Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of NrgEdge
Last Updated: November 7, 2016
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Business Trends
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Last week in world oil:

OPECs internal squabbling has erased all its efforts to raise oil prices from languishing in the US$40/b range, as hope fades that the quixotic supply cut could be engineered. In fact, whispers suggest that Saudi Arabia is mulling punishing the rest of the organisation by pumping more oil to cause prices to free fall in a harsh attempt to get the other members in line. The next OPEC meeting begins November 30. Analysts remain split about   its success.

Venzuelas PDVSA has completed deals with Delta Petroleum and Indias ONGC totalling US$1.45 billion to raise production at their joint venture operations. The Delta Petroleum deal will see US$1.13 billion pumped in to raise production at Petrodelta from 40 kb/d to 110 kb/d, while the ONGC agreement will inject US$318 billion into Petrolera Indovenezolana to double production at the Cristobal field to 40 kb/d.

After a brief break, the operating oil rig count in the US resumed its climb, adding nine new oil and three new gas rigs, bringing the total up to 450 and 117, respectively, even as oil prices retreated from recent highs over uncertainty in OPEC and a massive crude build reported by the EIA.

Curacaos divorce with Venezuela over the Isla refinery now seems imminent, with Chinas Guangdong Zhenrong Energy now moving to secure funds for its US$5.5 billion plan to upgrade the refinery, a strategic spot in the Caribbean that serves as a oil hub for the Atlantic. PetroChina, Sinopec and CNOOC are expected to collaborate with the state-owned firm in the project, which now includes plans for the natural gas terminal.

Just weeks after announcing a new retail fuel pricing plan, Petrobras is now changing its pricing for LPG. Aimed to eliminating indirect subsidies by charging more for distributors using its facilities, it is the latest in Petrobras attempt to bolster earnings to pare down debt.

Canada has approved the C$1.3 billion expansion of the NOVA Gas Transmission natural gas gathering pipeline. The project by TransCanada will streamline some 75% of natural gas (some 11.3 bcf) in western Canada, including the Montney and Duverney shale fields in BC and Alberta, with completion expected in Q2 2018.

Shell and BP have both reported higher-than-expected earnings for Q316, with Shell reporting a rare instance of higher revenue than ExxonMobil. Much of the improvement in earnings comes from the supermajors sustained cost cutting, their adaptation strategy to low prices.

General Electric will merge its oil and gas business with Baker Hughes to create the second-largest oilfield services company in the world, behind Schlumberger. To be known as Baker Hughes, A GE Company, the new US$32 billion company will combine GEs equipment expertise with Baker Hughes speciality in drilling and fracking, as the industry responds to the prolonged slump in crude oil prices.

Italys ENi has signed four agreements with Bahrain to move into onshore and offshore upstream activities in Bahrain. The agreements were signed by Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) and Tatweer Petroleum, representing a preliminary step in evaluating selected E&P assets in Bahrain that may eventually led to asset stakes for Eni if viable.

Malaysias Petronas is stoking some interest in the battered offshore contracting industry by requesting submissions for its K5 sour gas project off Sarawak in Malaysia. If the project, with its 4 tcf of recoverable gas, moves ahead, it will require a large production facility, and the possibility of Petronas moving ahead with the project has whet the appetite for a industry currently starved of projects.

In a bid to spur Chinas oil exports given that the country is now swamped with an oversupply of oil products the export tax rebate for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel has been raised to 17% effective November 1. The rebate, which eliminates double taxation for exported goods, comes as China is swamped by an oversupply of oil products, owing to vast expansions of refining capacity by the state players and a flood of products coming from independent teapot refiners after crude imports were deregulated last year. Unable to the consumed domestically, the products must now head out, contributing to the continued glut in Asia.

ExxonMobils acquisition of InterOil central to its plans to exploit the vast natural gas potential of Papua New Guinea has hit a snag. An objection by InterOils founder filed in Canada has moved to the appeals court, which overturns approval of the US$2.5 billion sale, potentially derailing the deal. The Canadian approval is the sole remaining hurdle to the completion of the deal, and now ExxonMobil must move to appease InterOil founder Phil Mulacek to salvage its plans.

Tokyo Gas, the largest city gas supplier in Japan, has signed an MoU with Malaysias Petronas that will see the two companies co-operating over existing and future natural gas and LNG projects in Southeast Asia. Tokyo Gas has worked with Petronas LNG for over 33 years, buying LNG from three Petronas projects, and the agreement will deepen the ties as Tokyo Gas seeks to secure more supply to feed Japans appetite for natural gas.

Indias Reliance has been slapped with a US$1.55 billion fine by the Indian government for allegedly extracting and selling gas belonging to ONGC in the KG basin of the Bay of Bengal over the last seven years. It is claimed that up to 11 bcf of gas seeped from ONGCs blocks to the adjacent block held by Reliance, BP and Niko Resources. Reliance will contest the fine

Keppel Corp had agreed to purchase bonds offered by struggling oil and gas explorer KrisEnergy, raising its stake in the company to as much as 67.33%. Much of the offshore marine contracting and engineering industry in Singapore is withering, with smaller firms unable to service debt, raising that possibility that the government may officially step in to offer direct aid, as well as through government-linked companies.

Have a productive week ahead!

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High Oil Prices and Indonesia’s Ban on Oil Palm Exports

Supply chains are currently in crisis. They have been for a long time now, ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped the way the world works. Stressed shipping networks and operational blockages – coupled with China’s insistence on a Covid-zero policy – means that cargo tanker rates are at an all-time high and that there just aren’t enough of them. McDonalds and KFCs in Asia are running out of French fries to sell, not because there aren’t enough potatoes in Idaho, but because there aren’t enough ships to deliver them to Japan or to Singapore from Los Angeles. The war in Ukraine has placed a particular emphasis on food supply chains by disrupting global wheat and sunflower oil supply chains and kicking off distressingly high levels of food price inflation across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It was against this backdrop that Indonesia announced a complete ban on palm oil exports. That nuclear option shocked the markets, set off a potential new supply chain crisis and has particular implications on future of crude oil pricing and biofuels in Asia.  

A brief recap. Like most of Asia, Indonesia has been grappling with food price inflation as consequence of Covid-19. Like most of Asia, Indonesia has been attempting to control this through a combination of shielding its most vulnerable citizens through continued subsidies while attempting to optimise supply chains. Like most of Asia, Indonesia hasn’t been to control the market at all, because uncoordinated attempts across a wide spectrum of countries to achieve a similar level of individual protectionism is self-defeating.

Cooking oil is a major product of sensitive importance in Indonesia, and one that it is self-sufficient in as a result of its status as the world’s largest palm oil producer. So large is Indonesia in that regard that its excess palm oil production has been directed to increasingly higher biodiesel mandates, with a B40 mandate – diesel containing 40% of palm material – originally schedule for full implementation this year. But as palm oil prices started rising to all-time highs at the beginning of January, cooking oil started becoming scarcer in Indonesia. The government blamed hoarding and – wary of the Ramadan period and domestic unrest – implemented a Domestic Market Obligation on palm oil refineries, directing them to devote 20% of projected exports for domestic use. Increasingly stricter terms for the DMO continued over February and March, only for an abrupt U-turn in mid-March that removed the DMO completely. But as the war in Ukraine drove prices even further, Indonesia shocked the market by announcing an total ban on palm oil exports in late April. Chaotically, the ban was first clarified to be palm olein only (straight refining cooking oil), but then flip-flopped into a total ban of crude palm oil as well. Markets went haywire, prices jumped to historical highs and Indonesia’s trading partners reacted with alarm.

Joko Widodo has said that the ban will be indefinite until domestic cooking oil prices ‘moderate’. With the global situation as it is, ‘moderate’ is unlikely to be achieved until the end of 2022 at least, if ‘moderate’ is taken to be the previous level of palm oil prices – roughly half of current pricing. Logistically, Indonesia cannot hold out on the ban for more than two months. Only a third of Indonesia’s monthly palm oil production is consumed domestically; the rest is exported. An indefinite ban means that not only fill storage tanks up beyond capacity and estates forced to let fruit rot, but Indonesia will be missing out on crucial revenue from its crude palm oil export tax. Which is used to fund its biodiesel subsidies.

And that’s where the implications on oil come in. Indonesia’s ham-fisted attempt at protectionism has dire implications on biofuels policies in Asia. Palm oil prices within Indonesia might sink as long as surplus volumes can’t make it beyond the borders, but international palm oil prices will remain high as consuming countries pivot to producers like Malaysia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, West Africa and Latin America. That in turn, threatens the biodiesel mandates in Thailand and Malaysia. The Thai government has already expressed concern over palm-led food price inflation and associated pressure on its (subsidised) biodiesel programme, launching efforts to mitigate the worst effects. Malaysia – which has a more direct approach to subsidised fuels – is also feeling the pinch. Thailand’s move to B10 and Malaysia’s move to B20 is now in jeopardy; in fact, Thailand has regressed its national mandate from B7 to B5. And the reason is that the differential between the bio- and the diesel portion of the biodiesel is now so disparate that subsidy regimes break down. It would be far cheaper – for the government, the tax-payers and consumers – to use straight diesel instead of biodiesel, as evidenced by Thailand’s reversal in mandates.

That, in turn, has implications on crude pricing. While OPEC+ is stubbornly sticking to its gentle approach to managing global crude supply, the stunning rebound in Asian demand has already kept the consumption side tight to match that supply. Crude prices above US$100/b are a recipe for demand destruction, and Asian economies have been preparing for this by looking at alternatives; biofuels for example. In the past four years, Indonesia has converted some of its oil refineries into biodiesel plants; in China, stricter crude import quotas are paving the way for China to clamp down on its status of a fuels exporter in favour of self-sustainability. But what happens when crude prices are high, but the prices of alternatives are higher? That is the case for palm oil now, where the gasoil-palm spread is now triple the previous average.

Part of this situation is due to market dynamics. Part of it is due to geopolitical effects. But part of it is also due to Indonesia’s knee-jerk reaction. Supply disruption at the level of a blanket ban is always seismic and kicks off a chain of unintended consequences; see the OPEC oil shocks of the 70s. Indonesia’s palm oil export ban is almost at that level. ‘Indefinite’ is a vague term and offers no consolation to markets looking for direction. Damage will be done, even if the ban lasts a month. But the longer it lasts – Indonesian general elections are due in February 2024 – the more serious the consequences could be. And the more the oil and refining industry in Asia will have to think about their preconceived notions of the future of oil in the region.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$110-1113/b, WTI – US$105-110/b
  • As the war in Ukraine becomes increasingly entrenched, the pressure on global crude prices as Russian energy exports remain curtailed; OPEC+ is offering little hope to consumers of displaced Russian crude, with no indication that it is ready to drastically increase supply beyond its current gentle approach
  • In the US, the so-called NOPEC bill is moving ahead, paving the way for the US to sue the OPEC+ group under antitrust rules for market manipulation, setting up a tense next few months as international geopolitics and trade relations are re-evaluated

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