The magic number seems to be 1 million barrels. At least, that is what has been requested by the US to Saudi Arabia and some other OPEC producers in an unofficial appeal. After President Donald Trump publicly complained on Twitter that ‘OPEC is at it again!’ when US crude prices surged to their highest levels in three years – induced in no small part by the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran – the request strikes a more conciliatory note as the oil titans of the world seek to bring some order to the market.
It is not known how the request was made, but it is known that it was made individually to a select group of oil producers – likely Saudi Arabia and its closest OPEC allies Kuwait, the UAE and Algeria, and most definitely not Iran. News of the request raised eyebrows. The US tends to shy away from involvement or engagement with OPEC, and that this happened an unprecedented situation. The USA is less worried about surging shale production in response to higher prices, but something more short-term – retail gasoline prices have jumped to their highest levels in more than three years, and with the summer driving season coming, the US fears high pump prices will trigger dissatisfaction, particularly with mid-term elections coming in November. Requesting the American shale industry to restrict output goes against US policy, so it has to go to OPEC, cap in hand, to ask for help.
Can OPEC help? Will OPEC help? The answer is very likely to be a yes. Between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE alone, there is almost 2 mmb/d of spare capacity that could theoretically be activated quickly. Those three – along with Algeria and non-OPEC member Oman – reportedly met up prior to the US request to their position in raising output. Russia too has significant spare capacity – some 500,000 b/d – that Rosneft is said to be gearing up to utilise. It is not known whether the US request included one to Russia, but OPEC and Russia were always going to head into the June 22 meeting in Vienna with the target of raising output regardless of America. The past three weeks has been characterised by a united Saudi-Russia front aimed to marshalling support for an output increase to convince other members of the OPEC-NOPEC alliance to fall in line.
From its ‘the higher the better’ attitude seen earlier this year, OPEC has now moved to a desire to contain prices within the US$70-75/b range. To do that, it has publicly stated that it will move to replace any volumes lost from Iran and Venezuela. No numbers have officially stated, but 1 million barrels per day was always seen as a significant enough figure by analysts worldwide. And now, it seems, the US believes that is the magic number as well. OPEC meets in two weeks and I believe it is very likely that they too will agree.
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)