Stakeholders and observers in the oil markets are typically well-versed with the fundamental and geopolitical metrics that impact benchmark price movements. They know where and when to look for the usual data, news and sentiment triggers. However, every once in a while, forces outside this ecosystem take control. This month has been one of them.
Crude markets were sucked into a financial vortex February 2 and their volatile price swings — mostly downward — had largely decoupled from oil market fundamentals, we wrote in last week’s Viewsletter.
This week, oil bounced up from two-month lows as global stock markets clawed back some of their massive losses. There was a flurry of keenly-watched OECD stocks data and projections on 2018 supply-demand fundamentals in the monthly OPEC and International Energy Agency reports this week. Those were no doubt factored in by the oil market, but half-heartedly, as it remained preoccupied with the goings-on in the financial world.
The February reports of the US Energy Information Administration, OPEC and the IEA brought into sharp relief two key influencers: 1) Continuing confidence in 2018 strong global oil demand growth, albeit to varying degrees and 2) Expectations of a resurgence in US shale this year driving the country’s oil production growth to a far greater extent than in 2017.
These two issues are likely to shape the debate on oil market rebalancing in the coming weeks but only after the financial markets pandemonium has subsided and crude reconnected with its fundamentals.
OPEC leaders and Russia did their bit to try and counter the growing chatter around US shale potentially neutralising the OPEC/non-OPEC production cuts aimed at rebalancing the global oil markets.
Saudi Arabia, the group’s largest producer and exporter, on February 14 said it will keep its March exports below 7 million b/d despite a scheduled turnaround at its 400,000 b/d Samref refinery in Yanbu.
Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih told an industry symposium in Riyadh the same day: “I am confident that our high degree of cooperation and coordination will continue and bring the desired result.”
OPEC secretary-general Mohammad Barkindo, speaking at the same event, reiterated that world oil demand was growing at healthy levels.
Russian energy minister Alexander Novak told Platts in an interview in Moscow February 13 that his country wants to build a long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia and the broad OPEC alliance beyond the current output restraint deal.
Meanwhile, the Russian sovereign wealth fund is said to have pledged to set up a major pool of investors for the upcoming initial public offering of Saudi Aramco. The deepening of Saudi-Russia economic ties offers another layer of reassurance to the market on the de-facto leaders of the OPEC/non-OPEC alliance managing their output cuts to the finish line.
That finish line — drawing down OECD oil stocks to their five-year average levels — was 52 million barrels away at the end of December according to the IEA, and about twice that, according to OPEC. The disparity aside, there is broad agreement that world oil stocks declined in 2017 after consistently rising for the three previous years.
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U.S. petroleum and natural gas production increased by 16% and by 12%, respectively, in 2018, and these totals combined established a new production record. The United States surpassed Russia in 2011 to become the world's largest producer of natural gas and surpassed Saudi Arabia in 2018 to become the world's largest producer of petroleum. Last year’s increase in the United States was one of the largest absolute petroleum and natural gas production increases from a single country in history.
For the United States and Russia, petroleum and natural gas production is almost evenly split; Saudi Arabia's production heavily favors petroleum. Petroleum production is composed of several types of liquid fuels, including crude oil and lease condensate, natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs), and bitumen. The United States produced 28.7 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of petroleum in 2018, which was composed of 80% crude oil and condensate and 20% NGPLs.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on International Energy Statistics
Note: Petroleum includes crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids.
U.S. crude oil production increased by 17% in 2018, setting a new record of nearly 11.0 million barrels per day (b/d), equivalent to 22.8 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in energy terms. Production in the Permian region of western Texas and eastern New Mexico contributed to most of the growth in U.S. crude oil production. The United States also produced 4.3 million b/d of NGPLs in 2018, equivalent to 5.8 quadrillion Btu. U.S. NGPL production has more than doubled since 2008, when the market for NGPLs began to expand.
U.S. dry natural gas production increased by 12% in 2018 to 28.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), or 31.5 quadrillion Btu, reaching a new record high for the second year in a row. Ongoing growth in liquefied natural gas export capacity and the expanded ability to reach new markets have supported increases in U.S. natural gas production.
Russia’s crude oil and natural gas production also reached record levels in 2018, encouraged by increasing global demand. Russia exports most of the crude oil that it produces to European countries and to China. Since 2016, nearly 60% of Russia’s crude oil exports have gone to European member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Russia’s crude oil is also an important source of supply to China and neighboring countries.
Russia’s natural gas production increased by 7% in 2018, which exceeded the growth in exports. The Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, which loaded its first cargo in December 2017, can liquefy more than 16 million tons of natural gas annually and accounts for almost all of the recent growth in Russia’s LNG exports. Since 2000, more than 80% of Russia’s natural gas exports have been sent to Europe.
Saudi Arabia’s annual average crude oil production increased slightly in 2018, but it remained lower than in 2016, when Saudi Arabia’s crude oil output reached a record high. Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production reached an all-time monthly high in November 2018 before the December 2018 agreement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to extend production cuts.
In addition to exporting and refining crude oil, Saudi Arabia consumes crude oil directly for electricity generation, which makes Saudi Arabian crude oil consumption highest in the summer when electricity demand for space cooling is relatively high. Since 2016, Saudi Arabia’s direct crude oil burn for electric power generation has decreased for a number of reasons, including demand reductions from a partial withdraw of power subsidies, greater use of residual fuel oil, and increased availability of domestic natural gas.
Crude oil exports account for about 60% of Saudi Arabia’s total economic output. China, along with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States remain critical markets for Saudi Arabia’s petroleum exports.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 12 August 2019 – Brent: US$58/b; WTI: US$54/b
Headlines of the week
The momentum for crude prices abated in the second quarter of 2019, providing less cushion for the financial results of the world’s oil companies. But while still profitable, the less-than-ideal crude prices led to mixed results across the boards – exposing gaps and pressure points for individual firms masked by stronger prices in Q119.
In a preview of general performance in the industry, Total – traditionally the first of the supermajors to release its earnings – announced results that fell short of expectations. Net profits for the French firm fell to US$2.89 billion from US$3.55 billion, below analyst predictions. This was despite a 9% increase in oil and gas production – in particularly increases in LNG sales – and a softer 2.5% drop in revenue. Total also announced that it would be selling off US$5 billion in assets through 2020 to keep a lid on debt after agreeing to purchase Anadarko Petroleum’s African assets for US$8.8 billion through Occidental.
As with Total, weaker crude prices were the common factor in Q219 results in the industry, though the exact extent differed. Russia’s Gazprom posted higher revenue and higher net profits, while Norway’s Equinor reported falls in both revenue and net profits – leading it to slash investment plans for the year. American producer ConocoPhillips’ quarterly profits and revenue were flat year-on-year, while Italy’s Eni – which has seen major success in Africa – reported flat revenue but lower profits.
After several quarters of disappointing analysts, ExxonMobil managed to beat expectations in Q219 – recording better-than-expected net profits of US$3.1 billion. In comparison, Shell – which has outperformed ExxonMobil over the past few reporting periods – disappointed the market with net profits halving to US$3 billion from US$6 billion in Q218. The weak performance was attributed (once again) to lower crude prices, as well as lower refining margins. BP, however, managed to beat expectations with net profits of US$2.8 billion, on par with its performance in Q218. But the supermajor king of the quarter was Chevron, with net profits of US$4.3 billion from gains in Permian production, as well as the termination fee from Anadarko after the latter walked away from a buyout deal in favour of Occidental.
And then, there was a surprise. In a rare move, Saudi Aramco – long reputed to be the world’s largest and most profitable energy firm – published its earnings report for 1H19, which is its first ever. The results confirmed what the industry had long accepted as fact: net profit was US$46.9 billion. If split evenly, Aramco’s net profits would be more than the five supermajors combined in Q219. Interestingly, Aramco also divulged that it had paid out US$46.4 billion in dividends, or 99% of its net profit. US$20 billion of that dividend was paid to its principle shareholder – the government of Saudi Arabia – up from US$6 billion in 1H18, which makes for interesting reading to potential investors as Aramco makes a second push for an IPO. With Saudi Aramco CFO Khalid al-Dabbagh announcing that the company was ‘ready for the IPO’ during its first ever earnings call, this reporting paves the way to the behemoth opening up its shares to the public. But all the deep reservoirs in the world did not shield Aramco from market forces. As it led the way in adhering to the OPEC+ club’s current supply restrictions, weaker crude prices saw net profit fall by 11.5% from US$53 billion a year earlier.
So, it’s been a mixed bunch of results this quarter – which perhaps showcases the differences in operational strategies of the world’s oil and gas companies. There is no danger of financials heading into the red any time soon, but without a rising tide of crude prices, Q219 simply shows that though the challenges facing the industry are the same, their approaches to the solutions still differ.
Supermajor Financials: Q2 2019