The Wall Street Journal has conducted a survey in April 2016 to get an overview of the oil prices direction in the next few quarters as seen by 13 investment banks. And despite the current rally in oil prices, the survey shows that analysts are doubting the rally and apparently many of them are still in the pessimism state.
According to the survey, investment banks' forecasts for oil prices have not changed much from a similar survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal in March 2016. The survey shows that the banks see Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate averaging $41 and $39 a barrel this year respectively. That represents a change of only $1 up from March's survey for Brent crude and no-change from March's survey for West Texas Intermediate.
While few investment banks' forecasts fall in a range close to the current direction of the oil prices, a notable forecast that points to a different direction is coming Morgan Stanley. The reputable investment bank along with other investment banks such as ING and BNP see oil prices falling in the third quarter of 2016. Although the analysts at Morgan Stanley have predicted the fall of oil prices to $20s earlier this year, they are now wrong in their forecast and here is why.
1- Morgan Stanley's forecast ignores the change in fundamentals
Some analysts including those at Morgan Stanley believe that the current rally in oil prices could mimic last year’s when Brent crude increased about $20 a barrel between January and May before falling later in the year. They are also worried about the current U.S. stockpiles and the potential for increased oil output from Iran. Although these threats are real, the analysts seems to be ignoring the fact that circumstances have changed.
Last year when oil prices jumped about $20 a barrel between January and May, the oil market downturn was just at its beginning. According to the EIA, the global oil over-supply (supply minus demand) was growing at that time where it increased from about 2 million barrel per day in January 2015 to about 2.3 million barrel per day in May 2015 before reaching its highest level at 2.51 million barrel in August 2015. Crude oil supply was increasing dramatically while demand was lagging.
U.S. crude oil production was also growing during that time where it increased from about 9.15 million barrel a day in January to about 9.4 million barrel a day in May before hitting its highest level at 9.6 million barrel a day in July 2015. It is obvious that during the January-to-May 2015 rally, all sentiments were pointing toward a further fall in oil prices and that is exactly what happened from May 2015 onward.
But this year, things are totally different than they were in 2015, from fundamentals to oil market cycle emotions. First of all, unlike the January-to-May 2015 rally, U.S. crude oil output is dwindling at an accelerating decline rate. The U.S. crude oil production has fallen from 9.2 million barrel a day in January 2016 to 8.9 million barrel a day in April 2016. U.S. rig count is also experiencing a sharp and continuous decline since the beginning of 2016. According to Baker Hughes, U.S. Rig Count is down 485 rigs from last year at 905, and the decline in rig count is still intensifying.
In addition to that, the global over-supply is easing with supply decreasing and demand increasing. According to IEA's Oil Market Report, global oil supplies fell from about 97.2 million barrel a day in the 4th quarter of 2015 to about 96.2 million barrel per day in the 1st quarter of 2016. Demand has also improved since last year where the global demand increased from 93.6 million barrel a day in the 1st quarter of 2015 to about 94.8 million barrel a day in the 1st quarter of 2016.
Currently, the oil market fundamentals are totally different from those during the January-to-May 2015 rally, yet analysts chose to ignore these changes and focus on events such as the increase of Iran's oil output which time has proven it has little to no effect on the oil market.
2- Morgan Stanley's forecast is not consistent with the market cycle emotions
Back in January 2016, when analysts at Morgan Stanley and other investment banks predicted oil prices to fall to $20 a barrel, they did it at the right time. Eventhough oil prices didn't fall to the level they have predicted, it fell below $30 a barrel. At that time, the oil market was at its worst state, pessimism was ruling everything. And when the analysts predicted prices to fall to $20 a barrel and below, what they did was fueling the pessimism and pressuring oil prices to fall. Unfortunately, they succeeded in dragging oil prices down only because they played with the right emotion in the right direction at the right time.
But that is not the case now with their current pessimistic forecast. They are playing with the wrong emotion in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Right now, the oil market cycle emotion is optimism and events that have taken place in the oil market during the last few weeks support this fact. For instance, despite the failure of Doha's meeting, and the fact that Iran is ramping up its oil output, oil prices were able to sustain their gains and continued increasing. In fact, just a few days after the failure of Doha's meeting, oil prices continued their gains, breaking out of a trading band. This shows the high level of optimism the oil market is in right now which some analysts underestimate its ability to drive prices up.
It should be clear by now that the direction of the oil market at this moment is different from that predicted by Morgan Stanley's analysts and other investment banks which suggest that oil prices would fall again in the coming months. Judging by the improvement in oil market fundamentals and the current high level of optimism in the market, oil prices will continue its rally and it could reach to $50 a barrel in the coming weeks.
It is expected that oil prices will remain in a range between $40 to $60 per barrel till the end of 2016. Oil traders at this moment are very optimistic and they are looking for a hope in anything whether it is the weakening U.S. dollar or the declining U.S. crude oil output and rig count. Hope and optimism is required to get the market out of this period and sustain oil prices at the current level or a little bit higher till market fundamentals improvement intensifies. Once the oil market fundamentals play its role completely, it will take charge of balancing the market and driving oil prices.
April 30, 2016 I By Alahdal A. Hussein
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
In April 2019, Venezuela's crude oil production averaged 830,000 barrels per day (b/d), down from 1.2 million b/d at the beginning of the year, according to EIA’s May 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook. This average is the lowest level since January 2003, when a nationwide strike and civil unrest largely brought the operations of Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), to a halt. Widespread power outages, mismanagement of the country's oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela's energy sector and PdVSA have all contributed to the recent declines.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Baker Hughes
Venezuela’s oil production has decreased significantly over the last three years. Production declines accelerated in 2018, decreasing by an average of 33,000 b/d each month in 2018, and the rate of decline increased to an average of over 135,000 b/d per month in the first quarter of 2019. The number of active oil rigs—an indicator of future oil production—also fell from nearly 70 rigs in the first quarter of 2016 to 24 rigs in the first quarter of 2019. The declines in Venezuelan crude oil production will have limited effects on the United States, as U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil have decreased over the last several years. EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in 2018 averaged 505,000 b/d and were the lowest since 1989.
EIA expects Venezuela's crude oil production to continue decreasing in 2019, and declines may accelerate as sanctions-related deadlines pass. These deadlines include provisions that third-party entities using the U.S. financial system stop transactions with PdVSA by April 28 and that U.S. companies, including oil service companies, involved in the oil sector must cease operations in Venezuela by July 27. Venezuela's chronic shortage of workers across the industry and the departure of U.S. oilfield service companies, among other factors, will contribute to a further decrease in production.
Additionally, U.S. sanctions, as outlined in the January 25, 2019 Executive Order 13857, immediately banned U.S. exports of petroleum products—including unfinished oils that are blended with Venezuela's heavy crude oil for processing—to Venezuela. The Executive Order also required payments for PdVSA-owned petroleum and petroleum products to be placed into an escrow account inaccessible by the company. Preliminary weekly estimates indicate a significant decline in U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in February and March, as without direct access to cash payments, PdVSA had little reason to export crude oil to the United States.
India, China, and some European countries continued to receive Venezuela's crude oil, according to data published by ClipperData Inc. Venezuela is likely keeping some crude oil cargoes intended for exports in floating storageuntil it finds buyers for the cargoes.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, and Clipper Data Inc.
A series of ongoing nationwide power outages in Venezuela that began on March 7 cut electricity to the country's oil-producing areas, likely damaging the reservoirs and associated infrastructure. In the Orinoco Oil Belt area, Venezuela produces extra-heavy crude oil that requires dilution with condensate or other light oils before the oil is sent by pipeline to domestic refineries or export terminals. Venezuela’s upgraders, complex processing units that upgrade the extra-heavy crude oil to help facilitate transport, were shut down in March during the power outages.
If Venezuelan crude or upgraded oil cannot flow as a result of a lack of power to the pumping infrastructure, heavier molecules sink and form a tar-like layer in the pipelines that can hinder the flow from resuming even after the power outages are resolved. However, according to tanker tracking data, Venezuela's main export terminal at Puerto José was apparently able to load crude oil onto vessels between power outages, possibly indicating that the loaded crude oil was taken from onshore storage. For this reason, EIA estimates that Venezuela's production fell at a faster rate than its exports.
EIA forecasts that Venezuela's crude oil production will continue to fall through at least the end of 2020, reflecting further declines in crude oil production capacity. Although EIA does not publish forecasts for individual OPEC countries, it does publish total OPEC crude oil and other liquids production. Further disruptions to Venezuela's production beyond what EIA currently assumes would change this forecast.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 May 2019 – Brent: US$70/b; WTI: US$61/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
The world’s largest oil & gas companies have generally reported a mixed set of results in Q1 2019. Industry turmoil over new US sanctions on Venezuela, production woes in Canada and the ebb-and-flow between OPEC+’s supply deal and rising American production have created a shaky environment at the start of the year, with more ongoing as the oil world grapples with the removal of waivers on Iranian crude and Iran’s retaliation.
The results were particularly disappointing for ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two US supermajors. Both firms cited weak downstream performance as a drag on their financial performance, with ExxonMobil posting its first loss in its refining business since 2009. Chevron, too, reported a 65% drop in the refining and chemicals profit. Weak refining margins, particularly on gasoline, were blamed for the underperformance, exacerbating a set of weaker upstream numbers impaired by lower crude pricing even though production climbed. ExxonMobil was hit particularly hard, as its net profit fell below Chevron’s for the first time in nine years. Both supermajors did highlight growing output in the American Permian Basin as a future highlight, with ExxonMobil saying it was on track to produce 1 million barrels per day in the Permian by 2024. The Permian is also the focus of Chevron, which agreed to a US$33 billion takeover of Anadarko Petroleum (and its Permian Basin assets), only for the deal to be derailed by a rival bid from Occidental Petroleum with the backing of billionaire investor guru Warren Buffet. Chevron has now decided to opt out of the deal – a development that would put paid to Chevron’s ambitions to match or exceed ExxonMobil in shale.
Performance was better across the pond. Much better, in fact, for Royal Dutch Shell, which provided a positive end to a variable earnings season. Net profit for the Anglo-Dutch firm may have been down 2% y-o-y to US$5.3 billion, but that was still well ahead of even the highest analyst estimates of US$4.52 billion. Weaker refining margins and lower crude prices were cited as a slight drag on performance, but Shell’s acquisition of BG Group is paying dividends as strong natural gas performance contributed to the strong profits. Unlike ExxonMobil and Chevron, Shell has only dipped its toes in the Permian, preferring to maintain a strong global portfolio mixed between oil, gas and shale assets.
For the other European supermajors, BP and Total largely matched earning estimates. BP’s net profits of US$2.36 billion hit the target of analyst estimates. The addition of BHP Group’s US shale oil assets contributed to increased performance, while BP’s downstream performance was surprisingly resilient as its in-house supply and trading arm showed a strong performance – a business division that ExxonMobil lacks. France’s Total also hit the mark of expectations, with US$2.8 billion in net profit as lower crude prices offset the group’s record oil and gas output. Total’s upstream performance has been particularly notable – with start-ups in Angola, Brazil, the UK and Norway – with growth expected at 9% for the year.
All in all, the volatile environment over the first quarter of 2019 has seen some shift among the supermajors. Shell has eclipsed ExxonMobil once again – in both revenue and earnings – while Chevron’s failed bid for Anadarko won’t vault it up the rankings. Almost ten years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP is now reclaiming its place after being overtaken by Total over the past few years. With Q219 looking to be quite volatile as well, brace yourselves for an interesting earnings season.
Supermajor Financials: Q1 2019