After a rise, must come a fall. Chinese refinery runs in June 2017 reached the second highest level on record, jumping to 11.21 mmbpd, up from 10.98 mmbpd in May 2017 and up 2.3% y-o-y. Two of the highest monthly output statistics have occurred in the last nine months, the absolute highest being 11.26 mmbpd in December 2016. That’s a lot of fuel products sloshing around China, as the country moves into peak summer demand.
Possibly a little too much. Oil markets were roiled earlier this week as China announced its July production numbers. Output fell to 10.71 mmbpd, down by 500,000 barrels from June though marginally higher y-o-y by 0.4%. In absolute terms, that’s still a massive amount of fuel products. But lack of growth always spooks traders, particularly when China is involved, and that sent Brent and WTI some US$2/b lower. There was talk about how Chinese demand is slowing down, driving bearish concerns that the global supply glut will grow.
There is probably a small kernel of truth in that. Chinese demand has been slowing down, in relative growth terms. But that’s largely because larger growth jumps are harder to come by at higher levels of development - the potential for double digit growth has passed on to India; but even a 2% jump in Chinese demand is still massive in absolute terms, requiring an additional 1 million tons per month – or four more VLCCs. What is actually happening in China, however, is the same problem happening globally – oversupply.
Looking over data from the first six months of 2017, the jumps in crude throughput are linked to a recent phenomenon of independent ‘teapot’ refiners. Allowed to import crude for the first time last year, these private players have been responsible for the recent sterling growth in Chinese output. In the months where new import quotas in 2017 were granted, Chinese throughput soared. In the months when there were jitters about the quotas being granted, throughput was flat. Chinese state refiners have largely kept their throughputs flat y-o-y; all the growth has been from the teapots this year.
Perhaps too much growth. Less driven by concerns of national balances and more on immediate profits, it produced a major oversupply of fuels in China. Many of the teapots are petrochemical players, more interested in the naphtha portion of refining production, but still produce great amounts of gasoline and diesel in the process. Inventories reached record levels and even strong demand entering summer could not sap that. Much of this had been anticipated by the state refiners – they announced in June that some 10% of capacity will be shut down for maintenance in Q3, a necessary move to trim the overhang. Teapot production, however, may very well continue to max. Which is why the state refiners are also waging a war on two fronts with the independents – commercially, through a retail price war for market share that began in May, and institutionally, by lobbying the Chinese Politiburo to impose controls on the teapots as well as investigate them for tax and financial irregularities.
In many ways, this is the growing pains of the Chinese market developing. The teapots were allowed to flourish in China’s attempt to introduce competition in the refining industry. In a free market, this is what happens. Without the overarching national concerns that PetroChina and Sinopec face, the teapots’ approach to the industry to maximise profits. This development is symptomatic of nothing more than the Chinese refining industry adjusted to a new equilibrium. That’s the trouble with the free market sometimes – it will correct itself, but oftentimes it takes a little pain to get there. Even if that little pain is more drag on global crude prices.
P.S. for continuity of investments in the energy industry, making the right choices are key for future success. Read more about Scenario planning and the so what question a recent blog post by Henk Krijnen. Henk Krijnen will be in Kuala Lumpur this October 2017, presenting a very timely "Masterclass on Scenario Planning for Decision Making in the Energy Industry". Find out more https://goo.gl/tauq5x. If you are too busy during this period, check out our training series on “Training to Navigate Uncertainty in Oil & Gas”
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Now that Occidental Petroleum has beaten Chevron to the acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum – and the strategic assets it holds in the prolific Permian Basin – one would think that the deal is cut-and-dry. Not so. The fallout of the massive US$57 billion deal has begun, and it pits one legendary billionaire against another legendary billionaire.
The Occidental purchase of Anadarko had all the signs of a classic takeover battle, swooping in after Chevron and Anadarko’s boards had approved their own US$48 billion deal. It was made only possible by Oxy CEO Vicki Hollub making a quick private plane trip that resulted in a last-minute US$10 billion capital injection from Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway that was contingent on the Anadarko purchase working. It did. And with the US Federal Trade Commission approving the deal, Anadarko will become part of Occidental by the end of 2019.
But not everyone is happy about the situation. Some investors and shareholders of Occidental believe that it badly overpaid for Anadarko, and were rankled by the deal bypassing a shareholder vote on the matter. The chief critic of this is activist Carl Icahn, who owns a US$1.6 billion stake in Occidental, who slammed it as ‘misguided’ with the CEO and Board ‘betting the company to serve their own agendas’. Icahn has already filed a lawsuit demanding access to Occidental’s books and records, and has just take the fight to a new level.
Last week, Icahn filed regulatory paperwork to call for a special shareholder meeting where he hopes to oust four of Occidental directors and modify the company’s charter through stockholder consent from ever engineering a similar takeover. Icahn wants Spencer Abraham, Eugene Batchelder, Margaret Foran and Avedick Poladian out from the Board, holding them responsible for the ‘fiasco’. He has, of course, nominated his own preferred replacements, including one of his portfolio manager’s Nicholas Graziano, his general counsel Andrew Langham, former Jarden finance chief Alan LeFevre and former president of Shell John Hofmeister. While Icahn has publicly acknowledge that the Anadarko takeover will probably go ahead, his aim is for the new Board to oversee ‘future extraordinary transactions to ensure that they are not consummated without shareholder approval where approval.’
Will it work? Before the proxy fight can go ahead, Icahn must get at least 20% of shareholders to agree to a meeting. That’s a tall order, given that the current crop of directors and Boards were re-elected at the May annual meeting, although with lower support. But there is certainly some appetite, given that Occidental’s stock has dropped nearly 17% since the initial April hostile takeover, reflecting market mood that it had bitten off more than it could chew.
All of this is playing out against a backdrop of pessimism in the Permian. Although the shale revolution had brought American crude production to record highs and sent its crude exports to a new record of 3.3 mmb/d in June, there are now cracks showing. With limited infrastructure, low prices and over-exploitation, the Permian boom is slowing down. Once an investor’s darling, financing has now become far tougher for Permian players, as the high production fall off rate means that companies have to spend more and more money to just maintain production. It’s a situation that is particularly negative for the small, nimble players that powered the initial shale revolution who lack the deep pockets to optimise shale assets over a longer production period. All across the Permian, independent players have lost between 50-100% of their market value, making them ripe for acquisition by majors and supermajors. Deals like the Anadarko one make sense in this context, but with the financial risk increasing, these blockbuster deals may never lead to blockbuster returns. Carl Icahn may not be able win his battle for the Occidental board, but he is certainly making a serious – and very valid - point.
The Occidental-Anadarko deal:
According to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria has the world’s 9th largest natural gas reserves (192 TCF of gas reserves). As at 2018, Nigeria exported over 1tcf of gas as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to several countries. However domestically, we produce less than 4,000MW of power for over 180million people.
Think about this – imagine every Nigerian holding a 20W light bulb, that’s how much power we generate in Nigeria. In comparison, South Africa generates 42,000MW of power for a population of 57 million. We have the capacity to produce over 2 million Metric Tonnes of fertilizer (primarily urea) per year but we still import fertilizer. The Federal Government’s initiative to rejuvenate the agriculture sector is definitely the right thing to do for our economy, but fertilizer must be readily available to support the industry. Why do we import fertilizer when we have so much gas?
I could go on and on with these statistics, but you can see where I’m going with this so I won’t belabor the point. I will leave you with this mental image: imagine a man that lives with his family on the banks of a river that has fresh, clean water. Rather than collect and use this water directly from the river, he treks over 20km each day to buy bottled water from a company that collects the same water, bottles it and sells to him at a profit. This is the tragedy on Nigeria and it should make us all very sad.
Several indigenous companies like Nestoil were born and grown by the opportunities created by the local and international oil majors – NNPC and its subsidiaries – NGC, NAPIMS, Shell, Mobil, Agip, NDPHC. Nestoil’s main focus is the Engineering Procurement Construction and Commissioning of oil and gas pipelines and flowstations, essentially, infrastructure that supports upstream companies to produce and transport oil and natural gas, as well as and downstream companies to store and move their product. In our 28 years of doing business, we have built over 300km of pipelines of various sizes through the harshest terrain, ranging from dry land to seasonal swamp, to pure swamps, as well as some of the toughest and most volatile and hostile communities in Nigeria. I would be remiss if I do not use this opportunity to say a big thank you to those companies that gave us the opportunity to serve you. The over 2,000 direct staff and over 50,000 indirect staff we employ thank you. We are very grateful for the past opportunities given to us, and look forward to future opportunities that we can get.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 July 2019 – Brent: US$66/b; WTI: US$59/b
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