Showing posts with label rouble. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rouble. Show all posts

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The ostentatious & those 'crude' percentages

The Oilholic finds himself gazing at the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada once again after a gap of five years. This gambling hub's uniqueness is often the ostentatious and loud way it goes about itself. The oil market had its own fair share of loud and exaggerated assumptions last week.

Sample these headlines – “Brent spikes to 2015 high”, “Oil markets rally as shale production drops”, “Brent up 10%.” There is some truth in all of this, and the last one is technically correct. Brent did close last Friday up 10.03% relative to the Friday before, while WTI rose 8.41% and OPEC's basket of crude oil(s) rose 10.02% over a comparable period (see graph blow right hand corner).

Bullish yes, bull run nope! This blogger believes market fundamentals haven't materially altered. There is still too much crude oil out there. So what's afoot? Well, given that one is in a leading gambling hub of world, once 'the leading one' by revenue until Macau recently pinched the accolade, it is best to take a cue from punters of a different variety – some of the lot who've been betting on oil markets for decades out of the comfort of Nevada, but never ever turn up at the end of a pipeline to collect black gold.

Their verdict – those betting long are clutching at the straws after enduring a torrid first quarter of the year. Now who can blame the wider trading community for booking a bit of profit? But what's mildly amusing here is how percentages are interpreted by the media 'Las Vegas size', and fanned by traders "clutching at the straws", to quote one of their lot, 'Las Vegas style'.

For the moment, the Oilholic is sticking one's 2015 forecast – i.e. a mid-year equilibrium Brent price of $60 per barrel, followed by a gradual climb upwards to $75 towards the end of the year, if we are lucky and media speculation about the Chinese government buying more crude are borne out in reality. The Oilholic remains sceptical about the latter.

Since one put the forecast out there, many, especially over the last few weeks wrote back wondering if this blogger was being too pessimistic. Far from it, some of the oldest hands in the business known to the Oilholic, including our trader friends here in Las Vegas, actually opine that yours truly is being too optimistic!

The reasons are simple enough – making assumptions about the decline of US shale, as some are doing at the moment is daft! Make no mistake, Bakken is suffering, but Eagle Ford, according to very reliable anecdotal evidence and data from Drillinginfo, is doing pretty well for itself. Furthermore, in the Oilholic’s 10+ years of monitoring the industry, US shale explorers have always proved doubters wrong.

Beyond US shores – both Saudi and Russian production is still marginally above 10 million bpd. Finally, who, alas who, will tell the exaggerators to tackle the real elephant in the room – the actual demand for black gold. While the latter has shifted somewhat based on evidence of improved take-up by refiners as the so called “US driving season” approaches, emerging markets are not importing as much as they did if a quarter-on-quarter annualised conversion is carried out.

Quite frankly, all eyes are now on OPEC. Its own production is at a record high; it believes that US oil production won’t be at the level it is at now by December and its own clout as a swing producer is diminished (though not as severely as some would claim).

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the country's financial crisis to be over last week, but it seems Russia’s GDP fell between 2% to 4% over the first quarter of this year. The news caused further rumbles for the rouble which fell by around 4.5% last time one checked. The Oilholic still reckons; Russian production cannot be sustained at its current levels.

That said, giving credit where it is due – Russians have defied broader expectations of a decline so far. To a certain extent, and in a very different setting, Canada too has defied expectations, going by separate research put out by BMO Capital and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Fewer rigs in Canada have – again inserting the words 'so far' – not resulted in a dramatic reduction in Canadian production.

Finally, here's an interesting report from the Weekend FT (subscription required). It seems BP's activist shareholders have won a victory by persuading most shareholders to back a resolution obliging the oil major to set out the potential cost of climate change to its business. As if that's going to make a difference - somebody tell these activists the oil majors no longer control bulk of the world's oil – most of which is in the hands of National Oil Companies unwilling to give an inch!

That's all for the moment folks from Las Vegas folks, as the Oilholic turns his attention to the technology side of the energy business, with some fascinating insight coming up over the next few days from here. In the interim, keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Paris Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada, USA © Gaurav Sharma, April 2015. Graph: Oil benchmark prices - latest Friday close © Gaurav Sharma, April 17, 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oil markets take in the 'Rouble Trouble' saga

The Oilholic is feeling somewhat melancholy today! A crisp rouble note yours truly kept as a memento following a visit to Moscow in June is now worth considerably less when pitted against one’s lucky dollar! 

At one stage over the past 24 hours, the US$1 banknote on the left was worth 79% of the RUB100 note on the right. One doubts whether a dollar would fetch a 100 roubles - but just putting it out there.

Barring a brief jump when the Russian government went for a free float of the currency back in November, there hasn’t been much to be positive about the rouble. Last evening’s whopper of an announcement by the Central Bank of Russia to raise interest rates by 650 basis points to 17% from 10.5% did little more than provide temporary respite.

Since January till date, Russia has spent has spent over $70 billion (and counting) in support of the rouble. Yet, the currency continues to feel the strain of escalating sanctions imposed by the West in tandem with a falling oil price.

However, there is a very important distinction to be made here. A falling oil price does not necessarily imply that Russian oil companies are in immediate trouble, repeat ‘immediate’ trouble. While a weak rouble makes imports costlier for the wider economy, which will almost certainly tip into a recession next year; oil – priced and exported in dollars - will get more ‘domestic’ bang for the converted bucks.

The Russian Treasury also adjusts tax and ancillary levies on oil exports in line with a falling (or rising) oil price. The policy is likely to keep things on a sound footing for the country’s oil & gas companies, including state-owned behemoths, for at least another 12 months.

How things unfold beyond that is anybody’s guess. First off, several Russian oil & gas players would need their next round of refinancing late next year or early on in 2016. With several international debt markets off limits owing to Western sanctions, the state will have to step in at least partially.

Secondly, the oil price is unlikely to stage a recovery before the summer, and would be nowhere near $100 per barrel. If it is still below $85 come June, as the Oilholic thinks it would be and the rouble does not recover, then corporate profits would take a plastering regardless of however much the Russian Treasury adjusts its tax takings. 

Of course, not all in trouble would be Russian. Austrian, French and German banks with exposure to the country, accompanied by Russia-centric ETFs and Arctic oil & gas exploration will be hit hard.

Oil majors with exposure to Russia are already taking a hit. In particular, BP springs to mind. However, as the Oilholic opined in a Forbes article earlier this year - while BP could well do without problems in Russia, the company can indeed cope. For Total and Exxon Mobil, the financial irritants that their respective Russian forays have become of late would not be of major concern either.

Taking a macro viewpoint, market chatter about a repetition of the 1998 crisis is just that – chatter! Never say ‘never’ but a Russian default is highly unlikely.

Kit Juckes, global head of forex at Société Générale, says, “Comparisons with past crises – and 1998 in particular – are inevitable. The differences are more important than the similarities. Firstly, emerging market central banks (including and especially Russia) have vastly larger currency reserves with which to defend their currencies.

“Secondly, US real Fed Funds are negative now, where they had risen sharply from 1994 onwards. That's a double-edged sword as merely the thought of Fed tightening has been enough to spark a crisis after such a long period of zero rates, but when the dust settles, global investors will still need better yields than are on offer on developed market bonds.”

The final difference, Juckes says, is that the rouble, in particular, is falling from a very great height in real terms. “It has only fallen below the pre-1998 peak in the last few days. It's still not cheap unless we believe that the gains in the last 16 years are all justified by productivity – an argument that works for some emerging market economies rather more than it does for Russia.," he concludes.

Finally, there is no disguising one pertinent fact in the entire ongoing Russian melee – the manifestly obvious lack of economic diversification with the country. Russia has remained stubbornly reliant on oil & gas exports and its attempts to diversify the economy seem even feebler than Middle Eastern sheikdoms of late.

For this blogger, the lone voice of reason within Russia has been former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. As early as 2012, Kudrin repeatedly warned of impending trouble and overreliance on oil & gas exports. Few Kremlin insiders listened then, but now many probably wish they had! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Image: Dollar versus Rouble: $1 and RUB100 banknotes © Gaurav Sharma, 2014.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crude prices, rouble’s rumble & EU politics

Both crude oil benchmarks are more or less staying within their ranges seen in recent weeks. That would be US$80-85 per barrel for Brent and $76-80 per barrel for WTI. ‘Short’ is still the call. 

While Russia is coping with the current oil price decline, the country’s treasury is clearly not enjoying it. However, given the wider scenario in wake of Western sanctions, the Russian rouble’s decline actually provides momentary respite on the ‘crude’ front and its subsequent free float some much needed positivity.

The currency’s fall this year against the US dollar exasperated as sanctions began to bite. While that increases the bill for imports, Russian oil producers (and exporters) actually benefit from it. There is a very important domestic factor in the oil exporters’ favour – the effective tax rate paid by them as oil prices decline falls in line with the price itself, and vice versa. While a declining rouble hurts other parts of the economy reliant on imports, it partially helps offset weaker oil prices for producers.

According to calculations by Fitch Ratings, if the rouble stabilises near about its current level and the oil prices hold steady around $85 per barrel next year, an average Russian producer should report 2015 rouble operating profits broadly in line with 2013, when oil prices averaged $109. 

“In this scenario Russian oil companies' financial leverage may edge up, especially for those producers that relied most heavily on international finance, because their hard currency-denominated debts will rise in value. Given that Fitch-rated oil companies, such as LUKOIL, GazpromNeft and Tatneft, all have relatively low leverage for their current ratings, this should not trigger rating actions,” says Dmitry Marinchenko, an Associate Director at the ratings agency.

The primary worry for Russia at the moment would be a decline in prices below $85 (as is the case at the moment) which would certainly hurt profits, as would a sudden recovery for the rouble while oil prices continue to tumble. Fitch reckons most Russian oil companies have solid liquidity and would comfortably survive without new borrowing for at least the next couple of years.

“However, they may need to reconsider their financing model should access to international debt markets remain blocked for a long time, because of sanctions and overall uncertainty over the Ukrainian crisis. Nevertheless, their fundamentals remain strong, and we expect them to maintain flat oil production and generate stable cash flows for at least the next three to four years, even with lower oil prices,” Marinchenko adds.

There is one caveat though. All market commentary in this regard, including Fitch’s aforementioned calculation, is based on the assumption that the Kremlin won’t alter the existing tax framework in an attempt to increase oil revenue takings. Anecdotal evidence the Oilholic has doesn’t point to anything of the sort. In fact, most Russian analysts this blogger knows expect broader taxation parameters to remain the same.

If deliberations over the summer at the 21st World Petroleum Congress in Moscow were anything to go by, the country was actually attempting to make its tax regime even more competitive. A lot has happened since then, not just in terms of the oil price decline but also with relation to the intensification of sanctions. Perhaps with near coincidental symmetry, both the rouble and oil prices have plummeted by 30% since the first quarter of this year, though the free float attempt has helped the currency.

The Oilholic feels the Kremlin is inclined to leave more cash with oil companies in a bid to prop up production. With none of the major producers blinking (as one noted in a recent Forbes column), the Russians didn’t either pumping over 10 million barrels per day in September. That’s their highest production level since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

For the moment, the Central Bank of Russia has moved to widen the rouble's exchange-rate corridor and limit its daily interventions to a maximum of $350 million. This followed last week's 150 basis points increase in its benchmark interest rate to 9.5%. The central bank’s idea is to ease short-term pressure on dollar reserves and counteract the negative fiscal impact of lower oil prices. Given the situation is pretty fluid and there are other factors to be taken into account, let’s see how all of this plays over the first quarter of 2015.

Meanwhile, the Russians aren’t the only ones grappling with geopolitics and domestic political impediments. We’re in the season of silly politics in wider Europe as well. The European Union’s efforts to wean itself of Russian gas remain more about bravado than any actual achievement in this regard. As one blogged earlier, getting a real-terms cut in Russian imports to the EU over the next decade is not going to be easy.

Furthermore, energy policy in several jurisdictions is all over the place from nuclear energy bans to shale exploration moratoriums, or in the UK’s case a daft proposal for an energy price freeze by the leader of the opposition Labour party Ed Miliband to counter his unpopularity. All of this at a time when Europe will need to invest US$2.2 trillion in electricity infrastructure alone by 2035, according to Colette Lewiner, an industry veteran and energy sector advisor to the Chairman of Capgemini.

“Short of nationalisation where the state would bear the brunt of gas market volatility, a price freeze would not work. In order to mitigate effects of the freeze, companies could cut infrastructural investment which the UK can ill afford or they’ll raise revenue by other means including above average prices rises ahead of a freeze,” she told this blogger in a Forbes interview.

No wonder UK Prime Minister David Cameron is concerned as Miliband's proposal has the potential to derail much needed investment. In a speech to the 2014 CBI annual conference (see right) that was heavy on infrastructure investment and the country’s ongoing tussle with EU rules, Cameron did take time out to remind the audience about keeping the climate conducive for inward investment, especially foreign direct investment, in the UK’s energy sector.

“To keep encouraging inward investment, you need consistency and predictability. That is particularly important in energy,” he said to an audience that seemed to agree.

Investment towards infrastructure and promoting a better investment climate usually goes down well with the business lobby group. However, in the current confusing climate with barely six months to go before the Brits go to the polls, keeping the wider market calm when an opponent with barmy policies, could potentially unseat you is not easy.

The Oilholic feels the PM’s pain, but is resigned to acceptance of the country’s silly election season, and yet sillier policy ideas. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Red Square, Moscow, Russia. Photo 2: UK Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the 2014 CBI Annual Conference, November 2014 © Gaurav Sharma.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why Dated Brent is no ‘Libor scandal in waiting’

The Oilholic was asked at a recent industry event whether he thought or had heard any anecdotal evidence about Brent being 'crooked' and susceptible to what we saw with financial benchmarks like Libor. Perhaps much to the annoyance of conspiracy theorists, the answer is no! A probe by the European Commission (EC), which included raids on the London offices of several oil companies and Platts last year, and an ongoing CFTC investigation into trading houses stateside, seems to have triggered the recent wave of questions.

Doubts in the minds of regulators and the public are understandable and very valid, but that an offence on an industry-wide scale can be proved beyond reasonable doubt is another matter. The UK's Office of Fair Trading has already investigated and cleared all parties raided by the EC. Furthermore, it stood by its findings as news of the EC raids surfaced.

As far as price assessment mechanisms go, only Platts' Market on Close (MoC) has faced allegations. It is cooperating with the EC and nothing has emerged so far. Competing methods, for instance ones used by Argus Media, another price reporting agency (PRA), were neither part of the investigation nor have been since.

Let's set all of this aside and start with the basics. A monthly cash-settled future is calculated on the difference between the daily assessment price for Dated Brent (the price assigned on a date when North Sea crude will be loaded onto a tanker) and the ICE daily settlement price for Brent 1st Line Future. Unless loaded as cargo, a North Sea oil barrel – or any barrel for that matter – retains the wider trading metaphor of a paper barrel.

Now as far as the Dated Brent component goes, agreed the PRAs are relying on market sources to give them information about bids, offers and supply-side deals. However, the diversity of sources should mitigate any attempt to manipulate prices by a group of individuals submitting false information. In the case of Libor, the BBA, a single body used to collate the information. In Brent's case, there is more than one PRA. None of these act as some sort of a centralised monopolistic data aggregation body. For what it's worth, anybody with even a minute knowledge of oil & gas markets would know the fierce competition between the two main PRAs.

Don't get the Oilholic wrong – collusion is possible in theory whereby traders gang-up and provide the PRAs with false pre-agreed information to skewer the objectivity of the assessment. However, the supply-side dynamic can wobble on the back of a variety of factors ranging from rig maintenance to an accident, a geopolitical event to actions of other market participants. So how many or how few would be required to fix prices and which PRA would be targeted, when and by how much and so on, and so on!

Then hypothetically let's assume all the price-fixers and factors align, given the size of the market – even if rigging did happen – it'd be localised and cannot be anything on the global scale of fixing that we have seen with the Libor revelations to date. Take it all in, and the allegations look silly at best because the 'collusion dynamic', should there be such a thing, cannot possibly be akin to what went on with Libor.

The EC wants to regulate PRAs via a proposed mandatory code and there is nothing wrong with the idea on the face of it. However, one flaw is that in a global market, buyers and sellers are under no obligation to reveal the price to the PRAs. Many already don't in an ultracompetitive crude world where cents per barrel make a difference depending on the size of the cargo.

If the EC compels traders to reveal information, trading would move elsewhere. Dubai for once would welcome them with open arms and other benchmarks would replace European ones. Anyway, enough said and the last bit is not farfetched! Finally, if fixing on the scale of the Libor scandal is discovered in oil markets and the Oilholic is proved wrong, this blogger would be the first to put his hand up!

Coming on to the current Brent forward month futures price, the last 5-day assessment provided plenty of food for thought. Supply disruptions in Libya (down by 100,000 bpd) and Angola (force majeure by BP potentially impacting 180,000 bpd) kept the contract steady either side of US$109 per barrel level, despite tepid US economic data. That said, stateside the WTI remained stubbornly in three figures on the back of supply side issues at Cushing, Oklahoma. The Oilholic reckons that's the fifth successive week of gains.

Meanwhile, the ICE's latest Commitment of Traders report for the week to February 11 notes that hedge funds and other money managers raised their net long position by 29.6% to 109,223; the highest level since the last week of 2013. The Brent price rose by around $4 a barrel over the stated period. By contrast, the previous week's net long position of 84,276 was the lowest since November 2012.

Away from pricing issues to its impact,  Fitch Ratings said in a recent report that production shortfalls and strategy changes to appease equity holders were a greater threat to the ratings of major Western European oil companies than a prolonged downturn in crude prices.

The ratings agency's stress test of the sector indicated that a Brent price of $55 per barrel would put pressure on credit quality, but compensating movements in cost bases and capex would give most companies a fighting chance at preserving rating levels.

Alex Griffiths, head of natural resources and commodities at Fitch, said, "With equity markets increasingly focussed on returns, bond yields near historical lows and oil prices forecast to soften, the chances of companies increasing leverage to benefit equity holders have risen. The European companies that have reported so far this year have generally resisted this pressure – but it may increase as the year goes on."

Separately, the agency also noted that a fall of the rouble would benefit Russian miners more than oil exporters. For both sectors, the currency's limited decline will strengthen earnings and support their credit profile, but ratings upgrades are unlikely without indications that the currency has settled at a new lower level.

To give the readers some context, the rouble has depreciated by 8% against the US dollar since the first trading day of the year and is down 17% from the end of 2012.

Depreciation of a local currency is generally good news for a country's exporters, but the effect on Russian oil exporters is less pronounced due to taxation and hence is less likely to result in positive rating actions in the future, Fitch said.

From Russia to the US, where there are widespread reports of a flood of public comments arriving at door of the State Department with public consultation on Keystone XL underway in full swing. See here's what yours truly does not get – you can have your comments included in the wider narrative, but are not obliged to give your details even under a confidentiality clause. This begs the question – how do you differentiate the genuine input, both for and against the project, from a bunch of spammers on either side?

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has approved Sempra Energy's proposal to export LNG to the wider market including export destinations that do not have free trade agreement countries with the US. The company, which has already signed Mitsubishi and Mitsui of Japan and GDF Suez of France, could now spread its net further afield from its proposed export hub in Louisiana.

Elsewhere, Total says its capex budget is $26 billion for 2014, and $24 billion for 2015, down from $28 billion in 2013. No major surprises there, and to quote an analyst at SocGen, the French oil major "is sticking to its guns with more downstream restructuring being a dead certainty."

After accusations of not being too ambitious in its divestment programme, Shell said it could sell-off of its Anasuria, Nelson and Sean platforms in the British sector of the North Sea. The three platforms collectively account for 2% of UK production. Cairn Energy has had a fair few problems of late, but actress Sienna Miller and model Kate Moss weren't among them. That's until they took issue with one of the company's oil rigs blotting the sea off their party resort of Ibiza, Spain, according to this BBC report.

Finally, the pace of reforms and general positivity in the Mexican oil and gas sector is rubbing off on PEMEX. Last week, Moody's placed its Baa1 foreign currency and global local currency ratings on review for an upgrade.

In a note to clients, Tom Coleman, senior vice president at Moody's, wrote: "Mexico's energy reform holds out prospects for the most far ranging changes we have seen to date, benefiting both Mexico's and PEMEX's growth profiles in the medium-to-longer term."

And just before yours truly takes your leave, OPEC says world oil demand will increase by 1.09 million bpd, or 1.2%, to 90.98 million bpd from 89.89 million bpd in 2013. That's an upward revision of 1.05 million bpd in 2014. Non-OPEC supply should more than cover it methinks. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Oil tankers in English Bay, British Columbia, Canada © Gaurav Sharma, April 2012. Photo 2: Oil exploration site © Lukoil.

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