An oil supply deficit may be hard to fathom given two years of surplus and rock bottom prices, but with the financials of so many oil companies badly damaged, upstream investment could come up short in the not-too-distant future, even if prices continue to rise this year.
Globally, the oil industry is set to cut investment by US$1 trillion between 2015 and 2020 due to the collapse in oil prices, according to a new estimate from Wood Mackenzie. Spending on development will be US$740 billion lower than the pre-crash estimate for that five-year period, and exploration spending is also expected be down by another US$300 billion.
Dickson says that although “virtually every oil-producing country has seen some form of capex cuts” over the past two years, the United States has been hit especially hard. Spending will fall by half in 2016, dropping by US$125 billion. The Middle East, on the other hand, has seen much smaller effects on spending. In a separate report, IHS projects US oil and gas investment to decline by 35% this year, and while spending in 2017 should bounce off of 2016 lows, the recovery will be “long and drawn out.” Notably, IHS says spending in the oil industry in 2020 will still be 28% below the high watermark set in 2014.
Obviously, spending cuts will have very serious effects on production. Wood Mackenzie says that global oil production is already down 3% this year compared to 2014 expectations, back when high oil prices were assumed to remain high. Output is down 5 MM boe/d this year compared to expected levels, and 2017 should see output down 6 MM boe/d from prior estimates, or 4% lower.
“The impact of falling oil prices on global upstream development spend has been enormous,” Malcolm Dickson, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in a statement. “Companies have responded to the fall by deferring or cancelling projects.”
But most oil companies do not have the ability to do anything other than slash spending and dial down their ambitions. BP’s CEO Bob Dudley recently stated that his company could continue to spend at their current reduced levels for three more years before production starts to fall. Now is not the time to spend aggressively to grow production, he argues. “Being a low-cost producer is the name of the game,” Dudley said on Bloomberg TV. “We’re getting very disciplined about capital.” BP plans to spend US$17 billion in 2016, a nearly 40% cut from the US$27 billion it spent just a few years ago, and more cuts are possible.
Most of the oil majors have prioritised the stability of their dividend payments above all. But that strategy has its downsides. Production will not increase and could even begin to fall. The reserve-replacement ratio at the oil majors has faltered, although part of that has to do with write-downs connected to low oil prices. ExxonMobil even lost its AAA credit rating when it prioritised growing its dividend ahead of halting its rising debt levels.
As companies retrench, global oil production could fall short of demand in the years ahead. After all, US shale drillers have been hit hard by falling oil prices, but so have producers from around the world. A March 2016 report from Piper Jaffray & Co. warned about the supply crunch that is already starting to brew because of spending cuts, citing the falling rig count around the world, not just in the United States. The report concluded that there could be “grievous consequences” on the future oil supply from today’s cuts. “The fact of the matter is there’s a world of carnage unfolding and it’s increasingly widespread,” Bill Herbert, a senior Piper Jaffray researcher, said in March. “We’re digging ourselves a very deep hole.”
The very small increase in the oil rig count in the US over the past few weeks is not nearly enough to reverse the decline, especially since the oil price rally may have stalled for now. Goldman Sachs predicts that oil prices will remain below US$50 per barrel through the Northern Hemisphere summer, barring another major supply disruption. “We view the price recovery as fragile,” Goldman wrote in a recent research note. “Absent further sharp rises in disruptions, the market is likely to remain close to balance in June as Canadian production restarts and production elsewhere remains resilient. As a result, we continue to expect that prices between US$45 a barrel and US$50 a barrel in coming months are still required to bring the market into a deficit in the second half,” the investment bank added.
By Nick Cunningham, Oilprice.com, 22 Jun 2016
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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%)