"For the first 90 years of Shell's existence... we were the industry leader in total shareholder return. But we lost the lead in the 1990s," said the 58-year-old Dutchman, who was appointed in early 2014. "I am determined to get us back to that number one position".
After acquiring the BG Group in February, Royal Dutch Shell is further streamlining its business for the future. The world’s second largest international oil company plans to increase cost savings to $4.5 billion following its $54 billion acquisition of BG Group which Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said will make it the best oil company investment, ahead of Exxon Mobil.
In order to achieve that the company plans to cut 12,500 jobs this year and exit oil and gas operations in up to 10 countries. Always known for their broad portfolio this streamlining signals a deepening uncertainty about how and when the crude oil market will break from its persistent slump.
“The pivot also reflects Shell’s broader attempt to adapt the company to an era of higher oil price volatility, geopolitical changes and the growing global commitment to transition energy systems to lower-carbon fuels”, Van Beurden said.
Savings and asset sales could increase returns on capital employed to shareholders to about 10% by the end of the decade, assuming an oil price of US$60 a barrel, up from about 8% between 2013 and 2015. It has also announced it plans to implement a share buyback program.
“Our strategy should lead to a simpler company, with fundamentally advantaged positions, and fundamentally lower capital intensity,” said Mr Van Beurden. “Today, we are setting out a transformation of Shell”.
Shell’s new strategy seems primarily as an attempt to assure investors that it can manage the debt from the takeover, even as low oil prices continue to batter corporate earnings and threaten tens of thousands of jobs across the industry. Shell’s earnings plunged over 80% in the first quarter to $800 million, compared with $4.8 billion for the same quarter in 2015.
Shell have obviously done their homework, and with the best analysts in the business no doubt. So their new strategy, which assumes oil prices will average only in the mid-$60s in 2018, will be a concern for the sector as a whole. The strategy serves as perhaps the strongest sign yet that oil price recovery will be slow and history is more likely to tell the story of the crazy 2014 spike than talking about the current period as an unusual slump.
On the ground meanwhile, Shell employees and the service companies they work with will be assessing their futures with apprehension. While no specific countries have been named for Shell’s asset sell-off, experts have highlighted OPEC new boy Gabon as first in the firing line. In contrast, refining hubs, such as Singapore, are unlikely to be impacted significantly.
The oil and gas sector, and the world at large, will be keeping a close eye on this developing story to predict the uncertain future in this new era of fossil fuel production.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 9 September 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$56/b
Headlines of the week
Detailed market research and continuous tracking of market developments—as well as deep, on-the-ground expertise across the globe—informs our outlook on global gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG). We forecast gas demand and then use our infrastructure and contract models to forecast supply-and-demand balances, corresponding gas flows, and pricing implications to 2035.Executive summary
The past year saw the natural-gas market grow at its fastest rate in almost a decade, supported by booming domestic markets in China and the United States and an expanding global gas trade to serve Asian markets. While the pace of growth is set to slow, gas remains the fastest-growing fossil fuel and the only fossil fuel expected to grow beyond 2035.Global gas: Demand expected to grow 0.9 percent per annum to 2035
While we expect coal demand to peak before 2025 and oil demand to peak around 2033, gas demand will continue to grow until 2035, albeit at a slower rate than seen previously. The power-generation and industrial sectors in Asia and North America and the residential and commercial sectors in Southeast Asia, including China, will drive the expected gas-demand growth. Strong growth from these regions will more than offset the demand declines from the mature gas markets of Europe and Northeast Asia.
Gas supply to meet this demand will come mainly from Africa, China, Russia, and the shale-gas-rich United States. China will double its conventional gas production from 2018 to 2035. Gas production in Europe will decline rapidly.LNG: Demand expected to grow 3.6 percent per annum to 2035, with market rebalancing expected in 2027–28
We expect LNG demand to outpace overall gas demand as Asian markets rely on more distant supplies, Europe increases its gas-import dependence, and US producers seek overseas markets for their gas (both pipe and LNG). China will be a major driver of LNG-demand growth, as its domestic supply and pipeline flows will be insufficient to meet rising demand. Similarly, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and South Asia will rely on LNG to meet the growing demand to replace declining domestic supplies. We also expect Europe to increase LNG imports to help offset declining domestic supply.
Demand growth by the middle of next decade should balance the excess LNG capacity in the current market and planned capacity additions. We expect that further capacity growth of around 250 billion cubic meters will be necessary to meet demand to 2035.
With growing shale-gas production in the United States, the country is in a position to join Australia and Qatar as a top global LNG exporter. A number of competing US projects represent the long-run marginal LNG-supply capacity.Key themes uncovered
Over the course of our analysis, we uncovered five key themes to watch for in the global gas market:
Challenges in a growing market
Gas looks the best bet of fossil fuels through the energy transition. Coal demand has already peaked while oil has a decade or so of slowing growth before electric vehicles start to make real inroads in transportation. Gas, blessed with lower carbon intensity and ample resource, is set for steady growth through 2040 on our base case projections.
LNG is surfing that wave. The LNG market will more than double in size to over 1000 bcm by 2040, a growth rate eclipsed only by renewables. A niche market not long ago, shipped LNG volumes will exceed global pipeline exports within six years.The bullish prospects will buoy spirits as industry leaders meet at Gastech, LNG’s annual gathering – held, appropriately and for the first time, in Houston – September 17-19.
Investors are scrambling to grab a piece of the action. We are witnessing a supply boom the scale of which the industry has never experienced before. Around US$240 billion will be spent between 2019 and 2025 on greenfield and brownfield LNG supply projects, backfill and finishing construction for those already underway.50% to be added to global supply
In total, these projects will bring another 182 mmtpa to market, adding 50% to global supply. Over 100 mmtpa is from the US alone, most of the rest from Qatar, Russia, Canada, and Mozambique. Still, more capital will be needed to meet demand growth beyond the mid-2020s. But the rapid growth also presents major challenges for sellers and buyers to adapt to changes in the market.
There is a risk of bottlenecks as this new supply arrives on the market. The industry will have to balance sizeable waves of fresh sales volumes with demand growing in fits and starts and across an array of disparate marketplaces – some mature, many fledglings, a good few in between.
India has built three new re-gas terminals, but imports are actually down in 2019. The pipeline network to get the gas to regional consumers has yet to be completed. Pakistan has a gas distribution network serving its northern industrial centres. But the main LNG import terminals are in the south of the country, and the commitment to invest in additional transmission lines taking gas north is fraught with political uncertainty.
China is still wrestling with third-party access and regulation of the pipeline business that is PetroChina’s core asset. Any delay could dull the growth rate in Asia’s LNG hotspot. Europe is at the early stages of replacing its rapidly depleting sources of indigenous piped gas with huge volumes of LNG imports delivered to the coast. Will Europe’s gas market adapt seamlessly to a growing reliance on LNG – especially when tested at extreme winter peaks? Time will tell.
The point-to-point business model that has served sellers (and buyers) so well over the last 60 years will be tested by market access and other factors. Buyers facing mounting competition in their domestic market will increasingly demand flexibility on volume and price, and contracts that are diverse in duration and indexation. These traditional suppliers risk leaving value, perhaps a lot of value, on the table.
In the future, sellers need to be more sophisticated. The full toolkit will have a portfolio of LNG, a mixture of equity and third-party contracted gas; a trading capability to optimise on volume and price; and the requisite logistics – access to physical capacity of ships and re-gas terminals to shift LNG to where it’s wanted. Enlightened producers have begun to move to an integrated model, better equipped to meet these demands and capture value through the chain. Pure traders will muscle in too.
Some integrated players will think big picture, LNG becoming central to an energy transition strategy. As Big Oil morphs into Big Energy, LNG will sit alongside a renewables and gas-fired power generation portfolio feeding all the way through to gas and electricity customers.
LNG trumps pipe exports...
...as the big suppliers crank up volumes