Earlier this week, Malaysia’s Petronas said that it would support any extension of the OPEC oil output cuts. In January, Petronas voluntarily announced an output cut of 20 kb/d in support of the landmark agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC countries. That is a drop in the pond in comparison to the 700 kb/d slashed by Saudi Arabia. But it is a statement of intent for support. Malaysia is not an OPEC member and its volumes have never been significant enough to affect prices. The support is because Petronas needs crude oil prices to rise to work its way out of the quandary it is now in.
Still lauded as one of the better run state oil companies, the downturn in commodity prices has hit Petronas hard. And the country as well, which saw its currency depreciate significantly over the past two years over the commodity crunch. After much cost-cutting and optimisation measures saw the company return to profit in Q12017. For 2017, Petronas has pegged its finances on oil prices of about US$45/b. That’s uncomfortably close to the current Brent level of US$50/b. In other words, Petronas needs the OPEC oil freeze to continue to break even. The effectiveness of continuing the freeze may be debated, since US and West African oil continue to rush in to fill the gap, but a removal of it will lower the current floor for oil prices. And that would go dangerously close to the Petronas target price.
So while Petronas is in no position to influence oil prices beyond supporting gestures, it has instead turned its eye towards more cost-cutting and rationalisation measures again. After laying off some 2,300 employees and stating it would cut no more, Petronas is re-evaluating the situation to put job cuts on the table again. “In any high performing organisation, it will be an ongoing thing, so we do it all the time – especially for non-performers and when there is overlapping work,” Petronas CEO Datuk Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin told Upstream at a media briefing at 19th Asia Oil & Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur. The optimisation of manpower would not be as "big in scale as last year", but it would be an option nonetheless.
Asset sales are also on the cards. Petronas has already sold off some weak performing North African assets, and has lined up more. However, unlike Petrobras, it has the luxury of taking its time to identify optimal pricing and timing to get better returns. Another idea was also floated, one that would change how it operates. Wan Zulkiflee stated that he was open to the idea of outsourcing some smaller contracts in upcoming projects to third-party service providers. Petronas currently handles its operation, maintenance and project management areas internally. Opening up these areas, even if they are smaller contracts, will lift some burden off internal manpower and pass it on to the badly affected Malaysian service industry.
Getting all the ducks in order and in line is crucial for Petronas. The company is about to embark on the massive RAPID refinery project with Saudi Aramco and is near an FID on the Pacific Northwest LNG project in Canada. The former will extend Petronas’ downstream capabilities, particularly in the lucrative petrochemicals segment, while the latter will defend its position as a major LNG exporter. Both projects will weigh down on Petronas’ bottom line for now. Which is why stronger crude prices are a necessity. While Petronas is dependent on OPEC's long drawn market re-balancing strategy, it will need to focus on what it can control. And that boils down to being more cost efficient.
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Anthony Rizzo Players Can't Sit On Bench According to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times, the world-famous Anthony Rizzo Phrase "Zombie Rizzo" has been told to never be used again. Of course, this is not the first time that the Zombified Chicago Cubs' first baseman has made headlines this year. A year ago, "Rosebud" was the catchphrase that he coined for himself. Also, there is Anthony Rizzo Shirts that come in his name. Now that the Cubs are World Series Champions, Anthony Rizzo is on his way to superstardom. He is leading the World Series in several categories, including hits, runs, home runs, RBI's, OBP, and SLG. Also, he's on track for a staggering year in hits, RBI's, and total bases, all while being second in home runs.
The Cubs Phenom
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The wood pellet mill, that goes by the name of a wood pellet machine, or wood pellet press, is popular in lots of countries around the world. With all the expansion of "biomass energy", there are now various production technologies utilized to convert biomass into useable electricity and heat. The wood pellet machines are one of the typical machines that complete this task.
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It was shaping up to yet another dull OPEC+ meeting. Cut and dry. Copy and paste. Rubber-stamping yet another monthly increase in production quotas by 432,000 b/d. Month after month of resisting pressure from the largest economies in the world to accelerate supply easing had inured markets to expectations of swift action by OPEC and its wider brethren in OPEC+.
And then, just two days before the meeting, chatter began that suggested something big was brewing. Whispers that Russia could be suspended made the rounds, an about-face for a group that has steadfastly avoided reference to the war in Ukraine, calling it a matter of politics not markets. If Russia was indeed removed from the production quotas, that would allow other OPEC+ producers to fill in the gap in volumes constrained internationally due to sanctions.
That didn’t happen. In fact, OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee commented that suspension of Russia’s quota was not discussed at all and not on the table. Instead, the JTC reduced its global oil demand forecast for 2022 by 200,000 b/d, expecting global oil demand to grow by 3.4 mmb/d this year instead with the downside being volatility linked to ‘geopolitical situations and Covid developments.’ Ordinarily, that would be a sign for OPEC+ to hold to its usual supply easing schedule. After all, the group has been claiming that oil markets have ‘been in balance’ for much of the first five months of 2022. Instead, the group surprised traders by announcing an increase in its monthly oil supply hike for July and August, adding 648,000 b/d each month for a 50% rise from the previous baseline.
The increase will be divided proportionally across OPEC+, as has been since the landmark supply deal in spring 2020. Crucially this includes Russia, where the new quota will be a paper one, since Western sanctions means that any additional Russian crude is unlikely to make it to the market. And that too goes for other members that haven’t even met their previous lower quotas, including Iraq, Angola and Nigeria. The oil ministers know this and the market knows this. Which is why the surprise announcement didn’t budge crude prices by very much at all.
In fact, there are only two countries within OPEC+ that have enough spare capacity to be ramped up quickly. The United Arab Emirates, which was responsible for recent turmoil within the group by arguing for higher quotas should be happy. But it will be a measure of backtracking for the only other country in that position, Saudi Arabia. After publicly stating that it had ‘done all it can for the oil market’ and blaming a lack of refining capacity for high fuel prices, the Kingdom’s change of heart seems to be linked to some external pressure. But it could seemingly resist no more. But that spotlight on the UAE and Saudi Arabia will allow both to wrench some market share, as both countries have been long preparing to increase their production. Abu Dhabi recently made three sizable onshore oil discoveries at Bu Hasa, Onshore Block 3 and the Al Dhafra Petroleum Concession, that adds some 650 million barrels to its reserves, which would help lift the ceiling for oil production from 4 to 5 mmb/d by 2030. Meanwhile, Saudi Aramco is expected to contract over 30 offshore rigs in 2022 alone, targeting the Marjan and Zuluf fields to increase production from 12 to 13 mmb/d by 2027.
The UAE wants to ramp up, certainly. But does Saudi Arabia too? As the dominant power of OPEC, what Saudi Arabia wants it usually gets. The signals all along were that the Kingdom wanted to remain prudent. It is not that it cannot, there is about a million barrels per day of extra production capacity that Saudi Arabia can open up immediately but that it does not want to. Bringing those extra volume on means that spare capacity drops down to critical levels, eliminating options if extra crises emerge. One is already starting up again in Libya, where internal political discord for years has led to an on-off, stop-start rhythm in Libyan crude. If Saudi Arabia uses up all its spare capacity, oil prices could jump even higher if new emergencies emerge with no avenue to tackle them. That the Saudis have given in (slightly) must mean that political pressure is heating up. That the announcement was made at the OPEC+ meeting and not a summit between US and Saudi leaders must mean that a façade of independence must be maintained around the crucial decisions to raise supply quotas.
But that increase is not going to be enough, especially with Russia’s absence. Markets largely shrugged off the announcement, keeping Brent crude at US$120/b levels. Consumption is booming, as the world rushes to enjoy its first summer with a high degree of freedom since Covid-19 hit. Which is why global leaders are looking at other ways to tackle high energy prices and mitigate soaring inflation. In Germany, low-priced monthly public transport are intended to wean drivers off cars. In the UK, a windfall tax on energy companies should yield US$6 billion to be used for insulating consumers. And in the US, Joe Biden has been busy.
With the Permian Basin focusing on fiscal prudence instead of wanton drilling, US shale output has not responded to lucrative oil prices that way it used to. American rig counts are only inching up, with some shale basins even losing rigs. So the White House is trying more creative ways. Though the suggestion of an ‘oil consumer cartel’ as an analogue to OPEC by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is likely dead on arrival, the US is looking to unlock supply and tame fuel prices through other ways. Regular releases from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve has so far done little to bring prices down, but easing sanctions on Venezuelan crude that could be exported to the US and Europe, as well as working with the refining industry to restart recently idled refineries could. Inflation levels above 8% and gasoline prices at all-time highs could lead to a bloody outcome in this year’s midterm elections, and Joe Biden knows that.
But oil (and natural gas) supply/demand dynamics cannot truly start returning to normal as long as the war in Ukraine rages on. And the far-ranging sanctions impacting Russian energy exports will take even longer to be lifted depending on how the war goes. Yes, some Russian crude is making it to the market. China, for example, has been quietly refilling its petroleum reserves with Russian crude (at a discount, of course). India continues to buy from Moscow, as are smaller nations like Sri Lanka where an economic crisis limits options. Selling the crude is one thing, transporting it is another. With most international insurers blacklisting Russian shippers, Russian oil producers can still turn to local insurance and tankers from the once-derided state tanker firm Sovcomflot PJSC to deliver crude to the few customers they still have.
A 50% hike in OPEC’s monthly supply easing targets might seem like a lot. But it isn’t enough. Especially since actual production will fall short of that quota. The entire OPEC system, and the illusion of control it provides has broken down. Russian oil is still trickling out to global buyers but even if it returned in full, there is still not enough refining capacity to absorb those volumes. Doctors speak of long Covid symptoms in patients, and the world energy complex is experiencing long Covid, now with a touch with geopolitical germs as well. It’ll take a long time to recover, so brace yourselves.
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