Oil prices eased on Wednesday after figures from an industry group showed U.S. crude stockpiles rose last week by more than expected, reinforcing concerns that a global glut continues unabated.
U.S. crude futures fell 33 cents to $41.12 a barrel by 0945 GMT. Prices struck a 2016 high of $41.90 in the previous session. The contract has rebounded more than 50 percent after hitting its lowest since 2003 in February.
Brent crude was down 25 cents a barrel at $41.54, still up more than 50 percent from a multi-year low of $27.10 hit in January.
"Net supply in the short term should still be in excess and thus brings us to believe that the current uptrend is unsustainable," Phillip Futures analyst Daniel Ang said in a note.
Traders such as Vitol, Gunvor and Glencore are betting on oil markets remaining oversupplied for at least two more years.
Traders are looking to extend or lock in new leases on storage tanks for crude and refined products in key hubs as far out as the end of 2018, sources at storage firms and trading houses say.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Tuesday that U.S. crude inventories rose by 8.8 million barrels last week, a gain almost three times higher than that predicted in a Reuters poll.
Official crude inventory data from the U.S. government will be released later on Wednesday.
Oil prices rebounded on supply disruptions from Nigeria and Iraq and on discussions over a proposed output freeze by members and non-members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The possible deal to stabilize production was snubbed as "meaningless" by the head of the International Energy Agency's oil industry and markets division, Neil Atkinson, on Wednesday.
"Amongst the group of countries (potentially participating) that we're aware of, only Saudi Arabia has any ability to increase its production," Atkinson said.
"So a freeze on production is perhaps rather meaningless. It's more some kind of gesture which perhaps is aimed ... to build confidence that there will be stability in oil prices."
Qatar has invited all 13 OPEC members to Doha on April 17 for another round of talks to widen the production deal..
Libya and Iran have snubbed the initiative, arguing that they will need to boost their crude output further before considering joining any caps on production.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)