeen, and Platts' response to the Houston Glut in the shape of its new Light Houston Sweet (LHS) benchmark. Moving away from travels, yours truly also reviewed another seven books for your consideration.

For all intents and purposes, it's been a crude old year! And it wouldn't have been half as spiffing without the support and feedback of you all - the dear readers of this humble blog. For those of you, who wanted this blogger on Twitter; you are welcome to follow @The_Oilholic

There goes the look back at Crude Year 2013. As the Oilholic Synonymous Report embarks upon its fifth year on the Worldwide Web and the seventh year of its virtual existence – here's to 2014! That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com


© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Cascade sculpture by Atelier Van Lieshout Company, Rotterdam, The Netherlands © Gaurav Sharma, January 1, 2014.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

UK Oil & Gas Inc. - The Thatcher Years!

The Oilholic has patiently waited for the fans and despisers of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to quieten down, in wake of her death on April 8, 2013, before giving his humble take on what her premiership did (or in many cases didn’t) for the UK oil and gas Inc. and what she got in return.
 
Her influence on the North Sea exploration and production certainly got a mention in passing in all the tributes and brickbats thrown at the Iron Lady, the longest serving (1979-1990) and only female British Prime Minister. The world’s press ranging from The Economist to the local paper in her former parliamentary constituency – The Hendon & Finchley Times (see covers below) – discussed the legacy of the Iron Lady; that legacy is ‘cruder’ than you think.
 
In the run-up to Thatcher's all-but-in-name state funeral on April 17, the British public was bombarded with flashbacks of her time in the corridors of power. In one of the video runs, yours truly glanced at archived footage of Thatcher at a BP production facility and that said it all. Her impact on the industry and the industry’s impact itself on her premiership were profound to say the least.
 
Academic Peter R. Odell, noted at the time in his book  Oil and World Power (c1986) that, “Countries as diverse as Finland, France, Italy, Austria, Spain, Norway and Britain had all decided to place oil partly, at least, in the public sector.” A later footnote observes, “Britain’s Conservative government, under Mrs. Thatcher, subsequently decided [in 1983] to ‘privatize’ the British National Oil Corporation (BNOC) created by an earlier Labour administration.”
 
The virtue of private free enterprise got instilled into the UK oil and gas industry in general and the North Sea innovators in particular thanks to Thatcher. But to say that the industry somehow owed the Iron Lady a debt of gratitude would be a travesty. Rather, the industry repaid that debt not only in full, but with interest.
 
Just as Thatcher was coming to power, more and more of the crude stuff was being sucked out of the North Sea with UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) being much richer in those days than it certainly is these days. The UK Treasury, under her hawk-eyed watch, was quite simply raking it in. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, government revenue from the oil and gas industry rose from £565 million in fiscal year 1978-79 to £12.04 billion in 1984-85. That is worth over three times as much in 2012 real-terms value, according to a guesstimate provided by a contact at Barclays Capital.
 
Throughout the 1980s, the Iron Lady made sure that the revenue from the [often up to] 90% tax on North Sea oil and gas exploration and production was used as a funding source to balance the economy and pay the costs of economic reform. Over three decades on from the crude boom of the 1980s, Brits do wish she had examined, some say even adopted, the Norwegian model.
 
That she privatised the BNOC does not irk the Oilholic one bit, but that not even a drop of black gold and its proceeds – let alone a full blown Norwegian styled sovereign fund – was put aside for a rainy day is nothing short of short-termism or short-sightedness; quite possibly both. One agrees that both macroeconomic and demographical differences between Norway and the UK complicate the discussion. This humble blogger doubts if the thought of creating a sovereign fund didn’t cross the Iron Lady’s mind.
 
But unquestionably, as oil and gas revenue was helping in feeding the rising state benefits bill at the time – all Thatcher saw in Brent, Piper and Cormorant fields were Petropounds to balance the books. And, if you thought the ‘crude’ influence ended in the sale of BNOC, privatisation drives or channelling revenue for short-term economic rebalancing, then think again. Crude oil, or rather a distillate called diesel, came to Thatcher’s aid in her biggest battle in domestic politics – the Miners’ Strike of 1984.
 
Pitting her wits against Arthur Scargill, the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) hardline, stubborn, ultra-left leader at the time, she prevailed. In March 1984, the National Coal Board (NCB) proposed to close 20 of the 174 state-owned mines resulting in the loss of 20,000 jobs. Led by Scargill, two-thirds of the country's miners went on strike and so began the face-off.
 
But Thatcher, unlike her predecessors, was ready for a prolonged battle having learnt her lesson in an earlier brief confrontation with the miners and knew their union’s clout full well based on past histories. This time around, the government had stockpiled coal to ensure that power plants faced no shortages as was the case with previous confrontations.
 
Tongue-tied in his vanity, Scargill had not only missed the pulse of the stockpiling drive but also failed to realise that many UK power plants had switched to diesel as a back-up. Adding to the overall idiocy of the man, he decided to launch the strike in the summer of 1984, when power consumption is lower, than in the winter.
 
Furthermore, he refused to hold a ballot on the strike, after losing three previous ballots on a national strike (in January 1982, October 1982 and March 1983). The strike was declared illegal and Thatcher eventually won as the NUM conceded a year later in March 1985 without any sizable concessions but with its member having borne considerable hardships. The world was moving away from coal, to a different kind of fossil fuel and Thatcher grasped it better than most. That the country was a net producer of crude stuff at the time was a bonanza; the Treasury’s to begin with as she saw it.
 
The Iron Lady left office with an ‘ism’ in the shape of 'Thatcherism' and bred 'Thatcherites' espousing free market ideas and by default making capitalism the dominant, though recently beleaguered, economic system of our time. Big Bang, the day [October 27, 1986] the London Stock Exchange's rules changed, following deregulation of the financial markets, became the cornerstone of her economic policy.
 
In this world there are no moral absolutes. So the Oilholic does not accept the rambunctious arguments offered by left wingers that she made ‘greed’ acceptable or that the Big Bang caused the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Weren’t militant British unions who, for their own selfish odds and ends, held the whole country to ransom throughout the 1970s (until Thatcher decimated them), greedy too? If the Big Bang was to blame for a global financial crisis, so was banking deregulation in the UK in 1997 (and elsewhere around that time) when she was not around.
 
Equally silly, are the fawning accolades handed out by the right wingers; many of whom – and not the British public – were actually instrumental in booting her out of office and some of whom were her colleagues at the time. Let the wider debate about her legacy be where it is, but were it not for the UK oil and gas Inc., there would have been no legacy. Luck played its part, as it so often does in the lives of great leaders. As The Economist noted:
 
“She was also often outrageously lucky: lucky that the striking miners were led by Arthur Scargill, a hardline Marxist; lucky that the British left fractured and insisted on choosing unelectable leaders; lucky that [Argentine] General Galtieri decided to invade the Falkland Islands when he did; lucky that she was a tough woman in a system dominated by patrician men (the wets never knew how to cope with her); lucky in the flow of North Sea oil; and above all lucky in her timing. The post-war consensus was ripe for destruction, and a host of new forces, from personal computers to private equity, aided her more rumbustious form of capitalism.”
 
They say that the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stage-managed 'Chavismo' and bred 'Chavistas' from the proceeds of black gold. The Oilholic says 'Thatcherism' and 'Thatcherites' have a ‘crude’ dimension too. Choose whatever evidence you like – statistical, empirical or anecdotal – crude oil bankrolled Thatcherism in its infancy. That is the unassailable truth and that’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo 1: Baroness Margaret Thatcher’s funeral cortege with military honours, April 17, 2013 © Gaurav Sharma. Photo 2: Front page of the Hendon & Finchley Times, April 11, 2013. Photo 3: Front cover of the The Economist, April 13, 2013.

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