Showing posts with label West African crude. Show all posts
Showing posts with label West African crude. Show all posts

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On oil windfalls and African progress

Is the discovery of crude oil a blessing or curse for emerging economies? Does it further or hinder democracy and development? Is an oil rich nation’s currency destined to suffer from Dutch Disease?

These are profound questions and nowhere do they need to be answered more than in the continent of Africa. John Heilbrunn’s book Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa published by Cambridge University Press tackles the socioeconomic and political impact of oil in sub-Saharan Africa head on. 

In a somewhat refreshing take, Heilbrunn suggests that should historical and economic situations faced by African petrostates prior to the discovery of their oil be contextualised and discounted, there’s little evidence of a curse. Taking on a more optimistic tone than most, the author sets about a fascinating explanation of why he thinks even the most despotic and least accountable of African heads of state do use some proportion of oil revenues to improve their citizens' living standards.

Improvements have “failed to be uniform”, he admits, but that’s not to say there have been none. In a book of 270 pages, split by six detailed chapters, Heilbrunn writes there is much to be positive about while not losing sight of the biggest puzzle of them all – how the discovery of a natural resource changes the national and political psyche, as it is virtually impossible to predict “how political leaders respond to resource windfalls.”

While sum of all its parts makes this book a great read, Heilbrunn’s take on resource revenues, corruption and contracts in latter stages of the narrative should strike a chord with most readers. It has to be acknowledged that some African producers are pretty high on the corruption scale, but not every producer can be tarred with the same brush. 

All said, as Heilbrunn notes, oil can do nothing, being a mere mineral of variable qualities and marketability. “People choose how to oversee their extractive industries and the effects of oil production are consequences of policy choices.”

These choices alone determine the pace and scale of progress anywhere and not just Africa. Some of the book’s conclusions might surprise many readers, some might find the narrative a bit too optimistic for their linking, but for the Oilholic it’s a book containing some unassailable truths on African progress.

Heilbrunn is not attempting to gloss over what’s wrong at African petrostates. On the contrary, he puts forward what they are doing to get it right, with all their imperfections, following on from decolonisation and the inevitable expectations (plus subsequent windfall) a resource discovery brings with it.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend it to fellow analysts, those interested in the oil and gas business, African development, politics and the resource curse hypothesis. Last but not the least, that growing chorus of commentators calling upon the wider world to ditch archaic conclusions and reassess the impact of natural resources on developing economies would also enjoy many of Heilbrunn’s conclusions.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Oil, Democracy and Development in Africa © Cambridge University Press, June, 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brent’s flat feeling likely to linger

It’s been that sort of a month where the Brent futures contract seems to set record low after low in terms of recent trading prices. Earlier this week, we saw the price plummet to a 26-month low and lurk above US$102 per barrel level remaining largely flat. In the Oilholic’s opinion there is room for further connection yet.

The only reason the price has stayed in three figures is down to demand from refineries in India and China, met largely by West African crude. The jury is still out on whether a $100 price floor is forming, something which is not guaranteed. Macroeconomic climate remains a shade dicey and much might depend on how China’s fares.

With the Brent prices falling 5.6% in month over month terms, last week Bloomberg reported that Chinese refiners bought 40 cargoes of West African crude to load in September, equating to about 1.27 million barrels a day. As the Indians bought another 27 cargoes over the biggest monthly drop in prices since April 2013, the total volume purchased lent support to the price or the $100 floor would have almost certainly been breached. Geopolitics is not providing that much of a risk driven bearish impetus, even hedge funds have finally realised that by reducing bullish bets on Brent by 12.5% to just 63,079 contacts in the week beginning August 19, as wiser heads appear to be prevailing of late.

From price of the crude stuff to those trying to make money on it – as some in the UK oil & gas sector have suggested that London-listed exploration and production (E&P) firms might be down the dumps. Investec analyst Brian Gallagher clearly isn’t one of them. In a note to clients, he said the sector should not be feeling sorry for itself. 

“Brent has been above $100 per barrel all year and broadly above $100 per barrel for three years now. Performance of E&P companies generally has just not been up to the mark from an operational and exploration perspective. Unique events have also disrupted narratives. Valuations are however becoming tempting again and we maintain bullish views on Amerisur and Cairn.”

Aside from these two, market valuations are still pricing in exploration barrels, which Investec analysts don’t necessarily disagree with. “Nevertheless, if you want to trade discovered barrels, you’ll have to wait for lower levels in Amerisur, Genel, Ophir and Tullow, in our view,” Gallagher added.

Sticking with corporates, here’s the Oilholic’s latest interview for Forbes with Barbara Spurrier, Finance Director of London’s AIM-listed Frontier Resources on the subject of potential barrels in Oman’s Block 38. Yours truly also recently interviewed Alexis B├ędeneau, Head of IT at Primagaz France, a company owned by international conglomerate SHV Group on the crucial subject of cybersecurity and IT process streamlining within the oil & gas sector.

Finally, a Fitch Ratings report titled “European Union has Little Chance of Cutting Reliance on Russian Gas” rather gives away the concluding argument. The agency opines that Europe is unlikely to be able to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas for at least the next decade and potentially much longer. 

“At best the EU may be able to avoid significantly increasing its gas purchases from Russia. Any attempt to improve energy security by reducing European reliance on Russia would require either a significant reduction in overall gas demand or a big increase in alternative sources of supply, but neither of these appears likely,” Fitch said.

European shale gas remains in its infancy and Fitch believes it will take “at least a decade” for production to reach meaningful volumes. By that point, of course it would probably only offset the decline in production from Europe's conventional gas wells and won’t be a US-style bonanza some are imagining. 

Piped gas imports to Europe from markets other than Russia are also likely to remain limited. Fitch opined that the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline is the only viable non-Russian pipeline under consideration. This could provide 31 billion cubic metres of gas per annum by 2026, but that’s not enough to cover the incremental increase in gas demand the agency expects over the period, let alone replace any supplies from Russia!

Additionally LNG supplies will rise, but the market is unlikely to be large enough to gain market share against Russian gas. A candid and brutal assessment, just the sort this blogger likes, but maybe not the policymakers with camera facing soundbites in Brussels. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Oil tanker in Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey © Gaurav Sharma, March 2014.

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For comments or for professional queries, please email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

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