Last week in the world oil:
- Though unexpected, the OPEC deal reached last week is certainly welcome news for the oil markets, sending crude oil rising to its highest level in nearly two years, reaching US$55/b today. OPEC producers agreed to shave 1.2 mb/d from January onwards, with non-OPEC contributing an additional 600 kb/d of cuts, numbers that could (if adhered to) reduce considerably the current global supply glut.
Upstream & Midstream
- Justin Trudeaus administration in Canada has been delicately maintaining a balance between the environmental and energy lobbies. His decision to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion is an example of this. While Kinder Morgan will be allowed to build a second pipeline as an upgrade to the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to bring more oil to the West Coast to send to Asia, Trudeau has also blocked Enbridge from moving ahead with the Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport oil sands to the Pacific Coast directly through pristine rainforest.
- Japans Mitsui has agreed to buy Shells stakes in four US Gulf of Mexico oil blocks. The deal, for an undisclosed amount, will see the Japanese trading house acquire 20% stakes in four Mississippi Canyon blocks, which have an estimated recoverable volume of 100 million barrels of oil equivalent. The move represents bold steps for Mitsui, after it signed off on developing the Greater Enfield reserves in Western Australia and the third train of Tangguh LNG in Indonesia earlier this year.
- Supermajor ExxonMobil has relinquished 60 deepwater blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, including 20 that were part of a joint venture with Russias Rosneft, citing disappointing exploration results alongside persistent low crude oil prices. The two companies joined forces in 2013, when Rosneft bought a 30% stake in the 20 blocks.
- The US rig count is up again. Three new oil rigs and one new gas rig was added last week, bringing the total up to 477 and 119, respectively, as US oil players saw the OPEC decision as a lead-in to higher prices.
- Brazil wants to further reduce its gasoline imports by stimulating domestic ethanol production. Sugar (from sugarcane) is the main source of biofuels in Brazil, but mills have been prioritising sugar production over ethanol owing to the tight global supply of sugar. All gasoline sold in Brazil now contains 27% sugarcane-derived ethanol, and the proposed new ethanol program is aimed to stimulating output to increase this.
Natural Gas & LNG
- Nigeria and Morocco has signed an agreement that could see a gas pipeline built linking Africa to Europe. The joint venture was reached as the Moroccan King visited Nigeria, with the project aimed at linking the gas resources of Nigeria and surrounding West African nations, and piping it north to Morocco with the intent of connecting to European demand centres via Spain or Portugal.
Last week in Asian oil:
Upstream & Midstream
- Less than a year after re-joining OPEC, Indonesia has once again suspended its membership in the cartel, as it was unable or unwilling to agree to a supply cut. Though its crude output is dwindling, Indonesia still depends heavily on oil to fund its government and the proposed 37 kb/d cut in Indonesian production was unacceptable, leading to the countrys second withdrawal from OPEC.
- India has invited initial bids to begin filling its Karnataka strategic petroleum storage facility. The Padur facility will be the third such site in India, and is the largest with 2.5 million tons of storage space. If experience at the previous two facilities in Vizag and Mangalore are to go by, then the crude oil sources are likely to be Iraq and Iran, which have helped India boost its strategic reserves to 10 days a small number by global standards of at least 50 days, but far better than the precariously tight position the country was in previously.
- Just months after Shell cancelled its US$4.6 billion order for three FLNG vessels, Samsung Heavy Industries has been hit with another major cancellation, this time for a US$777 million FLNG substructure for a European firm. The order was cancelled as the client did not issue a work order, with the low crude oil price environment possibly being the main concern. South Korean shipbuilders have been in trouble recently, and will be hoping that the recent upswing in prices will continue.
Downstream & Shipping
- The cheap price environment of LPG is causing a few Asian petrochemical crackers to turn to propane as a feedstock. Idemitsu in Japan is embarking on an expansion to boost propane processing by up to four times at its joint venture with Mitsui Chemicals in Q317, relying on imported LPG brought into the neighbouring LPG facility at the Chiba refinery.
Gas & LNG
- Chinas CNPC the parent company of PetroChina will separate its natural gas sales and transportation divisions. CNPC currently supplies nearly 80% of Chinas gas market, and the Chinese government wants to open the sector up to more competition, compelling CNPC to separate its gas sales and transportation arms, which should encourage investment in areas that were previously monopolised by CNPC.
- BP has acquired Repsols 3.06% stake in the Tangguh LNG project for US$313 million, bringing the UK operators stake to just over 40%. This consolidates BPs control over Tangguh, which has been given the go-ahead for the US$8 billion expansion of the Tangguh third LNG train.
- The Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR is beefing up its crude trading division in London, targeting China. Specifically, Socar wants to sell crude directly to the independent Chinese refiners the so-called teapots that were given licences to import crude directly this year.
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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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