Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) earned $404 billion in net oil export revenue in 2015, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates. These earnings represent a 46% decline from $753 billion earned in 2014. Although these net export earnings include Iran's revenues, the net export revenue is not adjusted for possible price discounts that Iran may have offered its customers between late 2011 and January 2016, when nuclear-related sanctions targeting Iran's oil sales were in place.
OPEC members' net oil export revenue has fallen as crude oil prices have declined. The monthly average Brent spot price dropped from $112 per barrel (b) in June 2014 to $38/b in December 2015. Based on EIA price forecasts, which are subject to a wide range of uncertainty, OPEC revenue is expected to fall to $341 billion in 2016 before rising to $427 billion in 2017.
OPEC members' 2015 net oil export revenue was at the lowest level since 2004, with significant implications for the fiscal condition of member countries that rely heavily on oil sales to fund social programs and to import other goods and services. In inflation-adjusted terms, OPEC net oil export revenue totaled $606 per person in 2015, down 83% from the 1980 level of $3,500 per person.
The effects of recent declines in net oil export revenue on the economies of each OPEC member state depend on the importance of oil export revenues and the existence of other financial assets. Petroleum exports by OPEC members accounted for between 5% (Indonesia) to 99% (Iraq) of total export revenues in 2015. Generally, countries with sizeable financial assets, such as the Persian Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates), are affected to a lesser degree than other oil-producing countries, such as Iraq, Nigeria, and Venezuela, that do not have large financial reserves.
Although declining crude oil prices have been the main driver behind lower OPEC revenue since mid-2014, unplanned production outages among some OPEC members have also contributed to lower export earnings. A number of OPEC countries have experienced relatively high levels of unplanned outages. Some of these outages are the result of political factors, such as the sanctions-related production shut-ins in Iran between 2011 and early 2016, when roughly 0.8 million barrels per day (b/d) remained off the market. In Venezuela, crude oil production has declined sharply since the end of 2015, as oil service companies have largely stopped work in response to a lack of payment by state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., and oil production may continue to decline in the near term.
Other unplanned outages have been related to armed conflict and militant activity in countries such as Libya and Nigeria. Libya has struggled to maintain crude oil production and exports since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, and more recently, opposing factions have clashed for control of the country's oil export terminals. The resulting lack of available oil export outlets has necessitated that most of the country's production capacity remain shut in. In Nigeria, continuing militant attacks since the start of 2016 have targeted oil and natural gas infrastructure, resulting in more shut-in production.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
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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%)