Last week in world oil:
- Oil prices started the week on a stronger note, as new tensions between the US and Iran raised fears that crude supplies could be affected. The spat has escalated recently with the US re-imposing sanctions in response to Iranian ballistic missile tests. This will colour crude prices over the rest of the quarter, with Brent currently at US$56/b and WTI at US$54/b.
Upstream & Midstream
- Defying protest attempts, Energy Transfer Partners Dakota Access crude oil pipeline linking Bakken shale oil to terminals in Illinois will begin pumping crude as early as June 2017, barring any new legal obstacles. None are anticipated, with President Trump already signalling his support, moving the US$3.8 billion pipeline ahead after it was stalled last September by the Obama administration for environmental review.
- The US oil and gas rig count has exceeded 700 for the first time since December 2015, as strength in oil prices prompted 17 new oil rigs to start up, bringing the total to 729. All but one of the rigs were onshore, with shale plays in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico comprising the bulk of the additions.
- Perhaps a little too late, Algeria is attempting to ape its OPEC allies in the Middle East by expanding into petrochemicals. It has launched tenders to build four large petrochemical plants linked to state firm Sonatrachs four existing refineries in Tiaret, Hassi Messaoud and Skikda. The investment plans, valued at up to US$6 billion, includes a fuel oil cracking plant and a naphtha processing plant, with a planned petrochemical capacity exceeding 10 million tons per year.
Natural Gas and LNG
- Despite wariness over Russias ambitions, the town of Karlshamn in southern Sweden has agreed to let Russias Gazprom use its port for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The decision is supported by the Swedish government after the island of Gotland rejected hosting the pipeline last year, despite lingering national security concerns. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is Russias latest way of feeding Western Europes appetite for natural gas, running from Russia through the Baltic Sea. Some resistance has been mounted over Russian dependence, and Ukraine has also objected over the possible loss of transit revenues from existing pipelines that run through the country.
- Germanys Uniper is selling its stake in the OLT offshore LNG Toscana terminal in Italy, divesting its 48.24% share in a deal that could value the entire business at 1 billion. The other stakeholders in OLT are Italian utility group Iren (49.07%) and US shipping group Golar LNG (2.69%).
- After disappointing results from Chevron and ExxonMobil, Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell reported its results for 2016, with full year profits down by 37% to US$7.185 billion, but 2H16 profits exceeded ExxonMobils, a rare occurrence. Its debt-to-equity ratio fell from 29.2% to 28%, as it makes progress in its post-BG Group acquisition debt reduction program, with assets sales of some US$3 billion in 4Q16.
Last week in Asian oil:
Upstream & Midstream
- One of the drawbacks of a free market is that it can undermine efforts to influence prices. OPECs supply cut has lifted prices over the past two months, but its power is muted as suppliers from the rest of the world rush to fill the gap left by OPEC members in Asia. Crude from the North Sea and the US Gulf Coast is making their way to Asia already, and some 2.19 million barrels of West African crude is scheduled for delivery to Asia in February, the highest level since August 2011. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has raised prices for March crude shipments across the board, including Asia, as it follows through on supply cuts to boost crude prices. It had previously refrained from raising prices to Asian buyers in January and February, limiting its price hikes to Europe and North America.
Downstream & Shipping
- After the departure of Saudi Aramco, Indonesias Pertamina has decided to proceed on its own to upgrade the Balongan refinery. The company, however, warned that the investment will be less than initially planned, with Pertamina lacking the financial muscle to juggle the project along with its wider goals of boosting upstream production. The Balongan upgrade was originally meant to double capacity to 240 kb/d, and expand the refinerys crude diet to include medium sour grades.
Natural Gas & LNG
- Iraq is aiming to up its capacity to process gas by-products from its oil sites in the southern fields, recovering natural gas liquids that would otherwise be flared. State player South Gas Co already runs one gas processing ventures in Basra with Basrah Gas Co (a joint venture between Shell and Mitsubishi), which began in 2013. That venture recovers some 700 cubic feet of gas per day, and competition rules requires that South Gas Co find new partners for the second gas processing venture, which would help reduce the current estimated flared amount of 600 million cubic feet per day. This would increase Iraqs exports of LPG and condensates, but current tensions with the US over President Trumps Muslim ban could see US players frozen out of the venture.
- Italys Eni has struck gas in Indonesia, moving a step closer to developing its Merakes discovery. Successful drills and tested at the Merakes-2 well indicate the excellent gas deliverability of the Merakes reservoir, discovered in October 2014 with estimated recoverable reservers of 2 Tcf of natural gas. Merakes is also just up the street from the another Eni-operated field, the Jangkrik field that began production in Q216, potentially maximising production synergies between the two fields through shared infrastructure. The Merakes field is in the prolific offshore Kutei Basin, led by Eni under the East Sepinggan Production Sharing Contract (PSC).
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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%)