Showing posts with label South Sudan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Sudan. Show all posts

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.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Syrian muddle, Barclays on Brent & more

The Brent forward month futures contract for August spiked above US$106 per barrel in intraday trading on Friday at one point. Most analysts cited an escalation of the Syrian situation and the possibility of it morphing into a wider regional conflict as a reason for the 1%-plus spike. The trigger was Obama administration’s reluctant acknowledgement the previous evening of usage of chemical weapons in Syria. The Oilholic’s feedback suggests that more Europe-based supply-side market analysts regard a proactive US involvement in the Syrian muddle as a geopolitical game-changer than their American counterparts. There is already talk of Syria become as US-Russia proxy war.

Add to that Israel’s nervousness about securing its border, jumpiness in Jordon and behind the scenes manipulation of the Assad regime and Syria by Iran. In an investment note, analysts at Barclays have forecasted Brent to climb back to the Nelson figure of 111. Yet a deeper examination of what the bank’s analysts are saying would tell you that their take is not a reactive response to Syria.

In fact, Barclays cites supply constriction between OPEC members as a causative agent, specifically mentioning on-going problems in Nigeria, Libya and shipment concerns in Iraq. For what its worth, and appalling as it might well be, Syria's conflict is only being priced in by traders in passing in anticipation of a wider regional geopolitical explosion, which or may not happen.

Away from OPEC and Syria, the Sudan-South Sudan dispute reared its ugly head again this week. A BBC World Service report on Thursday said Sudan had alleged that rebels based in South Sudan attacked an oil pipeline and Diffra oilfield in the disputed Abyei region. The charge was denied by South Sudan and the rebels.
 
The news follows Sudan’s call for a blockade of South Sudan's oil from going through the former’s pipelines to export terminals to take effect within 60 days. The flow of oil only resumed in April. Both Sudan and the South are reliant on oil revenue, which accounted for 98% of South Sudan's budget. However, the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South, but all the pipelines…well run north.
 
As the geopolitical analysts get plenty of food for thought, BP’s latest Statistical Review of World Energy noted that global energy consumption grew by 1.8% in 2012, with China and India accounting for almost 90% of that growth. Saudi Arabia remained the world’s top producer with its output at 11.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) followed by Russia at 10.6 million boepd. However, the US in third at 8.9 million boepd gave the “All hail shale” brigade plenty of thought. Especially, as BP noted that 2012 saw the largest single-year increase in US oil production ever in the history of the survey.
 
Moving on to corporate news, Fitch Ratings said Repsol's voluntary offer to re-purchase €3 billion of preference shares will increase the group's leverage, partially offsetting any benefit from the proceeds of its recent LNG assets divestment (revealed in March). This reduces the potential for an upgrade or Positive Outlook on the group's 'BBB-' rating in the near term, the agency added. Repsol's board voted in May to repurchase the preference shares partly with cash and partly with new debt.
 
Finally, Tullow Oil has won its legal battle, dating back to 2010, over tax payable on the sale of oilfields in Uganda. On Friday, the company said a UK court had ruled in favour of its indemnity claim for $313 million in its entirety (when the Uganda’s government demanded over $400 million in capital gains tax after Heritage Oil sold assets in the country to Tullow in a $1.45 billion deal).
 
Heritage said it would now evaluate its legal options and could launch an appeal. When the original deal between Heritage and Tullow was concluded, Tullow paid the Ugandan Revenue Authority $121.5 million – a third of the original $405 million tax demand – and put the remaining $283.5 million into an escrow account.
 
That’s all for the moment folks! The Oilholic has arrived in Belfast ahead of 2013 G8 Summit in Northern Ireland under the UK’s presidency, where Syria, despite the meeting being an economic forum, is bound to creep up on the World leaders’ agenda. As will energy-related matters. So keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Veneco Oil Platform, California, USA © Rich Reid / National Geographic.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The South Sudan question & other crude matters

Where South Sudan fits in the oil world has troubled ‘crudely’ inclined geopolitical analysts for some time now. The country celebrated the first anniversary of its creation on July 9th. But there is little to cheer about yet for South Sudan which inherited over 75% of parent Sudan’s proven oil reserves but is overtly reliant on the latter’s infrastructure to bring it to market. Sources with expertise as well as anyone with a modicum of interest in current events would agree that South Sudan’s outlook is bleak at best and abysmal at worst following decades of conflict. That’s notwithstanding a prolonged border dispute with the North, 170,000-plus refugees and tension over oil revenues which have only just shown signs of easing.

While it is early days, on August 4th a Reuters’ flash stating that the North and South sides had pulled back from the brink of war and finally agreed on oil transit payments was widely welcomed from trading floors to the Office of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And what has emerged so far is a relief for everyone from Elf to Total, from OMV to CNPC; the Chinese being the biggest players in Sudan. Of the seven exploration blocks, CNPC is majorly involved with four in case you didn’t know.

Yet deep down everyone, not least the Oilholic, is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that the time to uncork the champagne is not here yet. This humble blogger was not in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where the agreement was reached, but courtesy dispatches from kindred souls in diplomatic circles it is known that South Sudan agreed to pay North Sudan just over US$9.05 per barrel for usage of its transport, supply and logistics infrastructure to move the crude stuff to Port Sudan.

However, nearly a fortnight on from the announcement, we still await an announcement about when the South will resume oil exports which were stopped in January. That said North Sudan will receive US$3 billion as compensation for revenue lost in that period.

The agreement is not the end of South Sudan’s problems. Without even having meaningfully exploited its precious resources, the world's newest nation is already a case study for the resource curse hypothesis. With oil production having only begun in 2005 and anti-graft measures either side of the border being ‘less than worse’, it can be safely concluded that South Sudan is more likely to resemble a 1970s Nigeria than a 2012 Botswana.

If the Americans press South Sudan to act on graft they are labelled as arrogant, the South Africans as patronising, the Brits as colonials and so on in populist circles even if the government is partially listening. The Chinese way to calm the situation either side of the disputed border and improving things is by offering to buy the crude stuff at above existing market rates (as they did in February).

Clue – nothing is going to change meaningfully anytime soon. Alas, with a production peak for existing facilities forecast for 2020, a turnaround is needed and fast! At least a plan to move away from overreliance on the North by building a pipeline to Kenya is a positive if it materialises. Happy Belated Birthday South Sudan!

Away from Sudanese problems, but sticking with the African continent – Nigeria has signed an ‘initial’ agreement with USA’s Vulcan Petroleum Resources Ltd.; a Vulcan Capital Management SPV, to build six new oil refineries worth US$4.5 billion. If ‘initial’ becomes ‘final’ and the deal materialises, it would add to the four refineries Nigeria already has increasing refining capacity by 180,000 barrels per day.

For a country which is Africa’s largest oil exporter but a net importer of refined distillates, the Oilholic has always opined that seeing is believing. So we’ll believe when we see and greet the announcement with cautious optimism.

Moving to some corporate news which also has an African flavour, its emerged that Edinburgh-based independent upstart Melrose Resources has announced a merger with Ireland’s Petroceltic. Both companies will now merge operations in North Africa along with Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

The new company will have Petroceltic’s branding and will be headquartered in Ireland. The merger values Melrose at £165 million with Petroceltic shareholders having a 54% stake in the merged company and Melrose shareholders having the rest. Sounds like a sound move!

Finally, a new computer virus is doing the rounds targeting energy infrastructure being dubbed by the security firms as the “Shamoom” attack. A notice from Symantec (available here) describes the virus as “a destructive malware that corrupts files on a compromised computer and overwrites the MBR (Master Boot Record) in an effort to render a computer unusable.”

On Wednesday, Saudi Aramco said it was subject to a virus attack but did not acknowledge whether it was a Shamoom attack. A spokesperson said Aramco had now isolated its computer networks as a precautionary measure while stressing that the attack had no impact on its production. Virulent times in the crude world. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil worker © Shell

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Delhi’s traffic jams, officials & other crude matters

Last few days here have involved getting some really interesting intelligence from selected Indian ministries on investment by the country’s NOCs, India’s possible action against Iranian crude imports, rising consumption patterns and a host of other matters. However, to get to the said officials during rush hour, you have to navigate through one of the worst traffic in any Asian capital. Furthermore, rush hour or no rush hour, it seems Delhi’s roads are constantly cramped.

It takes on average an hour to drive 10 miles, more if you happen to be among those on the road during rush hour. It often pains to see some of the fastest cars on the planet meant to bring the thrill of acceleration to the Indian driver’s foot pedal, doing 15 mph on the Capital’s streets. They say Bangkok has Asia’s worst traffic jams – the Oilholic thinks ‘they’ have not been to Delhi.

Away from the jams, chats with officials threw up some interesting stuff. India currently permits 100% investment by foreign players only in upstream projects. However, the government is putting through legislation which would raise the investment ceiling for other components of the oil & gas business including raising investment cap in gas pipeline infrastructure to 100 per cent.

What India does, matters both to it as well as the wider oil & gas community. The country has some 14 NOCs, with four of them in the Fortune 500. As the Oilholic noted at the 20th World Petroleum Congress, over a period of the last 12 months, Indian NOCs have invested in admirably strategic terms but overseas forays have also seen them in Syria and Sudan which is politically unpalatable for some but perhaps ‘fair game’ for India in its quest for security of supply. It also imports crude from Iran. Together with China, Indian crude consumption heavily influences global consumption patterns.

US EIA figures suggest Indian crude consumption came in at 300,800 barrels per day (bpd) in 2009 while local feedback dating back to 2010 suggests this rose to 311,000 bpd by 2010. Being a massive net importer – sentiment goes right out of the window whether it comes to dealing with Iran or Sudan, and India's NOCs are in 20 international jurisdictions.

Over days of deliberations with umpteen Indian officials, not many, in fact any were keen on joining the European oil embargo on Iran. However, some Indian scribes known to the Oilholic have suggested that in the event of rising pressure, once assurances over sources of alternative supply had been met, the government would turn away from Iran. In the event of financial sanctions, it is in any case becoming increasingly difficult for Indian NOCs to route payments for crude oil to Iran.

No comment was available on the situation in Sudan or for any action on Syria. In case of the latter, many here are secretly hoping for a Russian veto at the UN to prevent any further action against the Assad administration but that view is not universal. Speaking of Sudan, the breakaway South Sudan shut its oil production on Sunday following a row with Sudan. It is a major concern for India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) – which has the most exposure of all Indian companies in Sudan. Oil production makes up 98% of newly independent South Sudan's economy and OVL has seen its operations split between North and South Sudan.

Amid rising tension, the real headache for OVL, its Indian peers and Chinese majors is that while South Sudan has most of the crude oil reserves, North Sudan has refineries and port facilities from which exports take place to countries like India and China. It’s no surprise that the latest row is over export fees. If the dispute worsens, Indian analysts, oil companies and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are near unanimous in their fear that it could become a major threat to stability in the region. The Oilholic notes that while all three have very different reasons for voicing their fears – it is a clear and present danger which could flare up anytime unless sense prevails within the next four weeks.

South Sudan's oil minister Stephen Dhieu Dau told Reuters on Sunday that all production in his landlocked country had been halted and that no oil was now flowing through Sudan. "Oil production will restart when we have a comprehensive agreement and all the deals are signed," he added. Earlier on January 20th, Sudan seized tankers carrying South Sudanese oil, supposedly in lieu of unpaid transit fees. On Saturday, Sudan said it would release the ships as a “goodwill gesture” but South Sudan said this did not go far enough.

UN Secretary General Ban accused the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan of lacking "political will" and specifically urged Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir to "fully co-operate with the United Nations". Doubtless he’ll respond to it just as he did to the issuance of his arrest warrant by the International Court of Justice in 2009! The world is watching nervously, as is India for its own crude reasons.

On the pricing front, Brent and WTI closed on Monday at US$110.98 and US$98.95 a barrel respectively, with decidedly bearish trends lurking around based on renewed fears of a chaotic default in Greece and EU leaders’ inability to reach a consensus. Unsurprisingly the Euro also lost ground to the US dollar fetching US$1.31 per Euro.

Jack Pollard, analyst at Sucden Financial, says the fear that CDS could be triggered in a hard Greek default could look ominous for crude prices, especially in terms of speculative positions. “Continued Iran tensions should help to maintain the recent tight range, with a breakout only likely when there is a material change in dynamics. Whether Iran or Greece produces this (change) remains to be seen,” he adds.

Last but not the least, reports from Belize – the only English-speaking Central American nation – suggest the country has struck black gold with its very first drill at the onshore Stann Creek prospect currently being handled by Texan firm Treaty Energy. Abuzz with excitement, both the government and Treaty believe the Stann Creek prospect has yet more surprises to offer with two more exploratory wells on the cards fairly soon pending permit requests. That’s all for the moment folks, keep reading keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Glimpses of Delhi's mega traffic Jams © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

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