Brent and WTI prices are now at their highest levels in two years. With Brent almost touching US$65/b and WTI within shot of US$60/b, this is cheer for the market, where most participants had resigned themselves to a prolonged period of US$50/b oil. There are several factors propelling this rise. OPEC 's insistence that its supply freeze is working is proving true; despite the rise in American production (and American exports hitting all-time highs), the OPEC deal appears to be slowly clearing out the global glut. And then there has been a re-emergence of something the market hasn’t seen in a while – geopolitical risk premium.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to embark on a corruption purge in early November shocked the market. The arrest of some 11 princes – as well as the mysterious killing of a 12th as his helicopter was downed – sparked fears of turmoil was imminent in Saudi Arabia. While much of what goes on (and is going on) in the world’s largest crude producer remains a black box. Detractors within the sprawling House of Saud are not unknown, but have previously been dealt with quietly. This very public campaign – which included ‘imprisoning’ the ‘corrupt’ in the plush Ritz-Carlton – is unusual, and the market worries about what the future could hold. The politics of Saudi Arabia are complicated, and it is unclear where things will end with Crown Prince Salman’s current actions. If its future growth from a more diversified economy is all that he wants, things should go on track. If it’s just a power grab, things turn out differently.
What is truly more worrying is the part of an ongoing escalation between Saudi Arabia (and its allies, including the US) against Iran. On the day the purge was announced, Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted a missile fired from Yemen. Then the Prime Minister of Lebanon resigned while in Saudi Arabia, saying he ‘feared for his life’. Bahrain recently blamed a pipeline fire on Iran. This is a slowburn intensification since the Gulf states decided to blockade Qatar. There must be a lot of politicking going on behind the scenes, but one thing is clear – the Middle East is rapidly positioning themselves into two camps, for Saudi Arabia and for Iran. Threats of war have been declared, and even though it is unlikely right now, the danger is still real. With American diplomacy learning towards the Saudis under Donald Trump with no real peace maker in sight, bold moves could be made and hostilities could break out. Oil prices, naturally, would rise if that happens. But even the notion of it happening is making traders nervous. And keeping prices up. It is a repeat of the situation in 2011-2013, when the Arab Spring sent prices soaring.
Based on basic supply/demand fundamentals, the level of crude prices right now should probably be with the range of US$50-55/b. The market has been adding on a risk premium to prices due to the current Middle East tensions. This could rise if Iran-Saudi Arabia relations continue to sour or unless it also derails the planned extension of OPEC production cuts in March 2018! Rising American production is also not pacifying the market, after five weeks of declines, American rig owners added nine new rigs last week, tempted by rising prices. It is likely oil price stay within US$60/level through the end of the year. Some traders are betting it will go further. A flurry of trades last week betted on Brent to hit US$80/b by Christmas. There might be smiles if that happens, but for that to occur there will have to be some serious supply disruptions in the Middle East.
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When it was first announced in 2012, there was scepticism about whether or not Petronas’ RAPID refinery in Johor was destined for reality or cancellation. It came at a time when the refining industry saw multiple ambitious, sometimes unpractical, projects announced. At that point, Petronas – though one of the most respected state oil firms – was still seen as more of an upstream player internationally. Its downstream forays were largely confined to its home base Malaysia and specialty chemicals, as well as a surprising venture into South African through Engen. Its refineries, too, were relatively small. So the announcement that Petronas was planning essentially, its own Jamnagar, promoted some pessimism. Could it succeed?
It has. The RAPID refinery – part of a larger plan to turn the Pengerang district in southern Johor into an oil refining and storage hub capitalising on linkages with Singapore – received its first cargo of crude oil for testing in September 2018. Mechanical completion was achieved on November 29 and all critical units have begun commissioning ahead of the expected firing up of RAPID’s 300 kb/d CDU later this month. A second cargo of 2 million barrels of Saudi crude arrived at RAPID last week. It seems like it’s all systems go for RAPID. But it wasn’t always so clear cut. Financing difficulties – and the 2015 crude oil price crash – put the US$27 billion project on shaky ground for a while, and it was only when Saudi Aramco swooped in to purchase a US$7 billion stake in the project that it started coalescing. Petronas had been courting Aramco since the start of the project, mainly as a crude provider, but having the Saudi giant on board was the final step towards FID. It guaranteed a stable supply of crude for Petronas; and for Aramco, RAPID gave it a foothold in a major global refining hub area as part of its strategy to expand downstream.
But RAPID will be entering into a market quite different than when it was first announced. In 2012, demand for fuel products was concentrated on light distillates; in 2019, that focus has changed. Impending new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations are requiring shippers to switch from burning cheap (and dirty) fuel oil to using cleaner middle distillate gasoils. This plays well into complex refineries like RAPID, specialising in cracking heavy and medium Arabian crude into valuable products. But the issue is that Asia and the rest of the world is currently swamped with gasoline. A whole host of new Asian refineries – the latest being the 200 kb/d Nghi Son in Vietnam – have contributed to growing volumes of gasoline with no home in Asia. Gasoline refining margins in Singapore have taken a hit, falling into negative territory for the first time in seven years. Adding RAPID to the equation places more pressure on gasoline margins, even though margins for middle distillates are still very healthy. And with three other large Asian refinery projects scheduled to come online in 2019 – one in Brunei and two in China – that glut will only grow.
The safety valve for RAPID (and indeed the other refineries due this year) is that they have been planned with deep petrochemicals integration, using naphtha produced from the refinery portion. RAPID itself is planned to have capacity of 3 million tpa of ethylene, propylene and other olefins – still a lucrative market that justifies the mega-investment. But it will be at least two years before RAPID’s petrochemicals portion will be ready to start up, and when it does, it’ll face the same set of challenging circumstances as refineries like Hengli’s 400 kb/d Dalian Changxing plant also bring online their petchem operations. But that is a problem for the future and for now, RAPID is first out of the gate into reality. It won’t be entering in a bonanza fuels market as predicted in 2012, but there is still space in the market for RAPID – and a few other like in – at least for now.
RAPID Refinery Factsheet:
Tyre market in Bangladesh is forecasted to grow at over 9% until 2020 on the back of growth in automobile sales, advancements in public infrastructure, and development-seeking government policies.
The government has emphasized on the road infrastructure of the country, which has been instrumental in driving vehicle sales in the country.
The tyre market reached Tk 4,750 crore last year, up from about Tk 4,000 crore in 2017, according to market insiders.
The commercial vehicle tyre segment dominates this industry with around 80% of the market share. At least 1.5 lakh pieces of tyres in the segment were sold in 2018.
In the commercial vehicle tyre segment, the MRF's market share is 30%. Apollo controls 5% of the segment, Birla 10%, CEAT 3%, and Hankook 1%. The rest 51% is controlled by non-branded Chinese tyres.
However, Bangladesh mostly lacks in tyre manufacturing setups, which leads to tyre imports from other countries as the only feasible option to meet the demand. The company largely imports tyre from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
Automobile and tyre sales in Bangladesh are expected to grow with the rising in purchasing power of people as well as growing investments and joint ventures of foreign market players. The country might become the exporting destination for global tyre manufacturers.
Several global tyre giants have also expressed interest in making significant investments by setting up their manufacturing units in the country.
This reflects an opportunity for local companies to set up an indigenous manufacturing base in Bangladesh and also enables foreign players to set up their localized production facilities to capture a significant market.
It can be said that, the rise in automobile sales, improvement in public infrastructure, and growth in purchasing power to drive the tyre market over the next five years.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 January 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$51/b
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