Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Monday, January 27, 2020

Solid crash course on global oil markets & trading

Of late, the global oil market has seen what can aptly be described as range-bound volatility. No matter what the bulls throw at it, movements of both Brent, the global proxy benchmark, and WTI, the main North American benchmark, have flattered to deceive when it comes to price spikes past $70 per barrel. 

Yet at same time, the price floor has largely held at $50 and barring a global slowdown, few are predicting a Q1 2016-esque slump below $30. Market variables are changing too, not least tweets from US President Donald Trump on oil prices and copious amounts of American light sweet crude flooding the market. 

In such a setting, should understanding the market, making calculated guesstimates on price direction and trading black gold tickle your fancy, be it via a position in the market or a spreadbet, then market commentator Simon Watkins' latest book – An Insider’s Guide To Trading The Global Oil Market – would be well worth your while. In a work of just under 360 pages, the author sums ups the runners and riders, speculators and chancers, players and detractors who have a profound impact on a sentiment driven commodity like crude oil. 

There's detailed analysis, fully illustrated charts linked to points made by the author and tips aplenty. The treatment of risk/reward management is great and Watkins has also taken the trouble of covering the history of the oil business in a concise fashion to give readers a sound understanding of key production centres, demand drivers and geopolitics. 

Recent developments in the China, Middle East, Russia and the US, and the cycle oil cartel OPEC finds itself trapped in, have been covered in some detail providing the essential padding to the outlined oil market history. 

Generic trading methodologies, strategies and cross-market opportunities deployed by proprietary traders around the world as outlined by Watkins make for an engaging narrative. Among the allied trades, the author's take on Saudi Aramco following its IPO, chimes with those in the short-sellers' camp, including this blogger, who note the various complications and lack of transparency associated with the so-called mother of all IPOs that promised so much internationally, but ended up a with mere single-digit percentage float on the domestic Saudi market. 

Overall, Watkins' impressive work cuts through market exaggerations designed to shift sentiment one way or another, and makes readers work towards developing their convictions while being cautious of manipulations, e.g. casual dropping of price rallies that lack legs, black swan events that are anything but, and risk premiums that barely last a trading week instead of having a tangible price supporting impact. 

Ultimately, as the author opines: "If the intricacies are understood, the oil market is a trader's nirvana; it offers far and away the most opportunities out of any other market for high returns." And to that effect, he's provided a very solid crash course that could serve both beginners and those with market exposure looking to brush up and refocus. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2020. Photo: Front Cover - An Insider’s Guide To Trading The Global Oil Market  © ADVFN Books, 2019.

Friday, January 13, 2017

‘Crude’ recollections of a former OPEC bigwig

For over two decades, every word Ali Al-Naimi uttered was lapped up by the oil market. It wouldn’t be otherwise, if you were the oil minister, as he once was, of OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia between August 1995 and May 2016.

So when Al-Naimi’s memoir – Out of the Desert: My Journey from Nomadic Bedouin to the Heart of Global Oil – appeared on the horizon barely a few months into his retirement, global headlines were all but guaranteed, especially at a time of extreme volatility and a once in a generation market dynamic shift in the global crude world.

Yet, before the world got to know Al-Naimi as the oil market heavyweight, there was the nomadic shepherd boy born of humble beginnings in Eastern Arabia who dreamt of making it big.

In a memoir of over 300 pages, split by 19 chapters, Al-Naimi recounts his extraordinary journey, from an office boy in 1947 at oil company Aramco, to the CEO’s chair in 1988 of the then state-owned Saudi Aramco.

Al-Naimi’s recollections send the reader alternating from human interest sentiment to hard core global geopolitics, inner workings of the oil industry to the deals in the corridors of power, corporate decisions to political manipulation. There’s a bit of everything, and more of what you would come to expect of a global political figure. Afterall, power, politics and that precious natural resource called oil go hand in glove.

Having interacted in a journalistic capacity with Al-Naimi at several OPEC meets prior to his retirement, I often heard the industry veteran quip that in his career he had seen the oil price drop to as low as $2 and climb as high as $140 a per barrel. This book will help you get some perspective.

Even before it hit the shelves, media outlets as diverse Forbes, Bloomberg and the International Business Times, were writing news stories based on excerpts from it in a bid to take Al-Naimi’s thoughts and help them decode, how for instance talks between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers would pan out.

From OPEC’s traditional mistrust of Russia, to everyone in the oil business looking at the Saudis to cut, Arab oil embargo to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Al-Naimi has catalogued implications of such events for the oil market. For instance, Al-Naimi claims that in a situation akin to the crisis of demand seen in 2008-09, when the 2014 supply glut crisis hit, everyone expected the Saudis to act but offered no help with sharing the burden.

An already brilliant narrative is enhanced by a peppering of market anecdotes previous unheard of which the Oilholic enjoyed reading. The book’s appeal is universal. That said students of history, oil industry observers, industry analysts and geopolitics enthusiasts ought to regard it as a must read.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2017. Photo: Front Cover – Out of the Desert: My Journey from Nomadic Bedouin to the Heart of Global Oil By Ali Al-Naimi © Penguin Publishers, 2016.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Threat of the other & US energy security

The intertwining of US foreign policy with the country’s energy security has been a matter of public discourse for decades. The connection only witnessed a dilution of sorts roughly six years ago when the US shale bonanza started easing the economy’s reliance on oil imports in meaningful volumes. 

In an era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices and shale’s contribution to US energy security being hot topics, author Sebastian Herbstreuth refreshingly reframes the country’s ‘energy dependency’ as a cultural discourse via his latest book – Oil and American Identity published by I.B. Tauris

In a book of 270 pages, split by six detailed chapters, Herbstreuth attempts to draw and examine a connection between the US energy business and American views on independence, freedom, consumption, abundance, progress and exceptionalism.

Stateside, foreign oil is selectively depicted as a serious threat to US national security. However, that selective depiction is contingent upon the ‘foreignness of foreign oil’ to quote the author. Herbstreuth shows how even reliable imports from the Middle East are portrayed as dangerous and undesirable because the region is particularly 'foreign' from an American point of view, while oil from friendly countries like neighbouring Canada is cast as a benign form of energy trade.

The author has somewhat controversially, and rather brilliantly, recast the history of US foreign oil dependence as a cultural history of the world’s largest energy consumer in the 20th Century.

That age-old concern about there being an existential threat to the US, as a society built on the internal combustion engine and mobility, is in part born out of the very cultural fears flagged by the author in some detail.

The striking thing is that the fear still lurks around despite the rising contribution of US shale oil and gas to US energy security. Reading Herbstreuth’s work you feel that in many ways the said fear slant is never going to go away, for it is as much a cultural issue as a geopolitical or economic one, neatly packaged by the political classes for the ultimate ‘Hydrocarbon Society’.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend Oil and American Identity to fellow analysts, those interested in the oil and gas business and cultural studies students. Furthermore, a whole host of readers looking to ditch archaic theories and seeking a fresh perspective on the crude state of US energy politics would find Herbstreuth’s arguments to be pretty powerful.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. © Photo: Front Cover – Oil and American Identity © I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Refreshing take on tackling a downturn

Does the thought of a recession spook you? Are memories of the last economic downturn in the wake of the US subprime mortgage crisis fairly raw? It might well be hard to avoid an economic downturn, but your chances of escaping unscathed and managing the situation depend on your tenacity and desire to rethink life as you know it, according to economist Jason Schenker.

Hammering home this central theme is his book – Recession-Proof: How to Survive and Thrive in an Economic Downturn released earlier this year by Lioncrest Publishing – which makes you sit up and take notice of both the obvious and the not so obvious when it comes to your career, investment and lifestyle choices versus the evolving macroeconomic climate.

The engaging tone of Schenker’s work spread out over 200 pages split by 11 chapters stands out. The book is full of practical suggestions, a pragmatic dose of stating of what’s evident (which some of us tend to ignore at our peril), a gentle nudge towards constructive soul searching and last, but not the least, one of the most refreshing elucidation of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis that the Oilholic has read in recent years.

To quote the author, “a recession is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. It happens partly because we think it’s going to happen. But that doesn’t make it any less real, or any less inevitable…It’s like that famous line in Dirty Harry: “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” When people are feeling lucky, there’s growth. When people aren’t feeling lucky, there’s contraction.”

And being prepared for all eventualities is what is required in this day and age of turbulence where fear and greed are seen to be driving markets, Schenker adds. Instead of feeling sorry in the event of a recession be bold, or better still spot economic turbulence before its hits your company, life and finances, all three of which are intertwined in more ways than one.

Schenker explains how he went about staying more than just afloat in previous downturns, and how you can too. All chapters are fascinating, but if the Oilholic was asked to pick his favourite passages, one would say Chapters Two (What does your personal recession look like?), Five (Dig In) and Seven (Run) would be among the most riveting ones.

This book is not some run-of-the-mill self-help guide. Rather parts of it might well jolt you into action. But perhaps that’s the jolt you need in life to be recession proof and the lessons Schenker learnt from challenges in his own life that form part of the subject matter strike a chord.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Oilholic has known Schenker in a professional capacity for over ten years, since his days at Wachovia and one’s own at a CNBC Europe production team; and can personally testify that he never sits on the fence in any deliberation of any sort whether we’re discussing central banks, forex or OPEC's oil production quota.

His knack for plain-speaking is reflected in the narrative of the title. But Schenker’s book appeals to this blogger not because he’s an old friend, but because his work makes one sit up and take notice of things we often subconsciously ignore whether it comes to career or investment choices or for that matter which industry conference to attend!

The Oilholic is happy to recommend this title to the young and old alike, those starting out in professional life to those looking forward to retirement. Recession Proof, for this blogger at least, transcends a typical readership profile.

This book is not only about financial survival, it’s not only about career security, not just about investment management; rather it’s about all of the above, along with the right dosage of prudence and practical advice from an old industry pro sprinkled in for good measure. Everyone could do with that! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Front Cover - Recession-Proof: How to Survive and Thrive in an Economic Downturn By Jason Schenker © Lioncrest Publishing 2016

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Perspectives on a changing energy landscape

That we're in the midst of a profound change in the energy markets in unquestionable. However, fossil fuels still remain the default medium of choice. Within those broader confines, the oil market is seeing a supply-driven correction of the sort that probably occurs once in a few decades.

Meanwhile, peak oil theorists are in retreat following in the footsteps of peak coal theorists last heard of during a bygone era. However, what does it all mean for the wider energy spectrum, where from here and what are the stakes?

Authors and industry experts Daniel Lacalle and Diego Parrilla have attempted to tackle the very questions in their latest work The Energy World is Flat: Opportunities from the end of peak oil (published by Wiley).

In a way, the questions aren’t new, but scenarios and backdrops evolve and of course have evolved to where we currently are. So do the answers, say Lacalle and Parrilla as they analyse the past, scrutinise the present and draw conclusions for future energy market pathways.

In this book of 300 pages, split by 14 interesting chapters, they opine that the energy world is flat principally down to "ten flatteners" along familiar tangents such as geopolitics, reserves and resources, overcapacity, demand displacement and destruction, and of course the economics of the day. 

Invariably, geopolitics forms the apt entry-point for the discussion at hand and the authors duly oblige. As the narrative subtly moves on, related discussions touch on which technologies are driving the current market changes, and how they affect investors. Along the way, there is a much needed discussion about past and current shifts in the energy sphere. You cannot profit in the present, unless you understand the past, being the well rounded message here.

“New frontiers” in the oil and gas business, today’s “unconventional” becoming tomorrow’s “conventional”, and resource projections are all there and duly discussed.

To quote the authors, the world has another 1.5 trillion barrels of proven plus probable reserves that are both technically and economically viable at current prices and available technology, and another 5 trillion-plus barrels that are not under current exploration parameters but might be in the future. Furthermore, what about the potential of methane hydrates?

Politics, of course, is never far from the crude stuff, as Lacalle and Parrilla note delving into OPEC shenanigans and the high stakes game between US shale, Russian and Saudi producers leading to the recent supply glut – a shift with the potential to completely alter economics of the business.

What struck the Oilholic was how in-depth analysis has been packaged by the authors in an engaging, dare one say easy reading style on what remains a complex and controversial discussion. For industry analysts, this blogger including, it’s a brilliant and realistic assessment of the state of affairs and what potential investors should or shouldn’t look at.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend the book to individual investors, energy economists, academics in the field and of course, those simply curious about the general direction of the energy markets. Policymakers might also find it well worth their while to take notice of what the authors have put forward.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. © Photo: Front Cover – The Energy World is Flat: Opportunities from the end of peak oil © Wiley Publishers, Feb, 2015.

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.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

‘Petroleum Club’, policy choices & ‘crude’ control

Several nations are about to join the ‘Petroleum Club’ of crude oil producers where they’ll rub shoulders with well established patrons of the hydrocarbon exporters' fraternity.

The policymaking choices they face today could have a massive bearing on the future direction of their economies and overall management of national oil wealth. Every national market’s direction is ultimately shaped by the level of control its government wishes to have over domestic exploration and production.

Some do not have a national oil company (NOC), yet others give most of the decision-making and clout to a state entity. Factoring in developments and case studies till date, academic Bianca Sarbu delves into the key issue of state influence in her book Ownership and Control of Oil published by Routledge.

The author discusses different decisions taken by governments, subsequent outcomes, emerging themes and industry trends in their wake. In a book of just under 200 pages, split into six detailed chapters, Sarbu substantiates her arguments by pulling in case studies – both recent and historic – and puts forward conclusions confronting theoretical explanations.

The text is peppered with figures, tables and charts lending veracity to Sarbu’s scrutiny of government decisions in key oil producing countries. Her painstaking analysis of upstream policies on a pan-global level helps the readers compare and contrast what’s afoot, where, and why.

An entire chapter is dedicated to profiling Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi based on Sarbu’s in-depth research and direct interviews with over 30 energy experts on both countries. Holistic examination of NOCs’ role in oil production since the nationalisations of the 1970s from sheikdoms to democracies, leads the author to some interesting conclusions.

Sarbu opines that technical expertise of the NOC plays an important role in “explaining upstream policy choices,” especially when limits on the executive are low and “ruling elites are more likely to take economically rational decisions.”

From first impression to midway scrutiny, all the way up to ultimate conclusion, Sarbu’s treatment of the subject at hand is solid. Its an invaluable contribution towards wider understanding and contextualisation of policy frameworks within emerging and established oil producing countries and the impact they have had or are likely to have for better or worse.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend this title primarily to industry consultants. That said policymakers, oil and gas sector professionals in general, as well as students of petroleum economics and the Middle East would appreciate it in near equal measure.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Ownership and Control of Oil © Routledge, May 2014.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The difficult art of marketing ‘Big Oil’

Given the historical and perhaps customary negativity surrounding oil and gas majors in the best of times, working on their marketing pitches and brand equity enhancement is not for the faint hearted.

Environmental disasters and subsequent public relations fiascos in wake of incidents such as Exxon Valdez and BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill have only reinforced negative perceptions about ‘Big Oil’ in the minds of many. 

It all dates way back to Standard Oil, a company often castigated for its practices in the last century, writes Mark Robinson, professor of marketing at Virginia International University, in his recent work Marketing Big Oil published by Palgrave Pivot.

With pitfalls aplenty for oil and gas marketing professionals, the author has attempted to offer guidance on the arduous task by going well beyond the mundane 'do’s' and 'don’ts' in a book of just under 160 pages, split into five parts and 17 splendidly sequenced chapters. As it happens, Robinson knows more than a thing or two about marketing Big Oil, having been an industry executive at Deloitte’s Global Energy & Resources Group and ExxonMobil.

His book provides adequate subjective treatment, lessons from history and what approaches to adopt if marketing Big Oil is what you do or intend to do. Starting with the historical context provided by Standard Oil, the author leads readers on to present day challenges faced by oil and gas companies as we’ve come to know them.

The Oilholic really liked Robinson’s no holds barred analysis of marketing and branding exercises undertaken by industry participants and his detailed examination of what worked and what tanked given the millions that were spent. The author says throwing money at a campaign is no guarantor of success as many companies within the sector have found out to their cost.

Managing pitfalls forms an integral part of Robinson’s message; just ask BP with its ‘Beyond Petroleum’ slogan. Perceived disconnect between the slogan, what the company was up to, and subsequent events made it sound farcical. The saga, what went wrong with the campaign and lessons in its wake are described in some detail by the author.

Additionally, a part of the book is dedicated to managing a brand crisis. The entire text is well referenced and accompanied by 14 brand lessons treating various crucial marketing facets. Analysis of the industry's use of social media, e-commerce, mobile apps and digital advertising is fascinating too.

Overall, Robinson’s engaging and timely book on a complex marketing arena brings forth some 'crude' home truths, backed up by historical context and lessons from the corporate world, all weaved into a balanced industry perspective on the state of affairs in a digitally savvy world.

Budding marketing professionals as well as industry veterans, and those interested in how some of world’s biggest oil and gas companies succeed (or fail) in etching their global brand equity would find this book to be a thoroughly good read.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Marketing Big Oil: Brand Lessons from the World's Largest Companies © Palgrave Macmillan, July 2014.

Friday, December 05, 2014

‘Yukos Affair’ and its shadow over Putin’s Russia

President Vladimir Putin and what colours his vision of modern Russia are under the spotlight like never before. As Ukraine burns and western sanctions hit the Kremlin, Russia’s president remains defiant spewing yet stronger nationalistic rhetoric with a coterie of supporters in tow. Many would find internal politics in Putin’s Russia to be fascinating and repugnant in equal measure.

Yet, in order to understand the present, a past occurrence – the downfall of Yukos and its former chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky – would be a good starting point. In his latest work published by I.B. Tauris, academic Richard Sakwa not only describes the episode in some detail but also contextualises power struggles and insecurities that shaped one of the most controversial episodes in contemporary Russia.

This book isn’t merely Khodorkovsky's story from an unceremonious arrest in 2003 to a surprising release in December 2013. Rather, the author has taken that backdrop to give the readers an insight into the beginning and subsequent evolution of ‘Putinism’ as we know it. 

In just under 300 pages split by 12 chapters, Sakwa, an expert on Russian affairs with half a dozen works under his belt, has portrayed the event as an extraordinary confrontation between the two great forces of modernity – the state and the market – with Putin and Khodorkovsky as antagonists. 

“It was about their associated conceptions of freedom and at the same time – a struggle for Russia,” he writes. Putin’s determination to clip Khodorkovsky’s petrodollar powered wings marked a turning point. The oligarch’s controversial trial(s) attracted widespread international condemnation and ended in one of the world's richest and most powerful men becoming the state's prisoner. 

Far-reaching political and economic consequences in its wake left an indelible black mark about the quality of freedom in Putin's Russia. It also laid bare the complex connection between the Kremlin and big business during Russia's troubling transformation from a planned economy during the Soviet era to capitalism.

Being an outsider, it is easy to feel sympathetic towards Khodorkovsky and castigate the Russian way. However, by not overtly romanticising Khodorkovsky's resistance to Putin’s view of modern Russia, Sakwa paints a convincing picture of how the oligarch turned prisoner himself was no stranger to the contradictory essence of the country's democratic evolution.

As the author notes, Khodorkovsky was not only Putin’s antagonist, but also at the same time a protagonist of the contradictions that the president's regime reflected. Ultimately, it all leads on to how subversion of law and constitutionality has become commonplace in today’s Russia.

While the said subversion started taking hold in post-Soviet Russia, and Khodorkovsky most certainly used it to his advantage when it suited him; it was the oligarch’s ultimate downfall that made the state of affairs manifestly obvious beyond the country’s borders. It resonates today with Putin’s modus operandi as entrenched as ever. 

Through his brilliant, balanced description of a key episode in Russia’s rise towards becoming an oil and gas powerhouse, Sakwa has charted a warning from history on what to expect and where it might lead. The Oilholic would be happy to recommend Putin and the Oligarch to energy analysts, those interested in geopolitics, Russia, Yukos Affair or the oil world at large.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Putin and the Oligarch: The Khodorkovsky-Yukos Affair © I.B. Tauris, February 2014.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An instructive approach to energy trading tenets

In the challenging world of energy trading, fortune favours the prepared. Whether one is brave enough (or not) comes second and not having a clear strategy would be borderline foolishness.

Given such a backdrop, almost inevitably, there are resources aplenty targeting those who feel the need to be better informed and equipped. Among the latest reference sources, industry veteran and academic Dr Iris Marie Mack’s book Energy Trading and Risk Management published by Wiley is a pretty compelling one.

The Oilholic instantly warmed up to the book barely a chapter in, struck by its practical approach, balanced tone, contextualised narrative and a genuine desire on the author’s part to define terms and methodologies for the benefit of those with a mid-tier investment knowledge base.

Furthermore, the instructive narrative seeks to bring about a holistic understanding of how energy markets work to begin with, leading on to an adequate treatment of risk, speculation and portfolio diversity tenets. The format in which Energy Trading and Risk Management is minutely sub-sectioned point to point is simply splendid. So should you wish to salami slice and pick up bits of the subject, it would serve you just as well as a cover to cover read through.

Conversely, if you are confident enough to skip the basics and go straight through to concepts and formulas, the sequential flow of text in each chapter helps you breeze through basic definitions usually quoted in boxed text on to what you are after.

Accompanying the text are charts, case studies, background briefs, notes on macro drivers and definitions at various points split into ten weighty sub-sectioned chapters in a book of around 270 pages. From contango to the modern portfolio theory, from risk management in the renewables business to mitigation in an ever changing market climate – it’s all there and duly referenced.

While the Oilholic appreciated Dr Mack's work in its entirety, a chapter on exotic energy derivatives (which follows a passage on the plain vanilla variety) stood out for this blogger. One would be happy to recommend this title to energy professionals, fellow energy analysts and those with a desire to pursue energy trading as a career pathway.

It would most definitely appeal to entrants finding their feet in the market as well as established participants wanting to refresh their thinking and methodologies. Ultimately, for every reader this title is bound to morph from being an informative and educational book at the point of first reading, to an invaluable reference source as and when subsequently needed. That makes it worthy of any energy sector professional’s bookshelf.

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© Gaurav Sharma, October, 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Energy Trading and Risk Management © Wiley Publishers, May, 2014.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A crash course in geopolitics

Supply side oil and gas analysts including this blogger, as well as traders of (physical not paper) crude oil contracts feel like tearing their hair when some speculator or the other hits the airwaves citing “risk premium”, “instability premium” or more correctly “geopolitical premium” as the pretext for going long on oil no matter how much of the crude stuff is in the pipeline.

As we are currently witnessing one of those rare moments in the oil market's history when surplus supplies and stunted demand are pretty much neutering the speculators’ geopolitical pretext, you might wonder what the fuss is all about.

Make no mistake; while the selective deployment of geopolitical sentiments in betting on the oil price has always been open to debate, the connection between the oil industry and geopolitics is undeniable. And should you need a crash course, academic Klaus Dodds has the answer.

In his contribution about geopolitics for Oxford University PressA Very Short Introduction series, Dodds breezes you through the subject via a concise book of just under 160 pages, split into six chapters.

When covering a subject this vast for a succinct book concept with case studies aplenty, the challenge is often about what to skip, as much as it is about what to include. The author has been brilliant in doing so via a crisp and engaging narrative.

Having enjoyed this book, which is currently in its second edition, the Oilholic would be happy to recommend it to the readers of this blog. As Dodds himself notes: “It’s essential to be geopolitical” and amen to that!

However, be mindful that it is meant to help you understand geopolitics and contextualise geopolitical influences. It is neither a weighty treatise on the subject nor was intended as such. The title itself makes that clear.

Anyone from an analyst to a GCSE student can pick it up and appreciate it as much as those in a hurry to get to grips with the subject or are of a curious disposition. Should you happen to be in this broad readership profile, one suggests you go for it, and better still keep it handy, given the times we live in!

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© Gaurav Sharma, October, 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction © Oxford University Press, June 2014.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The tale of Alberta's first commercial oilfield

A quaint town called Turner Valley in Alberta, Canada may not mean much to the current crop of oil and gas industry observers. However, it has a special place in British history as well as that of the industry itself. Back in 1914, the town acquired the status of Western Canada's oil hub and had the country's first commercial oilfield which, for a while, was the largest oil and gas production base in the entire British Empire as it stood then.
 
Hell’s Half Acre by David Finch is a meticulously researched and entertaining tale of the townsfolk of Turner Valley, and those who came from further afield to make it all happen back in the day. The author, who has been researching the social history of Western Canada’s oil and gas industry since the 1980s and has no fewer than 15 books about the region to his name, recounts where it all began in earnest for the province.
 
The drilling rigs, processing plants and pipelines are all there, and so are anecdotes of the wildcatters and workers who put it all in place, who made it happen and who lived to tell their tales. In order to make for a lively narration, Finch has gelled archived material and the dozens of interviews he conducted extremely well. But this pragmatic book of just over 200 pages, not only narrates a tale of commercial success, but also what costs were paid by Turner Valley in its (and by default) Canada's historic quest for black gold; an effort, which as fate would have it, was sandwiched between the two World Wars.
 
Hell's Half Acre is a very real place in a coulee just outside of Turner Valley, writes Finch. For two decades, companies piped excess natural gas to the lip of this gorge and burned it – in order to produce valuable gasoline they had to also produce the natural gas for which there were limited markets at the time. In fact, the glowing sky could be seen as far south west as Calgary, the author tells us.
 
Canada's national treasure also became a military target for while. At its height, and before peaking in 1942, the Turner Valley provided 10 million barrels per day towards the Allied War Effort. As you would expect, what was then (and still is) a cyclical industry saw its own booms and busts. The companies and their cast of characters from Turner Valley have also been delved into, and in some detail, by Finch.
 
The Oilholic first came across this book on a visit to Calgary and a chance visit to DeMille Bookstore at the recommendation of a local legal expert. For that, this blogger is truly grateful to all parties concerned, and above all to the author for enriching one's knowledge about this fascinating place. Hence, this review was long overdue!
 
Today Turner Valley, a harbinger of the success of Canada's oil and gas industry, is known for tourism, leisure and for being the hometown of Laureen Harper, the frank and vivacious wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So Finch's colourful book could serve as a timely reminder of the importance of a bygone era as Turner Valley begins the countdown to its centennial celebrations of the 1914 discovery of oil.
 
The Oilholic is happy to recommend this book to all those interested in the history of the oil and gas business, origins of the Canadian energy industry, Alberta's place in the global geopolitical oil and gas equation and last, but not the least, anyone seeking a riveting book about the Great Alberta Oil Patch.
 
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover – Hell’s Half Acre © Heritage House Publishing

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Dissecting & summarising PM methodologies

Projects in all sectors of the economy, large or small, need careful planning and consideration. Over the years, project management has evolved considerably to become a crucial standalone genre of management studies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, literature on the subject has mushroomed. Industry veteran and UCL academic Peter Morris has lent his thoughts via Reconstructing Project Management, which though intentioned as an academic text - is not bland and dry like some other titles vying with it for attention.

In a book of over 300 pages split into four parts and 22 chapters, Morris has offered his take on project management techniques, modes and methodologies drawing on lessons from the past, current discourse and ongoing trends to chart the road ahead. Part I of the book (Constructing Project Management) discusses the history of modern project management and how it evolved into a standalone discipline.

Invariably among the sub-components, oil & gas projects come into view and the author does justice to the sector by flagging it up early on in one of the chapters. He then moves on to the development of project management methodology and standards such as, but not limited to PERT, CPM, APM, PMBOK, etc. In order to contextualise and substantiate his thoughts, there are case studies aplenty.

Moving on to Part II (Deconstructing Project Management), Morris discusses management principles, governance and most importantly the impact (and facets) of risk, governance, people and procurement.

Part III (Reconstructing Project Management) sees the author come into his element, offering his take on the context and character of project management as we know it (or we think we know it) and join the dots to organisational performance. The final Part IV of the book contains a summary and the author's concluding thoughts.

Overall, it’s a good read and a written work likely to retain its value for another couple of decades if not more. The only caveat the Oilholic would like to flag up as an industry observer (and not a practitioner) is that this book is not the meatiest volume out there on project management.

For an outside-in look, what’s here is more than sufficient but some practitioners may beg to differ and demand more detail. Nonetheless, there is strength and uniqueness in brevity too when it comes to tackling such a detailed subject. Hence, this blogger is happy to recommend it to those interested in or involved with project management.

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover - Reconstructing Project Management © Wiley 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A historical perspective on oil and world power

Throughout his illustrious career, academic Peter Randon Odell enriched the available oil and gas market commentary and analysis of his time, writing close to 20 books and numerous research papers. In 1970, Odell wrote arguably one of his most authoritative works on the subject – Oil and World Power. He went on to update and revise it no less than eight times with the last imprint reaching bookshelves in 1986.

After over two decades, the old master’s insight is available once again via a Routledge reprint, under its Routledge Revivals Initiative which aims to re-print academic works that have long been unavailable. While the publisher’s hunt for scholarly reprints is rewinding the clock back to the last 120 years, the Oilholic is not the least bit surprised that Odell’s most popular work is among the first to roll off Routledge’s printing presses for 2013 under the Revivals Initiative.

It was Odell who was among the first to catalogue the oil industry’s commercial clout and pragmatically noted in this book that the oil and gas business was one which no country could do without given the inextricable link between industrialisation and fossil fuels.

Above anything else, this reprinted book offers Odell’s insight on the oil and gas business as it had evolved up and until the 1980s, pre-dating the corporate birth of ExxonMobil, the collapse of the Soviet Union, America’s shale bonanza and resource nationalism to the extent we see today. This in itself makes the reprint of Oil and World Power invaluable.

The reader gets a glimpse of energy hegemony as it was up and until the 1980s and Odell’s insight on issues of the day. From OPEC soundbites to the anxieties of consuming nations, from the decline of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the rise of National Oil Companies (NOCs) – it’s all there, coupled with changing patterns of oil supply and the dramatic fall in oil prices in 1986.

Yet, Odell’s conclusions in this book, of just over 300 pages split by 11 chapters, sound eerily similar; a sort of a forerunner to what industry commentators are mulling over in this day and age. In fact, the deep links, which he refers to in this book, between oil and gas extraction, conflict, resource nationalism, global politics and economic prowess are as entrenched as ever.

After discussing the bigger picture, the author goes on to offer a fair bit of forward-thinking conjecture on the relationship between the oil and gas business and economic development. There are also subtle hints at the resource curse hypothesis – a discussion which was hardly mainstream in the 1980s but is hotly debated these days.

This reprint bears testimony to the brilliance of Odell in tacking such issues head on. It would be of immense value to students of energy economics, industrial studies, international development, geopolitics and political hegemony. But above all, those looking to probe the history of the oil and gas business must certainly reach out for this engaging volume. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front Cover – Oil and World Power © Routledge

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An arduously researched book on ‘crude’ Russia

When looking up written material on the Russian oil and gas industry, you are (more often than not) likely to encounter clich├ęs or exaggerations. Some would discuss chaos in wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs as a typical “Russian” episode of corruption and greed – yet fail to address the underlying causes that led to it. Others would indulge in an all too familiar Russia bashing exercise without concrete articulation. Amidst a cacophony of mediocre analysis, academic Thane Gustafson’s splendid work – Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia – not only breaks the mould but smashes it to pieces. This weighty, arduously researched book of just under 700 pages split by 13 chapters does justice to the art of scrutiny when it comes to examining this complex oil and gas exporting jurisdiction; a rival of Saudi Arabia for the position of the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil.
 
It is about power, it is about money, it is about politics but turning page after page, you would realise Gustafson is subtly pointing out that it is a battle for Russia’s ‘crude’ soul. In order to substantiate his arguments, the book is full of views of commentators, maps, charts and tables and over 100 pages of footnotes. The narrative switches seamlessly from discussing historical facts to the choices Russia’s political classes and the country’s oil industry face in this day and age.
 
The complex relationship between state and industry, from the Yeltsin era to Putin’s rise is well documented and in some detail along with an analysis of what it means and where it could lead. In a book that the Oilholic perceives as the complete package on the subject, it is hard to pick favourite passages – but two chapters stood out in particular.
 
Early on in the narrative, Gustafson charts the birth of Russian oil majors Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz and Yukos (and the latter’s dismembering too). Late on in the book, the author examines Russia’s (current) accidental oil champion Rosneft. Both passages not only sum up the fortunes of Russian companies and how they have evolved (or in Yukos’ case faced corporate extinction) but also sum up prevailing attitudes within the Kremlin.
 
What’s more, as crude oil becomes harder and more expensive to extract and Russian production dwindles, Gustafson warns that the country’s current level of dependence on revenue from oil is unsustainable and that it simply must diversify.
 
Overall, the Oilholic is inclined to feel that this book is one of the most authoritative work on Russia and its oil industry, a well balanced critique with substantiated arguments and one which someone interested in geopolitics would appreciate as much as an enthusiast of energy economics.
 
This blogger is happy to recommend Wheel of Fortune to readers interested in Russia, the oil and gas business, geopolitics, economics, current affairs and last but certainly not the least – those seeking a general interest non-fiction book on a subject they haven’t visited before. As for the story seekers, given that it’s Russia, Gustafson has more that few tales to narrate all right, but fiction they aren’t. Fascinating and brilliantly written they most certainly are!
 
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia © Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.