Showing posts with label Saudi-Russian oil production freeze. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saudi-Russian oil production freeze. Show all posts

Friday, February 16, 2018

Crude price fluctuation versus ‘Big Oil’ dividends

It has been another crazy fortnight in the crude markets, with Brent not only having retreated from $70 per barrel, but trading below $65, as the Oilholic pens his thoughts.

In any case, having a $70-plus six-month price target is increasingly odd, given the current set of circumstances, let alone a projection by Goldman Sachs of $82.5 per barrel, as one recently wrote on Forbes.

That said, a possible Saudi-Russian, or should we call it a R-OPEC, reaffirmation of keeping oil production down, accompanied by constantly rising Indian oil imports and stabilising OECD inventories, should give the bulls plenty of comfort. Let’s also not forget the global economy is growing at a steady pace across all regions for the first time since the global financial crisis.

The aforementioned do count as unquestionable upsides for the oil price. But here’s the thing – should you believe in average global demand growth projections in the optimistic range of 1.5 to 1.7 million barrels per day (bpd); such growth levels could be comfortably met by growth in non-OPEC production alone.

For the moment, there’s little afoot to convince the Oilholic to change his view of a $65 per barrel average Brent price, and $60 per barrel average WTI price for 2018. So what impact would this have on ‘Big Oil’.

Interestingly enough, Morgan Stanley flagged up the 'curious case' of Big Oil dividend growth in a recent note to clients, pointing out that despite recent share price declines influenced by crude market volatility, unexpected dividend growth is still being achieved by European oil majors thanks to rapidly improving financial performance.

According to the global investment bank, in 2017, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Statoil generated $29.6 billion in organic free cash flow; the highest level since 2009. Return on average capital employed is also improving and balance sheet gearing is falling as well.

“Several management teams were willing to translate stronger cash generation in dividend increases", Morgan Stanley added.

The investment bank opined that Statoil’s cash flow and dividend growth remain impressive, so do BP’s, but noted that the latter will not be able keep up with Total and, ultimately, Shell on dividend growth.

Hard to keep up with Shell in any case; the Anglo-Dutch giant has a sterling record of regularly and dutifully paying dividends dating all the way back to the Second World War. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Oil well in Oman © Royal Dutch Shell.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Views from Wall Street on oil market volatility

The Oilholic finds himself 3,460 miles away from London in New York, with Wall Street giving the crude market yet another reality check. In the last few months, money managers of all description, not just our friends in the hedge fund business, are scratching their heads having first seen a technical bear market in July, only for it to turn in favour of a technical bull market in August!

But now, with all that phoney talk of producers coming together to freeze oil production having fallen by the wayside, both Brent and WTI have started slipping again. 

Not one Wall Streeter the Oilholic has spoken to since arriving in the Big Apple seems to discount the theory that oil may be no higher than $50 per barrel come Christmas, and even that might be a stretch. 

In a desperate bid to keep the market interested in the production freeze nonsense, the Saudis and Russians pledged cooperation ensuring "oil market stability" at no less august a venue than the G20 summit in China earlier this month. Of course, as no clear direction was provided on how that "stability" might actually be achieved and nothing revealed by way of production alterations or caps, not many are quite literally buying it – not on Wall Street, not in the City of London.

Forget the shorts, even the longs brigade have realised that unless both the Saudis and Russians, who between them are pumping over 20 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil, announce a highly unlikely real terms cut of somewhere in the region of 1 to 1.5 million bpd at the producers’ informal shindig on the sidelines of International Energy Forum (due 26-28 September) in Algiers, price support would be thin on the ground.

In fact, even a real terms cut would only provide short-lived support of somewhere in the region of $5-10 per barrel. As a side effect, this temporary reprieve would boost fringe non-OPEC production that is currently struggling with a sub $50 oil price. Furthermore, North American shale production, which is proving quite resilient with price fluctuations in the $40-50 range, is going to go up a level and supply scenarios would revert to the norm within a matter of months.

A number of oil producers would substitute the hypothetical 1-1.5 million bpd Riyadh and Moscow could potentially sacrifice. That’s precisely why Wall Street is betting on the fact that neither countries would relent, for among other things – both are also competing against each other for market.

Another added complication is the uncertainty over oil demand growth, which remains shaky and is not quite what it used to be. Morgan Stanley and Barclays are among a rising number of players who think 2016 might well end-up with demand growth in the region of 625,000 to 850,000 bpd, well shy of market think-tank projections of 1.3 million bpd.

Trading bets are mirroring those market concerns. Money managers sharply decreased their overall bullish bets in WTI futures for the week to September 6th, and also reduced their net position for a second straight week, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) data.

In numeric terms - "Non-commercial contracts" of crude oil futures, to be mostly read as those traded by paper speculators, totalled a net position of +285,795 contracts. That’s a change of -55,493 contracts from the previous week’s total of +341,288; the net contracts for the data reported through August 30th.

The speculative oil bets decline also dragged the net position below the +300,000 level for the first time in nearly a month. That’s all for the moment from New York folks, as the Oilholic leaves you with a view of Times Square! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo 1: Wall Street & New York Stock Exchange, USA. Photo 2: Times Square, New York, USA © Gaurav Sharma, September 2016

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pump more, even if oil price slumps more mantra

As oil remained in a technical bear market for much of July, we saw well timed quips by major oil producing nations, within OPEC and beyond, fanning chatter of another round of talks aimed at freezing production. And well, its done the trick – both Brent and WTI futures have bounced back from the their low point of August 2, to an above 20% rise as the Oilholic writes this post, i.e. a technical bull run!

Yours truly cannot consciously recommend buying into this phoney rally, because any talks between OPEC and non-OPEC producers face the same impediments as last time, with Iran and Iraq remaining non-committal, and those calling for a freeze (Saudi Arabia and Russia) only willing to do so at record high levels of production. For the Oilholic’s detailed thoughts on the issue, via a Forbes post, click here

However, it’s not just National Oil Companies who are in full on production mode. It seems the largest independent US and Canadian oil exploration and production (E&P) companies are still paying their executives more to focus on boosting production and replacing reserves, rather than conserving capital and reducing debt, according to Moody's.

Only four companies of the 15 companies, the ratings agency sampled in July, even included debt-reduction goals as part of their broader financials, or balance-sheet performance goals. For example, Pioneer Natural Resources (rated by Moody’s Baa3 stable) included a ratio of net debt-to-EBITDAX to account for 15% of its executives' target bonus allocation.

Fourteen of the sampled companies use performance award plans linked to relative total shareholder return. Christian Plath, Senior Credit Officer at Moody's, opined that the strong and direct focus on share prices raises certain credit risks by rewarding aggressive share repurchases and the maintenance of dividends even when cutbacks would be prudent.

“The focus on shareholder returns also reflects the E&P companies' high-growth mindset, and may motivate boards and managers to focus on growth over preserving value. Nearly all of the awards are in some way linked to share-price appreciation. While large companies generally try to tie long-term pay closely to share-price performance, the link appears stronger in the E&P sector,” he said. 

Furthermore, Moody’s found that despite the slump in oil prices that has dented E&P company returns, production and reserves growth targets still comprised almost a quarter of named senior executives' target bonuses in 2015.

“This makes it the most prevalent metric in annual incentive plans ahead of expense management and strategy. Given our pessimistic industry outlook, this system of compensation is negative for credit investors and suggests that many E&P companies are finding it difficult to shed their high-growth strategies," Plath added.

Drawing a direct connection between what Moody’s says from a sample of 15 North American E&P companies and the gradually rising US and Canadian rig counts would be an oversimplification of the situation.

However, taken together, both do point to producers stateside either getting comfortable in the $40-50 per barrel price range or finding ways of carrying on regardless with the full backing of their paymasters. Any price boosting production freeze by global oil producers will be warmly welcomed by them. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Pipeline warning sign, Fairfax, Virginia, USA © O. Louis Mazzatenta / National Geographic.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Adios Ali: Saudi oil minister retires

Alas all 'crude' things in life come to an end, with King Salman replacing Ali Al-Naimi – Saudi Arabia’s oil minister who has been a regular feature at OPEC for over 20 years – with Khalid Al-Falih, chairman of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco.

It seems Al-Naimi’s outing to OPEC in December 2015 was the eighty-year old industry veteran’s last. For over two decades as oil minister, and a professional career extending well beyond that, Al-Naimi witnessed the oil price soar to $147 per barrel and plummet as low as $2, and by his own admission everything that needed to be seen in the oil markets in his service to Riyadh.

Every single OPEC minister’s summit the Oilholic has attended since 2006 has almost exclusively revolved around what Al-Naimi had to say, and with good reason. For the mere utterance of a quip or two from the man, given the Saudi spare capacity, was enough to move global oil markets. 

Since 2014, he doggedly defended the Saudi policy of maintaining oil production for the sake of holding on to the Kingdom’s market share in face of crude oversupply. Both under, King Fahd and King Abdullah, Al-Naimi near single-handedly conjured up the Saudi oil policy stance. But King Salman has gone down a different route.

The new oil minister Al-Falih will undoubtedly draw the biggest crowd of journalists yet again at OPEC given the Saudi clout in this crude world. However, Al-Naimi leaves behind some big running shoes to fill, and perhaps his predecessor’s signature pre-OPEC power walk (or was it a jog) on Vienna’s ring road with half of the world’s energy journalists in tow chasing him around the Austrian capital!

For the Oilholic it has been an absolute joy interacting with Al-Naimi at OPEC. Somehow things will never be the same again at future oil ministers' meetings, and that’s just for the scribes to begin with. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. File photo: Ali Al-Naimi, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia © Gaurav Sharma.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Get used to crude swings & volatility

Oil markets are likely to face further bouts of volatility. When Saudi Arabia and Russia, together with Venezuela and Qatar, offered the false hope of a so-called production freeze packaged in the shape of market support last week, the Oilholic wasn't the only one who did not buy it.

Predictably, oil futures rose by over 7% towards the middle of last week, but rapidly slipped into negative territory as Iran, while welcoming the move, did not say whether it would participate. In any case, the move itself was a farce of international proportions.

The Russians can’t raise their production further, while the Saudis have little exporting to room to justify a further output hike. So for market consumption it was packaged as a freeze, subsequently undermined by both countries who said they had no intentions of cutting production. It might well have been the first joint move on output matters between OPEC and non-OPEC producers, but it virtually came to naught.

Unless a clear pattern of production declines appears on the horizon, market volatility will persist. That sort of clarity won’t arrive at least before June, with swings between $25-40 likely to continue, and yes a drop to $20 is still possible.

OPEC will need to announce a real terms production cut of 1.5 million barrels per day to make any meaningful short-term difference to the oil price by $7-10 per barrel, and even that may not be sustainable with non-OPEC producers likely to be the primary beneficiaries of such a move.

Expect more of the same, and more downgrades of oil and gas companies by ratings agencies of the sort the market has gotten used to in recent months. After Fitch Ratings downgraded Shell last week, Moody’s moved to place another 29 of its rated US exploration and production firms on review for downgrade over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the latter also said continued low oil prices could have an increasingly negative impact on banks across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This could occur both directly - by a weakening in governments' capacity and willingness to support domestic banks - and indirectly, through a weakening of banks' operating conditions, Moody’s added.

Khalid Howladar, senior credit officer at Moody's, said, "Despite low oil prices and a high dependency on oil revenues across the GCC countries, banks' ratings in the region continue to benefit from their governments' willingness to tap accumulated wealth to support counter-cyclical spending."

But continued oil price declines signal "increasing challenges" to the sustainability of this dynamic, he added.

Finally, some news from the North Sea to end with – Genscape has flagged up the shutdown and restart of BP’s 1.15mn bpd Forties Pipeline System in a note to clients. It caused the April ICE Brent futures contract price to spike before falling slightly on February 12, but nothing to be overtly concerned about.

The system was shut due to an issue at the Kinneil fractionaction terminal, located where the flow from the North Sea on the Forties pipeline system is stabilised for consumption. Elsewhere, North Sea E&P firm First Oil is reportedly filing for involuntary administration, according to the BBC.

Enquest and Cairn Energy will takeover its 15% stake in Kraken field, east of Aberdeen in the British sector of the North Sea. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Oil rig in the North Sea © BP

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ho hum moves for fewer oil drums

In case you have been on another planet and haven’t heard, after weeks of chatter about coordinated oil output cuts by OPEC and non-OPEC producers, we finally had some movement. The Oilholic deploys the word 'movement' here rather cagily.

Three OPEC members led by heavyweight Saudi Arabia, with Qatar and Venezuela in tow, joined hands with the Russians, to announce a production ‘freeze’ at January’s output levels  on Tuesday, provided ‘others’ agree to do likewise. 

The most important others happen to be Iraq and Iran who haven’t exactly come out in support of the said freeze just yet. Even if they do agree, or in fact all OPEC members agree, the freeze would come at production levels deemed to be historical highs for both the Russians and OPEC. In case of the latter, industry surveys and data from aggregators as diverse as Platts and Bloomberg points to all 12 exporting OPEC nations collectively pumping above 32 million barrels per day.

Predictably, the oil futures market treated the news of the 'freeze' with the sort of disdain it deserved. The price remains stuck in the range where it has been and short-term volatility is likely to last; so much of what transpired was, well, exceedingly boring from a market standpoint, excepting that it was the first instance of OPEC and non-OPEC coordinated action in 15 years. 

If OPEC really wants to support prices, an uptick in the region of $7-10 per barrel would require the cartel to introduce a real terms cut of 1.5 million bpd. Even then, the gains would short-term, and the only people benefitting would be North American players. Some of them are the very wildcatters, whose tenacity for surviving when oil is staying ‘lower for longer’, OPEC has so far failed to work out with any strategic coherence. Expect more of the same in a market that's still awash with crude oil. 

Finally, just before one takes your leave, it seems Moody's has placed on review for downgrade the Aa3 ratings of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Sinopec Group, Sinopec Corp, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC Group) and CNOOC Limited.

The ratings agency has also placed on review for downgrade the ratings of the Chinese national oil companies' rated subsidiaries, including Kunlun Energy Company Limited, CNPC Finance (HK) Limited, CNPC Captive Insurance Company Limited, CNOOC Finance Corporation Ltd, and Sinopec Century Bright Capital Investment Limited.

In a statement, Moody’s said global rating actions on many energy companies, reflect its efforts to "recalibrate the ratings in the energy portfolio to align with the fundamental shift in the credit conditions of the global energy sector." Can’t argue with that! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Oil exploration site in Russia © LukOil

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