Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of NrgEdge
Last Updated: October 24, 2016
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Business Trends
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Last week in world oil:

All of Saudi Arabia’s bluster can’t hide the fact that the tenuous OPEC agreement to cut production had hit a number of obstacles, with the latest being that Iraq wants exemption from the cuts, just as Nigeria, Libya and Iran do. That was enough to send oil prices lower today, though they remain just above the US$50/b level.

Mexico has approved Italy’s Eni to go ahead with test drilling at the Amoca 2 well, a shallow water field in the Gulf of Mexico. It is only the second well to be drilled in Mexico since reforms to open up its energy sector dissolved Pemex’s upstream monopoly. The first well was Amoca 1, also by Eni, part of an acreage that is estimated to hold some 800 million barrels of oil and 480 bcf of associated gas. 

Announcements of asset sales by supermajors are common these days, particularly from Shell, seeking to pay for its acquisition of the BG Group. The latest involves some US$1.3 billion of non-core oil and gas properties in western Canada exchanging hands between Shell and Tourmaline Oil, including onshore land in the Gundy area of British Columbia and the Deep Basin area of Alberta that currently have a minor production output of 25 kb/d, with reasonable room for growth.

Higher prices spur more rigs, and the US operational oil rig count jumped by 11 last week, bringing the total to 443. Gas rigs also added 3 to their number, up to 108, as nimble onshore producers react to the positive price signals. The number of offshore rigs remains unchanged at 23.

There’s a problem looming in PDVSA and it threatens to spill over into the US Gulf. Beset with a huge amount of debt, the Venezuelan national oil company has been attempting to negotiate short-term measures to defer its debt, with the spectre of a default looming on the horizon. Already, Curacao appears to be abandoning PDVSA, seeking Chinese involvement in its refinery, while the woes are affecting PDVSA’s subsidiary Citgo in the USA and its Aruba refinery. A default would also wreck havoc with the US Gulf Coast refining system, dependent on Venezuela’s output that supplies a third of the crude processed along the Gulf Coast.

Qatargas has inked a deal with Petronas LNG UK to supply 1.1 million tons of LNG per year through 2023, extending a contract that was due to expire at the end of 2018. The deal is particularly important for Qatar, as it seeks to secure long-term supply agreements in the face of a looming global glut of gas supplies from Australia and the US, with Europe being a priority target. The LNG will be supplied from Qatargas 4, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Shell, with the supplies delivered to the Dragon LNG terminal in Milford Haven in the UK. Qatargas is also looking at securing supply agreements in Rotterdam, which would be its gateway into western continental Europe.

The Chinese upstream sector is considered expensive, inefficient and now, declining. China’s crude output fell by 9.8% y-o-y in September, as low oil prices make imports cheaper while making the case that the country’s high-cost fields, like Daqing and Shengli, should be shut down. Crude output in August fell by 9.9%, the highest y-o-y decline on record, while September crude imports growth reached 18%.

Petrobras has finally reached a deal for its mothballed Nansei Seikyu refinery in Okinawa, agreeing to sell it to Japan’s Taiyo Oil for US$129.3 million as it continues on its asset sale spree to reduce its debt. The Okinawan refinery, an oddball choice that was acquired by Petrobras in 2007, has proven particularly difficult to sell, having its refining operations shut down last year due to the industry downturn. 

With the downstream oil market in doldrums but the petrochemical industry still holding strong, Saudi Arabia is aiming to capitalise on that by focusing on a giant crude-to-chemicals project. Saudi Aramco and SABIC have formed a joint management team, together with a unnamed third party, to assess the viability of such a project that would cut out the middle link in petrochemical production, bypassing gasoline and diesel to go straight into chemicals. A preliminary study is expected in 2017, and is in line with the Kingdom’s stated desire to diversify its economy away from crude petroleum sales.

After the US$15 billion Inpex/Shell plan to boost output at the Masela natural gas field by 2.5 mtpa utilising a floating LNG facility was rejected by the Indonesian government in March, a new plan has been proposed to build an onshore LNG plant on the islands of Aru or Saumlaki. The anticipated start date of the giant gas field has been pushed into the late 2020s, and to recoup investment, Inpex is proposing a near quadrupling of output, to between 7.5-9.5 mtpa in total now. A decision on the new proposal is expected from the Indonesian government within the month.

Under pressure gas player Santos has sold its offshore natural gas assets in Victoria to Australia’s Cooper Energy for US$62 million. The sale marks the exit of Santos from offshore Victoria following the sale of its Kipper field for US$520 million in March. The assets include interests in the Casino-Henry gas project, as well as control of the Sole field and Orbost gas plant in Gippsland Basin.

In another sign that petrochemicals are booming, India’s Reliance has beaten forecasts by posting an 18% y-o-y increase in its Q2 profit, buoyed by its petrochemicals business. Reliance’s petrochemicals margins for Q216 were 15%, the highest in nearly four years, while its refining margins fell sharply due to weak product prices. 

Meanwhile in the rig-making sector, Singapore’s Keppel Oil saw its quarterly profits fall by 38% on a weak offshore market. Cost-cutting measure and job cuts – more than 8,000 so far in 2016 – are continuing, and the company will also look at mothballing some facilities until 2020. 

Have a productive week ahead!

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Your Weekly Update: 23 - 27 March 2020

Market Watch   

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b

  • After falling to an 18-year low last week, crude oil prices have managed to recover from their lowest level since 2003… but just barely
  • A huge swathe of economic stimulus packages announced by governments worldwide, including a US$2 trillion bipartisan injection in the US economy, soothed financial markets, which in turn supported commodity prices
  • More stimulus, however, may be needed as confirmed Covid-19 cases in Italy and the USA overtake China’s total, with the pandemic increasingly containing in the latter but accelerating at a dangerous pace in Europe and North America
  • While the Covid-19 saga plays out, former allies Saudi Arabia and Russia remain at odds over crude oil prices; Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Saudi Arabia of ‘oil price blackmail’, vowing not to cave in
  • However, various reports from Russia suggest the low crude prices are beginning to bite economically, with Russia still ‘open to cooperation’ but committed to a war of attrition
  • With Saudi Arabia unlikely to want to cave either, the USA is exercising its muscle in an attempt to intervene in the price war; the Department of Energy will be purchasing some 77 million barrels of (US) crude to bring its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to maximum capacity
  • Meanwhile, the US is reportedly also open to a joint US-Saudi Arabia alliance in a bid to stabilise prices, a scenario that was previously unthinkable but may be necessary if the US shale patch is to be saved; such an alliance, however, is likely to invite reprisals from Russia
  • The record low crude oil prices has led some traders to build up positions, hiring tankers and supertankers to store crude and fuel products at sea while betting that prices will eventually rise; the world’s largest oil trader Glencore has chartered one of the world’s two Ultra Large Crude Carriers for six months to serve as floating storage, while other traders are beginning to store jet fuel
  • As expected, the low prices have begun to bite on the US active rig count, which fell by a net 20 to 772 sites; the situation is worse in Canada, where the industry lost 77 sites over the week to fall to 98 active sites
  • While prices have managed to recover from their lows, the outlook for crude remains weak as long as the oil price war persists and the Covid-19 pandemic shows no sign of containment; expect prices to remain rangebound at US$28-30/b range for Brent and US$23-25 for WTI

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • CNOOC has announced a new ‘large-sized’ oil discovery in the Bohai Bay, with the Kenli 6-1 structure being the first major discovery in the Laibei Lower Uplift
  • Husky has halted work on the West White Rose project offshore Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada until the Covid-19 pandemic blows over
  • MOL and its partners in the PL820S in the Norwegian North Sea have struck oil, with the Evra and Iving exploratory wells fielding oil (and gas) in multiple formations in the Balder and Ringhorne fields; the discoveries are expected to be developed as a tie-back to nearby existing installations
  • Malaysia is preparing for its 2020 licensing round – with bids due in late May – offering stakes in eight fields, which include discovered assets with more than 12 million boe of proven undeveloped resources

Midstream/Downstream

  • Brazil’s Petrobras has extended the deadline to submit binding offers for eight of its refineries in Brazil, hampered by the volatility in global oil prices
  • Shell has paused construction of its massive ethane cracker in Beaver Country, Pennsylvania to help contain the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the USA
  • A second fire in less than a year has broken out at the Petronas-Saudi Aramco 300 kb/d PRefChem refinery in Malaysia, with output likely to be further curbed by a strict lockdown on private operations instituted by the government
  • Work on upgrading the Abadan oil refinery in Iran has been halted until at least mid-April, until the Covid-19 situation in the country is under control
  • Gazprom has started up a new CDU at its Moscow refinery, adding some 140 kb/d of processing capacity to the key processing site

Natural Gas/LNG

  • After almost two decades of attempted development, the Abadi LNG project in Indonesia may be in jeopardy as Japan’s Inpex is ‘reviewing investment plans’ in light of the Covid-19 virus; a delay is very likely, although Inpex has recently secured key land permits for the project’s planned onshore LNG plant
  • Australia is planning legislation to lift the country’s current moratorium on onshore gas exploration and production in 2021, following a cautious green-light by the Victorian Gas Program task force
  • US regulators have given Cameron LNG an additional four years to complete a two-train expansion at its LNG export project in Louisiana
  • Sempra expects to delay FID on its Port Arthur LNG export project, but remains on course to sanction its Energia Costa Azul project by Q2 2020
  • The Woodfibre LNG project in Canada’s British Columbia has delayed construction until 2021, as a key contractor filed for bankruptcy
  • Total has announced a new gas/condensate discovery in the UK North Sea – with the Isabella 30/12d-11 well in license P1820 yielding ‘encouraging flows’
  • INOX India and an Indian subsidiary of Shell have signed an MoU to partner and develop LNG demand and distribution, to be sourced from Shell Energy India’s 5 million tpa LNG receiving terminal in Hazira, Gujarat
March, 27 2020
This Week in Petroleum: Oil market volatility is at an all-time high

Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.

Figure 1. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures prices

WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.

Figure 2. Crude oil futures price spreads and inventories

Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Frequency of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures daily price percentage changes (January 1999 - March 2020)

On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.

Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.

Figure 4. Changes in implied and historical volatility measures

Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.

Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.

Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Rolling 60-day correlation between daily price changes in West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices and other indicators

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.

Propane/propylene inventories decline

U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.

Residential heating fuel prices decrease

As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.

Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.

March, 27 2020
Your Weekly Update: 16 - 20 March 2020

Market Watch   

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 March 2020 – Brent: US$30/b; WTI: US$28/b

  • The dark days continue, with global crude oil prices at their weakest point since 2015 as the Covid-19 pandemic deepens worldwide and the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil war heats up
  • With infections and deaths piling up in Europe and the US – and a second wave of infections threatening Asia – the number of global cases has topped 240,000 and 10,000 respectively
  • Travel lockdown are taking place worldwide; Europe has largely shut its borders, as well as the US and other major countries, resulting in airlines slashing international travel and cratering jet fuel demand
  • But of more concern for oil prices, is the standoff between Saudi Arabia and Russia, as both countries dig in their heels to engage in a protracted price war
  • Saudi Arabia is on the hunt for more supertankers, with the intention of flooding the market with oil; Saudi Aramco will supply a record 12.3 million barrels in April and is looking to raise capacity by another 1 mmb/d after
  • Russian producers are also ready to raise production, with Rosneft announcing it would lift production as soon as the current supply deal ends on March 31
  • Abu Dhabi, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, is fanning the flames as well; ADNOC is discounting its flagship Murban crude and pledging a rise of output to 4 mmb/d in April, and possibly 5 mmb/d in May, to join the race for market share
  • There is a glimmer of hope that a joint resolution could halt the price war, with OPEC+ still holding meetings – albeit virtually – to assess the situation
  • In light of the meltdown in oil prices, the US has suspended its planned sale of inventories from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but instead will add to it by purchasing large volumes in an attempt to prop up US shale oil producers
  • With weak oil prices, the active US rig count according to Baker Hughes is holding steady so far, down by a net one site with the loss of two gas rigs offset by a single gain in the oil rig count; however, do expect sharp drops in the near future if there is no resolution to the oil price imbroglio
  • With sentiment over the global macroeconomic situation and oil prices at near worst-case scenario levels, crude oil prices will remain depressed – Brent in the US$29-33/b range and WTI in the US$25-28/b range

 

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Beset by a blockade of its oilfields and ports by strongman Khalifa Haftar, Libya’s oil production fell to a new low of 97,508 b/d in early March
  • Petronas and ExxonMobil are looking to sell their stakes in the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project – connecting three fields in Chad to a floating facility offshore Cameroon; Petronas holds a 35% stake in the project, with ExxonMobil holding a 40% stake
  • Petronas has halted production at the Garraf area in Iraq’s Thi Qar province, evacuating all its employees as Iraq grapples with a major Covid-19 outbreak
  • Murphy Oil has announced some delays to its projects in the Gulf of Mexico as the global oil industry is hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the price war, reducing its 2020 budget by US$500 million to US$950 million
  • As the Covid-19 pandemic rolls across the globe, licensing rounds are either being suspended or postponed: South Sudan deferring its debut round, Liberia taking its offshore round online and Bangladesh postponing indefinitely
  • Equinor has halted all work on the Martin Linge field offshore Norway, adding to the project’s delay woes as uncertainty over Covid-19 boils over
  • WPX Energy has acquired Felix Energy, expanding its footprint in the eastern part of the Permian Delaware Basin, adding 60 mboe/d of production and bringing WPX Energy’s total output to some 150,000 b/d of shale oil

Midstream/Downstream

  • Asian refiners are looking to cash in on cheap crude being offered as a result of the price war – with Chinese teapots planning to ramp out output – but are planning to curb jet fuel output by redirecting processing to gasoil, as a result of travel bans worldwide that will severely distress international travel
  • Marathon Petroleum – the largest American independent refinery – is looking to sell off its pipeline subsidiary MPLX LP for some US$15 billion
  • ExxonMobil has restarted the fourth and final CDU at its 502,500 b/d Baton Rouge refinery, after the entire plant was taken out by a fire in February 2020
  • Calumet is planning to sell its 30 kb/d refinery in Great Falls, Montana, retaining a bank to begin sales proceedings; Great Falls is the second refinery in Montana to go under the block, after ExxonMobil’s 61.5 kb/d Billings site
  • Production of very low sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) in China is ramping up, with Jinxi Petrochemical being the latest refiner to begin exports of the marine fuel
  • Austria’s OMV will be purchasing an additional 39% in petrochemicals processor Borealis from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala for some US$4.7 billion
  • The GTI Statia crude and refined storage terminal in the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius will undergo a US$100 million upgrade to meet growing demand

Natural Gas/LNG

  • The Alaska LNG project – which is designed to produced 3.5 bcf/d of gas in Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula, sourced from a 1,300km pipeline from the North Slope – has been granted EIS (Environment Impact Statement) by the US FERC, the first step towards authorisation of project to go ahead
  • BP and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR are in discussion over a new Caspian Sea project that goes beyond the current deep gas scheme, called Future Gas
  • Norway’s Golar Power has announced plans to develop an LNG import terminal with the Brazilian northeastern state of Pernambuco
  • Lithuania’s Kaipedos Nafta is moving to fully acquire the Hoegh floating storage and regasification unit that is it currently leasing
March, 20 2020