Showing posts with label short sellers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label short sellers. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Grappling with volatility in a barmy crude market

The oil market is not making a whole lot of sense at present to a whole lot of people; the Oilholic is admittedly one of them. However, wherever you apportion the blame for the current market volatility, do not take the convenient route of laying it all at China’s doorstep. That would be oversimplification!

It is safe to say this blogger hasn’t seen anything quite as barmy over the last decade, not even during the post Lehman Brothers kerfuffle as a US financial crisis morphed into a global one. That was in the main a crisis of demand, what’s afoot is one triggered first and foremost by oversupply. 

As one noted in a recent Forbes column, the oversupply situation – not just for oil but a whole host of commodities – merits a deeper examination. The week before we saw oil benchmarks plummet after the so-called ‘Black Monday’ (August 24) only for it recover by Friday and end higher on a week-over-week basis compared to the previous week’s close (see graph above, click to enlarge)

This was followed on Monday, August 31 by some hefty gains of over 8% for both Brent and WTI. Yet at the time of writing this blog post some 48 hours later, Brent had shed over 10% and the WTI over 7% on Tuesday but again gained 1.72% and 1.39% respectively on Wednesday.

The reasons for driving prices down were about as fickle as they were for driving them up and subsequently pulling them down again, and so it goes. When the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported on Monday that the country’s oil production peaked at just above 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in April, before falling by more than 300,000 bpd over the following two months; those in favour of short-calling saw a window to really go for it.

They also drew in some vague OPEC comment (about wanting to support the price in tandem with other producers), knowing full well that the phoney rally would correct. The very next day, as the official purchasing managers’ index for Chinese manufacturing activity fell to 49.7 in August, from the previous month’s reading of 50, some serious profit-taking began.

As a figure below 50 signals a contraction, while a level above that indicates expansion, traders found the perfect pretext to drive the price lower. Calling the price higher based on back-dated US data on lower production in a heavily oversupplied market is about as valid as driving the price lower based on China’s manufacturing PMI data indicative of a minor contraction in activity. The Oilholic reckons it wasn’t about either but nervous markets and naked opportunism; bywords of an oversupplied market.

So at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this blogger again points out – oversupply to the tune of 1.1-1.3 million bpd has not altered. China’s import level has largely averaged 7 million bpd for much of the year so far, except May. 

Yours truly is still sticking to the line of an end of year Brent price of $60 per barrel with a gradual supply correction on the cards over the remaining months of 2015 with an upside risk. Chances of Iran imminently flooding the market are about as likely as US shale oil witnessing a dramatic decline to an extent some in OPEC continue to dream off.

But to get an outside perspective, analysts at HSBC also agree it may take some time for the market to rebalance fully. “The current price levels look completely unsustainable to us and a combination of OPEC economics and marginal costs of production point to longer-term prices being significantly higher,” they wrote in a note to clients.

The bank is now assuming a Brent average of $55.4 per barrel in 2015, rising to $60 in 2016 and $70-80 for 2017/18. Barclays and Deutsche Bank analysts also have broadly similar forecasts, as does Moody’s for its ratings purposes.

The ratings agency sees a target price of $75 achieved by the turn of the decade, but for yours truly that moment is bound to arrive sooner. In the meantime, make daily calls based on the newsflow in this barmy market. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Graph: Oil benchmark Friday closes, Jan 2 to Aug 28, 2015 © Gaurav Sharma, August 2015.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The $40-50 range, CAPP on Capex & Afren's woes

The first month of oil trading in 2015 is coming to a much calmer end compared to how it began. The year did begin with a bang with Brent shedding over 11% in the first week of full trading alone. Since then, the only momentary drama took place when both Brent and WTI levelled at US$48.05 per barrel at one point on January 16. Overall, both benchmarks have largely stayed in the $44 to $49 range with an average Brent premium of $3+ for better parts of January.

There is a growing realisation in City circles that short sellers may have gotten ahead of themselves a bit just as those going long did last summer. Agreed, oil is not down to sub-$40 levels seen during the global financial crisis. However, if the price level seen then is adjusted for the strength of the dollar now, then the levels being seen at the moment are actually below those seen six years ago.

The big question right now is not where the oil price is, but rather that should we get used to the $40 to $50 range? The answer is yes for now because between them the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping well over 30 million barrels per day (bpd) and everyone from troubled Libya to calm Canada is prodding along despite the pain of lower oil prices as producing nations.

The latter actually provides a case in point, for earlier in January the Western Canadian Select did actually fall below $40 and is just about managing to stay above $31. However, the Oilholic has negligible anecdotal evidence of production being lowered in meaningful volumes.

For what it’s worth, it seems the Canadians are mastering the art of spending less yet producing more relative to last year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The lobby group said last week that production in Western Canada, bulk of which is accounted for by Alberta, would grow by 150,000 bpd to reach 3.6 million bpd in 2015. 

That’s despite the cumulative capex tally of major oil and gas companies seeing an expected decline of 33% on an annualised basis. The headline production figure is actually a downward revision from CAPP’s forecast of 3.7 million bpd, with an earlier expectation of 9,555 wells being drilled also lowered by 30% to 7,350 wells. Yet, the overall production projection is comfortably above 2014 levels and the revision is nowhere near enough (yet) to have a meaningful impact on Canada’s contribution to the total global supply pool. 

Coupled with the said global supply glut, Chinese demand has shown no signs of a pick-up. Unless either the supply side alters fundamentally or the demand side perks up, the Oilholic thinks the current price range for Brent and WTI is about right on the money. 

But change it will, as the current levels of production simply cannot be sustained. Someone has to blink, as yours truly said on Tip TV – it’s likely to be the Russians and US independent upstarts. The new Saudi head of state - King Salman is unlikely to change the course set out by his late predecessor King Abdullah. In fact, among the new King’s first acts was to retain the inimitable Ali Al-Naimi as oil minister

Greece too is a non-event from an oil market standpoint in a direct sense. The country does not register meaningfully on the list of either major oil importers or exporters. However, its economic malaise and political upheavals might have an indirect bearing via troubles in the Eurozone. The Oilholic sees $1= €1 around the corner as the dollar strengthens against a basket of currencies. A stronger dollar, of course, will reflect in the price of both benchmarks.

In other news, troubles at London-listed Afren continue and the Oilholic has knocked his target price of 120p for the company down to 20p. First, there was bolt out of the blue last August that the company was investigating “receipt of unauthorised payments potentially for the benefit of the CEO and COO.” 

Following that red flag, just recently Afren revised production estimates at its Barda Rash oilfield in the Kurdistan region of Iraq by 190 million barrels of oil equivalent. The movement in reserves was down to the 2014 reprocessing of 3D seismic shot in 2012 and processed in 2013, as well as results from its drilling campaign, Afren said. 

It is presently thinking about utilising a 30-day grace period under its 2016 bonds with respect to $15 million of interest due on 1 February. That’s after the company confirmed a deferral of a $50 million amortisation payment due at the end of January 2015 was being sought. Yesterday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Afren's Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR), as well as its senior secured ratings, to 'C' from 'B-'. It reflects the agency’s view that default was imminent.

Meanwhile, S&P has downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating to junk status. The agency now rates Russia down a notch at BB+. “Russia’s monetary-policy flexibility has become more limited and its economic growth prospects have weakened. We also see a heightened risk that external and fiscal buffers will deteriorate due to rising external pressures and increased government support to the economy,” S&P noted.

Away from ratings agencies notes, here is the Oilholic’s take on what the oil price drop means for airlines and passengers in one’s latest Forbes piece. Plus, here’s another Forbes post touching on the North Sea’s response to a possible oil price drop to $40, incorporating BP’s pessimistic view that oil price is likely to lurk around $50 for the next three years.

For the record, this blogger does not think oil prices will average around $50 for the next three years. One suspects that neither does BP; rather it has more to do with prudent forward planning. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil pipeline with Alaska's Brooks Range in the background, USA © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

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