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Last Updated: October 20, 2017
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Last week in World oil:

Prices

  • Crude prices remain stuck in their range – Brent at US$57/b and WTI at US$51/b – as swings in US inventories outweigh Middle Eastern geopolitical concerns, with little on to horizon to move the market. 

Upstream

  • Chinese major Sinopec is planning to exit Argentina, after losses and labour woes prompted it to put its oil assets on sale. Acquired in 2010 from Occidental Petroleum for US$2.45 billion, the acquisition was part of Sinopec’s drive to establish a portfolio of international upstream assets. However, a shaky political and economic situation in Argentina caused losses, and the oil and gas assets – mainly in the southern province of Santa Cruz – now have a price estimate of US$750 million-1 billion.
  • Uganda is quickly becoming a potential new African upstream bright spot, with Nigeria’s Oranto Petroleum recently signing two PSCs to explore around the Lake Albert basin. The Ngassa Shallow Play and Ngassa Deep Play are located within the Albertine rift basin where Uganda first struck oil in 2006; Uganda’s first domestic oil is expected in 2020.
  • Cote d’Ivoire has concluded four PSCs with Tullow Oil in a bid to jumpstart its fledgling upstream industry. Producing a mere 8 kb/d of oil and 200 mcf/d of gas, Cote d’Ivoire lags behind Senegal and Ghana, but is hoping that recent big finds in its neighbours hint at potential within its waters. State oil firm Petroci will hold 10% of each PSC.
  • US drillers cut active rig counts for the fourth time in five weeks, as price realities impact production plans. Eight rigs were removed from service last week – five oil and three gas – leaving the total active count at 928.

Downstream & Midstream

  • Another international joins the queue to exploit Mexico’s recently deregulated fuel retail industry, joining Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Glencore. France’s Total is expanding its downstream presence in Mexico from specialty products to a full service station network, rebranding some 250 Mexico City-area GASORED group sites to the Total brand. The first site will be opened in late 2017, rolling out over 2018 and 2019. 

Natural Gas and LNG

  • More LNG this way comes. A week after Chevron began operations at Wheatstone, Russia’s Yamal LNG project in the Arctic confirmed that it will ship its first LNG cargo in November. Operated by Russia’s Novatek with France’s Total, China’s CNPC and the Silk Road Fund, Yamal will begin with two shipments in November, four in December, then ramp up to ten in 2018. The first cargoes were reportedly sold on the spot market.

Corporate

  • Indications are the Saudi Aramco’s planned IPO has hit some snags. Recent reports indicate that some delays are expected, with a two-stage IPO likely – floating in Riyadh by the end of 2018 and delaying the planned international portion until 2019. Some chatter on the market even suggests that Aramco may scrap the international portion altogether, replacing with a private share sale to select world sovereign funds and institutional investors.

Last week in Asian oil

Upstream

  • Malaysia’s Petronas has outlined its plans for the Bukit Tua field in Indonesia. Phase one of Bukit Tua came on stream in May 2015; phase two is currently underway and Petronas wants to expand into a phase three that will exploit the field’s Kujung horizon. Expansions will continue through July 2022, lifting production from its current peak rate of 20 kb/d of oil and 50 mmscf/d of gas. Petronas holds 80% of the PSC, with the remainder held by Pertamina.

Downstream & Midstream

  • CNOOC’s 200 kb/d refinery in Huizhou is ready for commissioning. Crude trial runs have been completed at the site in Guangdong, which is part of CNOOC’s Huizhou refining and petrochemical complex that represents the firm’s move downstream to compete with Sinopec and PetroChina. The focus of the complex is for both fuels and chemicals, with a 1.2 mtpa ethylene plant (a joint venture with Shell) due to be completed in Q12018.
  • From a loose and scrappy group, China’s independent refiners – the teapots – are increasing becoming more structured and united, as they face increasing criticism from Sinopec and PetroChina. After forming a crude buying alliance last year, six influential teapots – including Dongming, the country’s largest independent refiner – set up the Shandong Refining & Chemical Group last month, and has now bolstered it with a CNY33 billion (US$5 billion) fund. The joint fund will go to joint production, operation and investment plans, as well as lobbying efforts, to support the group’s refining capacity of 660 kb/d.
  • Once dismissed as a pipe dream, the private Pulau Muara Besar refinery planned by Hengyi Petrochemical in Brunei actually appears to be progressing to reality. The Chinese group has started up a trading office in Singapore, which will buy crude and trade fuel products produced at the 175 kb/d, US$3.4 billion project. Primarily a petrochemical play to support Hengyi’s fabric and industrial arms, the refinery will also produce a significant amount of gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel, which Hengyi has no internal use for. The company has also announced a US$12 billion second phase that will include expanding capacity to 280 kb/d and secondary units to produce some 1.5 mtpa of ethylene and 2 mtpa of PX.

Natural Gas & LNG

  • Bangladesh is striving ahead in its LNG ambitions, signing up for a third floating LNG project with Malaysia’s Petronas and China’s Hong Kong Manjala Power. Planned to be located at Kutubdia in Cox’s Bazaar, the 3.5 mtpa import terminal is planned for a 2019 start, just in time to replace Bangladesh’s dwindling natural gas production. The country’s first FSRU – a 3.75 mtpa facility off Moheshkhali in the Bay of Bengal – is expected to start up in 2018.
  • CNPC has started up its third natural gas pipeline servicing Shanghai, aiming to meet the growing demand for clean power generation fuel in the city. The new 88km pipeline connects the Rudong LNG receiving terminal in Jiangshu with Shanghai’s Chongming island, with a capacity of some 1.84 billion cbm per year.

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The Role of Floating Storage During An Oil Price War

In any war, there are winners and losers. Sometimes surprising ones. As the price war between friends-turned-foes Saudi Arabia and Russia rumbles on without any sign of a thaw or a possibility of halting without external intervention, oil producers globally are hurting badly as crude oil prices plunged by nearly 50% over less than a month. This will wreak havoc with the economies and budgets of many countries, particularly at a time when demand is extremely soft given the global Covid-19 pandemic. But in any war, there are opportunities for profit, and that has given a boost to a sector of the industry that had previously been suffering.

With the dramatic drop in prices, and a super-contango structure appearing in the crude oil price future curves, crude cargoes are available on cheap. Part of this buying is coming from entrenched buyers such as India (which took in some cargoes that were turned away by China in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic). Part of this is coming from government purchases, to fill up strategic petroleum reserves in an effort to support domestic producers (although a US plan to do so was scuppered due to lack of federal funding). But most is this is coming from global oil traders, eager to cash in cheap oil by betting that prices will eventually have to rise somehow. Whether that is in a month, three months or longer, the traders are preparing for this.

The problem is storage. Where does one store millions of barrels of crude? Onshore storage is estimated at a practical upper limit of some 1.2 billion barrels of capacity; much of this is already utilised, with not much room to grow. And what room there is is becoming expensive.

Enter floating storage.

In 2008 during the Great Financial Crisis and again in 2015 when crude prices retreated dramatically, the same scenario presented itself. The solution then, as it is now, was to charter ships to serve as floating storage. Millions upon millions of crude oil barrels sat sloshing in the hulls of VLCC and other crude-carrying ships off the coast of Singapore, Fujairah, the US Gulf and Guangzhou in 2009, waiting for traders to assess an opportune moment to seize a trade.

That is repeating itself now. At the start of March, VLCC charter rates hovered at around US$40,000 per day for delivery from the Middle East to China. As charter rates go, that’s not that bad, and certainly far better than rates of less than US$10,000 day in mid-2019 that caused a world of pain to the oil shipping industry. At the dramatic about-face in Vienna when the OPEC+ alliance splintered, VLCC charter rates jumped up to US$190,000 per day as the price for Brent dropped 30% in a single day. Charter rates continued to spike, up to a peak of US$275,000 per day, as it became very apparent that Saudi Arabia and Russia were engaging in more than just a game of brinkmanship. Prices did calm down, after the initial rush of bookings, but have started to rise again as Brent drifts dangerously close to the US$25/b mark.

Reports suggest that since the price war began, more than three dozen supertanker bookings have been made by the world’s largest oil traders, including Vitol, Shell and Litasco. The largest of them all, Glencore has chartered Europe, one of the world’s two ULCCs (Ultra Large Crude Carriers) that can store 3 million barrels of oil for an indefinite period. The traders are also competing with an unlikely party: Saudi Arabia and its allies that sparked a bidding war for supertankers in a bid to flood the market. That this is happening against a backdrop of weak demand is, frankly, ridiculous. But that is what is happening now, and expect it to go on with Russia entering the fray. While all this drama plays out, the real immediate winners are shipowners. While the traders are betting on the possibility of a profitable trade in the future, shipowners are making profits hand over fist now with the bookings, a great change after terrible 2019 when shipowners were gloomily talking about decommissioning tankers.  

How long will this last? It is anyone’s guess. There are two main variables: the length of the oil price war and the length of the Covid-19 pandemic. The most optimistic scenario points to things returning to relative normality by July 2020; the worst could see the depression continuing into 2021. But, as they say, there is no time like the present. And shipowners are now happy to keep their supertanker bellies full of oil and money in the bank, even if those ship remain anchored and that oil is going nowhere soon.

Recent VLCC Freight Rates

  • March 1: US$40,000 per day
  • March 6: US$190,000 per day
  • March 12: US$275,000 per day
  • March 20: US$90,000 per day
  • March 27: US$125,000 per day
  • March 30: US$180,000 per day
April, 05 2020
The Oil Price War – What Are The Options for Trump

As Saudi Arabia and Russia dig in their heels and prepare for extended trench warfare over oil prices, the important questions now are: how long will this last, and what (or who) can bring these friends-turned-foes back to the negotiation table? China is the major buyer of crude from both countries, but with little production of its own, should be relishing in lower oil prices, particularly as it plots a potential recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. That leaves the USA.

To say the US has a vested interest in where oil prices are is an understatement. The country, after all, has a major oil production industry and has recently become the largest producer in the world. Prices at US$50-60/b were perfect. Anything above that risked higher fuel prices causing demand disappearance; anything lower than that risked putting American drillers – particularly in the prolific shale patch – out of business. Which is why President Donald Trump embarked on a campaign of sanction threats and fiery rhetoric when crude rose above US$70/b last year. And also why the US oil industry is urging an intervention as WTI crashes to nearly US$20/b. At risk is not just the health of the US oil industry, but the very life of the shale patch.

There are various options available to Trump when he intervenes. Trump said that he would only get involved in the price war ‘at the appropriate time’, noting that low gasoline prices were good for US consumers. This suggests that he values the positive effects of low oil prices on the wider economy, perhaps noting that the oil industry will still remain a solid electorate base for him in November 2020 come what may. But with no sign that Russia or Saudi Arabia are open to new talks, Trump has to do something at some point.

Some new policies have been put in place. Instead of selling barrels from the US strategic petroleum reserves, adopted when the global supply/demand dynamics were much, much different – the White House now wants to fill those coffers to the brim, buying as much as US$3 billion from US independents to shore up the industry. But that’s only a temporary balm; if the price war rolls on for too long, those US independents will either go out of business or be forced to continue pumping to pay the bills. Either way, this won’t achieve much.

The next weapon is diplomacy. There is already happening, with the US Senate reaching out to the Saudi Ambassador to seek ‘clarity’. Diplomacy is likely to be taken with Saudi Arabia and its Middle Eastern allies, as a more combative approach could jeopardise geopolitical alliances. However, when cajoling, the US will also have to put something on the table. Saudi Arabia’s ultimate goal is to have steady oil prices at a level acceptable to all (or most); since Russia isn’t cooperating but the US may want to, then it must shoulder some burden as well. Imposing a national quota in the US, however, is pure anathema, although the Texas state oil regulator has already suggested introducing production curbs. President Donald Trump said on Thursday, 2nd of April that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to announce a deal to cut production by up to 15 million barrels, and that he had spoken to both countries’ leaders.

The much anticipated virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies scheduled for 6th of April  has been postponed, as reported by CNBC, amid mounting tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The meeting will now “likely” be held on Thursday, 9th April, sources said. "The delay is likely to hit oil prices next week following a record-setting comeback week for crude. U.S. oil surged 25% on Thursday for its best day on record, and gained another 12% on Friday. It finished the week with a 32% surge, breaking a 5-week losing streak and posting its best weekly performance ever, back to the contract’s inception in 1983." 

The other more potent weapon is sanctions. This has worked well, at least from the perspective of the policy’s goal, but certainly not in humanitarian terms in Iran and Venezuela, where the exports of these OPEC members have shrunk dramatically. The US has already imposed sanctions on certain parts of the Russian energy machinery, notably to stop the Nordstream-2 LNG pipeline and is now reportedly considering pursuing a dual-pronged strategy of diplomacy with Saudi Arabia and sanctions on Russia. But what could this do? What would this even achieve? Russia hardly sells much oil to the US; its markets are in Europe, India and China. Imposing sanctions, especially at a time of a global crisis, risks it being completely ignored. Worse, this would make Russia even more determined to get back at the US by destroying the shale patch. With its deep pockets, it could very well do so.

The US is caught in a dilemma. Participating in a coordinated production alliance is unthinkable existentially, although stranger things have happened which leaves Trump with few weapons to participate in this price war. It could go on the offensive, and risk worsening the situation. It could exert diplomatic pressure, and risk that going nowhere. Or it could do what it has always done: prop up the industry but leave survival to the free-market, with the knowledge that in the cyclical world of oil, this bust will one day become a boom again.

Infographic: Top Three Crude Producers

  • Saudi Arabia: 12 mmb/d, 1 producer (Saudi Aramco)
  • Russia: 12.5 mmb/d, 10+ producers (including Rosneft and Lukoil)
  • USA: 13 mmb/d, 100+ producers
April, 05 2020
Is Document Verification effective in managing identity theft?

Technology has indeed changed the way we think, act and react. Every activity we perform is directly or indirectly linked to technology one way or another. Like everything else, technology also has its pros and cons, depending on the way it is used. Since the advancement in cyberspace, scammers and hackers have started using advanced means to conduct fraud and cause damage to individuals as well as businesses online. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1.4 million cases of fraud were reported in 2018 and in 25% of the cases, people said they lost money. People reported losing $1.48 billion to fraudulent practices in 2018. This has caused considerable loss to individuals and businesses. Global regulatory authorities have introduced KYC and AML compliances that businesses and individuals are encouraged to follow. However, banks and financial institutions have to follow them under all circumstances.

KYC or Know Your Customer refers to the process where a business attains information about its customers to verify their identities. It is a complex, time-taking process and customers nowadays don’t have the time or resources to deal with the government, consulate, and embassy offices for their KYC procedures. However, due to technological advancement, the identity verification process has been automated through the use of artificial intelligence systems. These systems seamlessly increase the accuracy and effectiveness of the identity verification process while reducing time and human efforts.


The following methods are used to digitally authenticate identities nowadays:

  • Face Verification

The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect facial structure and features for verification purposes.

  • Document Verification

The use of artificial intelligence systems to detect the authenticity of various documents to prevent fraud.

  • Address Verification

The use of artificial intelligence technology to verify addresses from documents to minimize the threat of fraudsters.

  • 2-Factor Authentication

The use of multi-step verification to enhance the protection of your accounts by adding another security layer, usually involving your mobile phone.

  • Consent Verification

The use of pre-set handwritten user consent to onboard only legitimate individuals.


Digital Document Verification

Document verification is an important method to conduct KYC or verify the identity of an individual. The process involves the end-user verifying the authenticity of his/her documents. In banks, financial institutions and other formal set-ups, customers are required to verify their personal details through the display of government-issued documents. The artificial intelligence software checks whether the documents are genuine or have been forged. If the documents are real and authentic, the digital documentation verification is completed and vice versa. 

There are four steps that are mainly involved in the digital document verification process. First, the user displays his/her identity documents in front of the device camera. Then the document is critically analyzed by artificial intelligence software to check its authenticity. Forged or edited documents are rejected by the software. The artificial intelligence system then extracts relevant information from the document using OCR technology. The information is sent to the back-office of the verification provider and analyzed by human representatives to further validate the authenticity. Then the results are sent to the business or individual asking for the verification. The whole process takes less than five minutes.

The document authentication process can detect both major and minor faults in the documents. It can detect errors and faults in forged documents, counterfeed documents, stolen documents, camouflage or hidden documents, replica documents and even compromised documents. The verification process can be done on a personal computer or a mobile device using a camera. Although only government-issued documents are used for the authentication process, the following are accepted by most verification providers:

  • Govt ID Cards

  • Passports

  • Driving Licenses

  • Credit/Debit Cards

Illegal and fraudulent transactions have dangerous consequences for both individuals as well as businesses. Losses due to scams and frauds trickle down at every level and ultimately have negative consequences on the whole system. Therefore it is imperative to conduct proper customer verification and due diligence in order to minimize the risks of fraud. Digital documentation verification plays a key role in the KYC process. 



April, 02 2020