The oil industry crash that started at the end of 2014…
… Doesn’t seem to have finished yet as the jobs outlook around the world has yet to improve. There are a few exceptions and anomalies such as the difficulties in finding frack crews, or the resilience of some of the Middle Eastern countries, due to production costs at or around $10 Bbl.
What we’re seeing are similar dynamics to past busts, not just in oil and gas, but in many industries.
Here are a few observations:
The largest companies are resilient due to the long term view they take of the market, and almost unlimited access to capital. For them, surviving a downturn involves adjustments such as accounting tweaks, bond sales, project deferments and job cuts.
Medium sized companies are selling off weaker assets, focusing on cash flow and becoming leaner. One example might include negotiating faster settlements for receivables and delaying payments to suppliers. The focus will be to look at under-performing assets that could be sold, rather than getting taken over by those higher up the food chain.
Small companies find out how valuable their business model really is. In good times, budget can be allocated by medium to larger companies with less caution and/or oversight. Of course, all companies do their best to be efficient at all times, but invariably there will be waste and frivolous expenses during booms. Small companies and start-ups that can survive during good times, might find that their goods or service is not needed when belts start to tighten.
We see daily reports of mergers, acquisitions, discoveries and project news for mid to large scale companies. This article will look at how a couple of smaller companies are riding the storm.We got feedback from 2 very different companies…
… Then see how the lessons learned might help others who are also in the same position.
Relentless Pursuit of Perfection Ltd (rp²) are a leading wells consultancy company. They work with majors to facilitate seminars such as DWOPs, CWOPs and other performance/efficiency based workshops.
2015 and 2016 were fairly standard years for their main workshops, although they saw a drop off for interest in drilling coaching and other lower level services. 2017 is looking to be one of the busiest years ever.
We reached out for a quote from Dave Taylor, the Managing Director at rp²:
We’ve seen a complete drop off for coaching services which is to be expected as many people have dropped down to perform roles that would normally be beneath their pay grade.
The first half of 2017 was one of our best 6 months ever for the larger workshops. We’ve been very busy performing DWOP’s for mid to deep water projects. This might seem counter intuitive since deep water has been hit hardest by the crash.
In a $40-$60 price range, efficiency and cost cutting becomes not just a preference, but a necessity in order for a deep water project to be viable. The majors know about the new exploration crash, and the lead times to get a new project online.
They need future production, but it needs to be profitable. This is where rp² come in, we help major oil companies secure future supply, with minimal risk to their balance sheets by keeping efficiency high, and costs down.
So the lesson here, is that companies need products and services that help them survive. If you can help increase efficiency, and/or lower costs, then you’ll be needed as long as the industry itself survives.Quality, health, safety and environment are facets of exactly the same approach to the business. We can add efficiency and cost saving to the list.Location, location location…
Another way that a small company can survive, is to be placed in a location that is not being hit by the bust.
The oil and gas industry has always had a large transient sector. This applies to companies of all sizes, as well as the workforce themselves. In every oil country around the world, you’ll find satellite offices, and an expat workforce.
Why are there expat oil workers all over the world? The reasons are partly personal such as a love of travel or adventure. The main reason is financial, people and companies move to fertile locations based on economic opportunity. Sometimes these opportunities appear on your doorstep!
We spoke to Josh Munro the CEO at FROutlet, an e-commerce company who sells fire resistant clothing and equipment to oil and gas companies and workers.
Based in Texas, they’ve seen a steady increase in business in the past couple of years, although not without challenges.
The boom in the US onshore oil business has definitely helped us increase turnover. Through feedback from our customer support, as well as seeing patterns in customer addresses, we know that increased drilling activity has helped us.
We send a lot of packages to the Permian Basin, and Eagle Ford for example. We still have our own challenges such as competing with some of the huge national and international e-commerce retailers.
Being based in a booming area (Texas) and offering the same high quality brands, free delivery and money back guarantees has allowed us to do well. We realize how the global oil industry is doing, and we’re thankful that we’ve seemed to have stayed in the eye of the storm so far. One thing that is interesting, is that we tend to sell high end products such as those from Ariat, during good times and bad. Safety is something that should never be compromised on.
Whilst these two companies featured provide only anecdotal evidence, and there are no guarantees in the oil business, there are a couple of takeaways:
Whether you’re an individual worker, or part of a company, are there services and products that you can focus on, that are suited to a bad market? There are likely to be some ways that you could pivot, to allow yourself to thrive the way that Dave has done?
Are you based in the best place for the professional product or service that you’re offering? Now might be the time to consider a re-location of you’re an individual, or an expansion or satellite office into a more fertile area?
Something interesting to share?
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b
Headlines of the week
Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.
WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.
Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).
On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.
Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.
Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.
Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.
Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 March 2020 – Brent: US$30/b; WTI: US$28/b
Headlines of the week