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Last Updated: March 8, 2017
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Last week in World Oil:

Prices

  • Global crude prices remain firmly in their existing range, with Brent starting the week around US$56/b and WTI at US$53/b. Rising US production and signs that buyers are seeking alternate supplies have capped any gains made from the OPEC production cut, with the Iraqi oil minister publicly stating that he believes the cuts may have to be extended to the end of the year to support the current price environment.

Upstream & Midstream

  • Iran’s northern city of Kirkuk continues to be an incendiary environment. After four bombs hit a pipeline connecting the Bai Hassan oilfield to the degassing station – thought to be the world of Islamic State militants – additional disruption came when Kurdish forces seized a processing site, threatening to hold it hostage until the national Iraqi government to building a refinery in a region that wants additional autonomy.
  • Another week and another rise, though the rate of expansion is slowing down. This is the seventh consecutive rise in the weekly US active site count, with seven new gains in oil outweighing a loss of five gas rigs.

Downstream

  • South American nation Guyana has struck oil. With ExxonMobil and its partners discovering between 800 million to 1.4 billion barrels of oil offshore Guyana and production expected in 2020, the next question is what to do with the oil. Guyana does not currently have any refinery facilities, and the government is now mulling striking an agreement with neighbours Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean refinery centre, to ship its crude there for third-party processing. Suriname, which also has an underperforming refinery, has also been approached.
  • Two separate American lobbies behind the rise of Donald Trump are clashing, over the nation’s biofuels program. In the fossil fuel corner, billionaire Carl Icahn wants to shift the responsibility of the ethanol blending mandate from oil refiners (where it currently lies) to fuel blenders, who oppose the regulation change that has the potential to effect the entire ethanol chain, including farmers that supported Trump.

Natural Gas and LNG

  • That Canada is an LNG powerhouse is not in doubt, but it has not actually exported a single parcel of LNG yet, waiting for its export facilities along the British Columbia to approach completion. In a roundabout way, however, the very first Canadian LNG parcel may be sold overseas this year…. from Louisiana. American LNG player Cheniere has been quietly building a portfolio of natural gas suppliers to support its Sabine Pass export terminal, and has now begun sourcing gas from as far as the Montney shale play, straddling Canada’s Alberta and BC provinces.

Corporate

  • Total and Brazilian state player Petrobras have sealed a ‘strategic alliance’ that will see both companies collaborate closely. Petrobras will be transferring rights to some of its domestic fields to Total, maintaining ownership of key assets while balancing its severe debt situation. Total is a strategic choice in this case with its open attitude to investment.


Last week in Asian oil:

Upstream & Midstream

  • Attempting to fulfil its ambitious forecast of tripling its crude production, Pertamina has been looking overseas for assets. Shut out of sites in Africa and Asia over competitive forces, Iran has been the main target on its radar. The state player has submitted official proposals to Iran’s NIOC to develop the Ab-Teymour and Mansouri fields, containing up to 1.5 billions of oil each, meeting the deadline set back in August 2016 when Pertamina and NIOC agreed to a MoU to evaluate the development of the fields.

Downstream & Shipping

  • China’s Sinopec has announced a US$29 billion plan to upgrade four refineries over the next four years, envisioning a literal brighter future by siphoning out the pollution responsible for the perpetual smog in China’s cities. The four sites – in Shanghai, Nanjing, Zhenhai and Zhanjiang – will have their collective capacity raised to 2.6 mmb/d (and ethylene capacity up to 9 million tons per year), representing 45% of Sinopec’s refining capacity. The fuel specifications will be based on the so-called National VI standard, up from the current Euro V, which is being implemented in Beijing this year and rolled out across China over the next four years.
  • China’s largest independent refiner is teaming up with CEFC China Energy and the Rizhao port authority to construct what is believed to be the first ‘teapot’-owned crude oil terminal in Shandong. Long restricted from importing crude until last year, China’s refined products output from independent refineries exploded last year, but also revealed a weakness – the complete lack of crude terminal facilities to serve the teapots. The logistical bottleneck has prevented the teapots from expanding further, so a move into storage and terminals is natural. Dongming Petrochemical, the largest such teapot, is planning to build a 300,000 deadweight tonnage (DWT) crude terminal, two 150,000 DWT crude berths and a 9.8 million barrel storage farm in Rizhao, south of Qingdao, China’s largest oil port by volume that is almost completely saturated.
  • Indonesia’s Pertamina expects to finalise its partner for the US$10 billion Bontang refinery by April. Unusually offering a majority stake in the 300 kb/d refinery – up to 95% – the move seems an admission that Pertamina simply does not have the capacity to develop its expansion plans alone. Rosneft and Saudi Aramco are names that have been linked as possible partners, but interest seems to have petered out, a chronic problem in Indonesia as ambition clashes with practical reality. This also casts doubt on Pertamina’s ability to develop the Balongan refinery expansion project on its own, after Saudi Aramco pulled out of the project last year.

Natural Gas & LNG

  • India’s state gas player GAIL has inked a deal with Swiss trader Gunvor for LNG cargo swaps. A glut in Asia has caused Asian spot LNG prices to fall sharply over the past six months, making it unfeasible economically to bring GAIL’s US LNG cargoes over. Gunvor will supply 800,000 tons of LNG to India’s west coast from its portfolio at more feasible prices, receiving 600,000 tons of Sabine Pass LNG in return.  GAIL went on a spending spree in the US, buying into natural gas assets during a period when prices kept rising, and now that the market has upended, is stuck with an overhang of expensive (and distant) gas.

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May, 24 2022
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May, 20 2022
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.

End of Article

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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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May, 09 2022