EIA expects Brent prices will average $71 per barrel in 2018 before declining to $68 per barrel in 2019
In the June 2018 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 and $68/b in 2019. The new 2019 forecast price is $2/b higher than in the May STEO. The increase reflects global oil markets balances that EIA expects to be tighter than previously forecast because of lowered expected production growth from both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the United States. Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $77/b in May, an increase of $5/b from April and the highest monthly average price since November 2014. EIA expects West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices will average almost $7/b lower than Brent prices in 2018 and $6/b lower than Brent prices in 2019 (Figure 1).
EIA expects that OPEC crude oil production will average 32.0 million b/d in 2018, a decrease of about 0.4 million b/d compared with 2017. Total OPEC crude oil output is expected to increase slightly, however, to an average of 32.1 million b/d in 2019, despite expected falling production in Venezuela and Iran, along with decreasing output in a number of other countries.
OPEC, Russia, and other non-OPEC countries will meet on June 22, 2018, to assess current oil market conditions associated with their existing crude oil production reductions. Current reductions are scheduled to continue through the end of 2018. Oil ministers from Saudi Arabia and Russia have announced that they will re-evaluate the production reduction agreement given accelerated output declines from Venezuela and uncertainty surrounding Iran’s production levels. In the June STEO, EIA assumes some supply increases from major oil producers in 2019. Depending on the outcome of the June 22 meeting, however, the magnitude of any supply response is uncertain. EIA currently forecasts global petroleum and other liquids inventories will increase by 210,000 b/d in 2019, which EIA expects will put modest downward pressure on crude oil prices in the second half of 2018 and in 2019.
EIA expects a decline in Iranian crude oil production and exports starting in November 2018, when many of the sanctions lifted in January 2016 are slated to be re-imposed. Iranian crude oil production is expected to fall by 0.2 million b/d in November 2018 compared with October and by an additional 0.5 million b/d in 2019.
The outlook for Venezuelan production is also lower than in the May STEO, with EIA now expecting larger declines in both 2018 and 2019 than previously forecasted. The seizure of state oil company PdVSA’s assets in the Caribbean by ConocoPhillips has diminished PdVSA’s ability to continue meeting its export obligations because it now must rely solely on domestic ports and ship-to-ship transfers to sustain crude oil exports. Venezuela’s domestic export infrastructure, however, is in disrepair and unable to accommodate the volume of exports previously handled out of its Caribbean facilities.
EIA expects that decreases in Iranian and Venezuelan production will be partially offset by increased production from Persian Gulf producers, most notably Saudi Arabia, which will likely increase production in an effort to offset Iranian production losses. Other sources of increasing production include Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, all of which have been restraining their crude oil output in compliance with the November 2016 OPEC/non-OPEC agreement on production cuts.
U.S. crude oil prices in both the Permian region and in Cushing, Oklahoma, traded at lower values relative to Brent in May, continuing the trend of constraints in transporting crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast for refining or for export, as discussed in the April and May STEOs. The Brent–WTI front-month futures price spread, in particular, widened to $11.43/b on June 7, the widest since February 2015. Although transportation constraints to the U.S. Gulf Coast are primarily affecting Permian Basin crude oils, the rapid increase in the Brent–WTI futures price spread in May and early June 2018 suggests some constraints are developing in crude oil transported from Cushing (where the WTI futures contract is delivered) to the Gulf Coast.
Because transportation options out of Cushing are limited, it remains uncertain how much the spread could narrow if Gulf Coast refiners increase refinery runs, which were lower than expected in May. In addition, U.S. crude oil exports are currently limited to higher-cost options which, unless port infrastructure buildout is expanded, will likely maintain a wide Brent–WTI spread. EIA is increasing its forecast of the Brent–WTI spot price spread for the second half of 2018 from $5.49/b to $7.67/b and for 2019 from $5.12/b to $5.79/b.
EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil production averaged 10.7 million b/d in May 2018, up 80,000 b/d from the April level. EIA projects that U.S. crude oil production will average 10.8 million b/d for full-year 2018, up from 9.4 million b/d in 2017, and will average 11.8 million b/d in 2019.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices decrease
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased nearly 3 cents from last week to $2.91 per gallon on June 11, 2018, up 55 cents from the same time last year. East Coast prices decreased nearly four cents to $2.84 per gallon, Midwest prices decreased three cents to $2.82 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices decreased nearly three cents to $2.70 per gallon, and West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each decreased less than a penny to $3.45 per gallon and $2.99 per gallon, respectively.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 2 cents from last week to $3.27 per gallon on June 11, 2018, 74 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices declined nearly three cents to $3.20 per gallon, while East Coast, Gulf Coast, West Coast, and Rocky Mountain prices each declined nearly two cents to $3.26 per gallon, $3.04 per gallon, $3.77 per gallon, and $3.34 per gallon, respectively.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 3.7 million barrels last week to 50.8 million barrels as of June 8, 2018, 10.7 million barrels (17.4%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountain/West Coast, and East Coast inventories increased by 1.9 million barrels, 1.5 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.7% of total propane/propylene inventories.
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On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.
But why this and why now?
There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.
There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.
As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.
The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.
So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.
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