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Last Updated: February 8, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 5 February 2017 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$64/b

  • Swelling US crude production and a global rout in the financial markets – triggered by two consecutive days of 1,000 point plus drops in the Dow Jones – sent oil prices lower at the start of this week.
  • Stock markets across the globe have been tumbling over fears of accelerating inflation in America (and resulting interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve), with energy firms particularly hit hard.
  • The US dollar has also reversed its slide against major currencies, clawing back some ground and depressing some momentum in oil prices.
  • Strong compliance reported within the OPEC block provided some cheer, but US oil production finally exceeding 10 mmb/d for the first time since 1970 in November 2017 according to the EIA.
  • Goldman Sachs hiked its short-term crude oil price forecast to US$75/b within the next three months and to US$82.50 within six months, stating that the market was most likely already balanced, earlier than expected.
  • US crude stocks rose for the first time in 10 weeks, reaching 6.8 million barrels, although gasoline inventories fell by 1.98 million barrels.
  • The active US oil and gas rig count fell by a net one last week. The oil rig count grew by six, but was offset by a loss of seven gas rigs.
  • Crude price outlook: The global financial turmoil has calmed down somewhat, but rising US production is likely to weigh on the minds of traders, leading to some weakness. Brent may fall to US$65/b, while WTI could go as low as US$61/b.

 

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Chevron and partner Total announced a ‘major’ oil discovery at the Ballymore prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, with the resource described as ‘excellent’ and indicative of the potential in the emerging Norphlet play. 
  • The results of Mexico’s latest deepwater auction round have been announced, with Shell emerging with nine of the 19 awarded blocks, focusing on blocks in the Gulf of Mexico Perdido and Salina basins.
  • Petrobras announced that it has been making ‘interesting discoveries’ in mature Campos basins blocks as it drills deeper in the pre-salt fields, without elaborating on what those discoveries entail.
  • ExxobMobil announced plans to triple its daily production in the Permian basin to 600,000 boe/d by 2025, and also intends to quintuple tight oil production at its assets in the Delaware and Midland basins.
  • First oil is expected from the giant Johan Sverdrup field in Norway as early as October 2019, within the official estimate of Q419.
  • China’s CNOOC announced plans to ramp up capital spending by at least 40% in 2018 to raise production, thanks to a ‘more suitable oil price.’
  • Kuwait Petroleum Corp announced a long-term plan to boost crude production to 4.75 mmb/d by 2040, earmarking US$500 billion in spending, including US$114 billion through 2023 and US$394 beyond.

Downstream

  • Iraq says that it has agreed to build a 300 kb/d oil refinery in the port of Fao with two (yet unidentified) Chinese companies. It has also launched a campaign to seek investors for two 150 kb/d plants in Nasiriya and Anbar, and a 100 kb/d site in Qayara, near Mosul.
  • Indian Oil Corp will be increasing the Panipat refinery’s capacity by 65% to 500 kb/d, as it attempts to keep pace with fuel consumption growth.
  • Pemex is reportedly closing in on a US$2.6 billion deal with Japan’s Mitsui & Co to revamp the flagging Tula refinery and increase capacity by 40%.
  • Thailand’s Bangchak Petroleum announced a US$3.5 billion plan to boost capacity at its Bangkok refinery to as much as 140 kb/d from a current 120 kb/d, with a renewed focus on clean fuels and biofuels.

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Shell has sold its stake in Thailand’s Bongkot gas field, along with adjoining acreage, to PTTEP for US$750 million, as the Thai upstream state firm continues in its quest to beef up domestic gas production.
  • Statoil has aborted its attempt to take a 25.5% stake in the A5-A gas block in Mozambique, citing a lack of progress in negotiations with its partners.
  • Novatek has sold its first gas condensate cargo from the Yamal LNG project via tender, and confirmed that the second Yamal LNG line would launch in September 2018.
  • OMW is ramping up geological survey view in Austria in hopes of finding onshore gas in a 600 sq.km area northeast of Vienna.
  • Lebanon’s decision to place a gas field on auction near the Lebanon-Israel maritime border has been described by Israel as ‘very provocative’, raising fears that Block 9 could become mired in geopolitical tensions.
  • Croatia has passed a special law aimed at speeding up the construction of an LNG import terminal in the northern Adriatic Sea.

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Pricing-in The Covid 19 Vaccine

In a few days, the bi-annual OPEC meeting will take place on November 30, leading into a wider OPEC+ meeting on December 30. This is what all the political jostling and negotiations currently taking place is leading up to, as the coalition of major oil producers under the OPEC+ banner decide on the next step of its historic and ambitious supply control plan. Designed to prop up global oil prices by managing supply, a postponement of the next phase in the supply deal is widely expected. But there are many cracks appearing beneath the headline.

A quick recap. After Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered a price war in March 2020 that led to a collapse in oil prices (with US crude prices briefly falling into negative territory due to the technical quirk), OPEC and its non-OPEC allies (known collectively as OPEC+) agreed to a massive supply quota deal that would throttle their production for 2 years. The initial figure was 10 mmb/d, until Mexico’s reticence brought that down to 9.7 mmb/d. This was due to fall to 7.7 mmb/d by July 2020, but soft demand forced a delay, while Saudi Arabia led the charge to ensure full compliance from laggards, which included Iraq, Nigeria and (unusually) the UAE. The next tranche will bring the supply control ceiling down to 5.7 mmb/d. But given that Covid-19 is still raging globally (despite promising vaccine results), this might be too much too soon. Yes, prices have recovered, but at US$40/b crude, this is still not sufficient to cover the oil-dependent budgets of many OPEC+ nations. So a delay is very likely.

But for how long? The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee panel has suggested that the next step of the plan (which will effectively boost global supply by 2 mmb/d) be postponed by 3-6 months. This move, if adopted, will have been presaged by several public statements by OPEC+ leaders, including a pointed comment from OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo that producers must be ready to respond to ‘shifts in market fundamentals’.

On the surface, this is a necessary move. Crude prices have rallied recently – to as high as US$45/b – on positive news of Covid-19 vaccines. Treatments from Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca have touted 90%+ effectiveness in various forms, with countries such as the US, Germany and the UK ordering billions of doses and setting the stage for mass vaccinations beginning December. Life returning to a semblance of normality would lift demand, particularly in key products such as gasoline (as driving rates increase) and jet fuel (allowing a crippled aviation sector to return to life). Underpinning the rally is the understanding that OPEC+ will always act in the market’s favour, carefully supporting the price recovery. But there are already grouses among OPEC members that they are doing ‘too much’. Led by Saudi Arabia, the draconian dictates of meeting full compliance to previous quotas have ruffled feathers, although most members have reluctantly attempt to abide by them. But there is a wider existential issue that OPEC+ is merely allowing its rivals to resuscitate and leapfrog them once again; the US active oil rig count by Baker Hughes has reversed a chronic decline trend, as WTI prices are at levels above breakeven for US shale.

Complaints from Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are to be expected, as is from Libya as it seeks continued exemption from quotas due to the legacy of civil war even though it has recently returned to almost full production following a truce. But grievance is also coming from an unexpected quarter: the UAE. A major supporter in the Saudi Arabia faction of OPEC, reports suggest that the UAE (led by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi) are privately questioning the benefit of remaining in OPEC. Beset by shrivelling oil revenue, the Emiratis have been grumbling about the fairness of their allocated quota as they seek to rebuild their trade-dependent economy. There has been suggestion that the Emiratis could even leave OPEC if decisions led to a net negative outcome for them. Unlike the Qatar exit, this will not just be a blow to OPEC as a whole, questioning its market relevance but to Saudi Arabia’s lead position, as it loses one of its main allies, reducing its negotiation power. And if the UAE leaves, Kuwait could follow, which would leave the Saudis even more isolated.

This could be a tactic to increase the volume of the UAE’s voice in OPEC+, which has been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But it could also be a genuine policy shift. Either way, it throws even more conundrums onto a delicate situation that could undermine an already fragile market. Despite the positive market news led by Covid-19 vaccines and demand recovery in Asia, American crude oil inventories in Cushing are now approaching similar high levels last seen in April (just before the WTI crash) while OPEC itself has lowered its global demand forecast for 2020 by 300,000 b/d. That’s dangerous territory to be treading in, especially if members of the OPEC+ club are threatening to exit and undermine the pack. A postponement of the plan seems inevitable on December 1 at this point, but it is what lies beyond the immediate horizon that is the true threat to OPEC+.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$44-46/b, WTI – US$42-44/b
  • More positive news on Covid-19 vaccines have underpinned a crude price rally despite worrying signs of continued soft demand and inventory build-ups
  • Pfizer’s application for emergency approval of its vaccine is paving the way for mass vaccinations to begin soon, with some experts predicting that the global economy could return to normality in Q2 2021
  • Market observers are predicting a delay in the OPEC+ supply quota schedule, but the longer timeline for the club’s plan – which is set to last until April 2022 – may have to be brought forward to appease current dissent in the group

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November, 25 2020
EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to remain relatively flat through 2021

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) November Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will remain near its current level through the end of 2021.

A record 12.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil was produced in the United States in November 2019 and was at 12.7 million b/d in March 2020, when the President declared a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Crude oil production then fell to 10.0 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest level since January 2018.

By August, the latest monthly data available in EIA’s series, production of crude oil had risen to 10.6 million b/d in the United States, and the U.S. benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had increased from a monthly average of $17 per barrel (b) in April to $42/b in August. EIA forecasts that the WTI price will average $43/b in the first half of 2021, up from our forecast of $40/b during the second half of 2020.

The U.S. crude oil production forecast reflects EIA’s expectations that annual global petroleum demand will not recover to pre-pandemic levels (101.5 million b/d in 2019) through at least 2021. EIA forecasts that global consumption of petroleum will average 92.9 million b/d in 2020 and 98.8 million b/d in 2021.

The gradual recovery in global demand for petroleum contributes to EIA’s forecast of higher crude oil prices in 2021. EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will increase from its 2020 average of $41/b to $47/b in 2021.

EIA’s crude oil price forecast depends on many factors, especially changes in global production of crude oil. As of early November, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) were considering plans to keep production at current levels, which could result in higher crude oil prices. OPEC+ had previously planned to ease production cuts in January 2021.

Other factors could result in lower-than-forecast prices, especially a slower recovery in global petroleum demand. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some parts of the United States are adding restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings and some European countries are re-instituting lockdown measures.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of U.S. crude oil production in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 19 2020
OPEC members' net oil export revenue in 2020 expected to drop to lowest level since 2002

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will earn about $323 billion in net oil export revenues in 2020. If realized, this forecast revenue would be the lowest in 18 years. Lower crude oil prices and lower export volumes drive this expected decrease in export revenues.

Crude oil prices have fallen as a result of lower global demand for petroleum products because of responses to COVID-19. Export volumes have also decreased under OPEC agreements limiting crude oil output that were made in response to low crude oil prices and record-high production disruptions in Libya, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela.

OPEC earned an estimated $595 billion in net oil export revenues in 2019, less than half of the estimated record high of $1.2 trillion, which was earned in 2012. Continued declines in revenue in 2020 could be detrimental to member countries’ fiscal budgets, which rely heavily on revenues from oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and support public services. EIA expects a decline in net oil export revenue for OPEC in 2020 because of continued voluntary curtailments and low crude oil prices.

The benchmark Brent crude oil spot price fell from an annual average of $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 to $64/b in 2019. EIA expects Brent to average $41/b in 2020, based on forecasts in EIA’s October 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). OPEC petroleum production averaged 36.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and fell to 34.5 million b/d in 2019; EIA expects OPEC production to decline a further 3.9 million b/d to average 30.7 million b/d in 2020.

EIA based its OPEC revenues estimate on forecast petroleum liquids production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and forecast values of OPEC petroleum consumption and crude oil prices.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of OPEC revenue in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 16 2020