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Last Updated: August 10, 2018
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In the August 2018 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts Brent crude oil prices to average $73 per barrel (b) in the second half of 2018 and decline to an average of $71/b in 2019 (Figure 1). Competing upside and downside price risks are expected to play a large role in price formation during the forecast period. Upside price risks stem largely from the possibility of supply outages when both petroleum inventories and spare crude oil production capacity for members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are lower than average. Downside price risks stem largely from potentially reduced demand because economic growth and resulting crude oil demand could be lower than forecast. 


Daily and monthly average crude oil prices could vary significantly from annual average forecasts because global economic developments and geopolitical events in the coming months have the potential to push oil prices higher or lower than the current STEO price forecast.

EIA forecasts total global liquid fuels inventories to decrease by 0.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, followed by an increase of 0.3 million b/d in 2019 (Figure 2). Inventory changes of this magnitude should be considered mostly balanced, contributing to forecast Brent crude oil prices remaining between $70/b and $73/b from August 2018 through the end of 2019. However, the forecast for slight inventory increases in 2019 contributes to expectations of modest downward price pressure in 2019.


On the supply side, the combination of relatively low inventory and OPEC spare capacity levels elevates the risk of upward price movements if a supply disruption occurs or if forecast production growth does not materialize. 

Changes in global petroleum inventories data are not collected directly, but are estimated based on forecasts for global production and consumption. However, inventory data for the United States and other countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are available and may provide insight into global supply. In terms of days of supply, OECD inventories are expected to remain less than the monthly average for the previous five years, so any outages could have a significant effect on crude oil prices (Figure 3).


In 2018 and in 2019, EIA expects OPEC spare crude oil production capacity to decrease from 2017 levels (Figure 4). Although spare capacity in 2016 was lower than that forecast for 2018 and 2019, OECD inventories were higher in 2016, as seen in Figure 3. OPEC spare production capacity is forecast to average 1.6 million b/d in 2018 and to fall to 1.3 million b/d in 2019, down from 2.1 million b/d in 2017 and lower than the 10-year (2008–17) average of 2.3 million b/d. With little spare capacity, risks on the supply side (including greater-than-forecast disruptions in Iran, Venezuela, or Libya) may have significant price impacts.


EIA forecasts OPEC’s petroleum and other liquids production to decrease from the 2017 level of 39.5 million b/d to 39.1 million b/d in 2018 and to 39.0 million b/d in 2019. The small decline in 2019 reflects crude oil production increases from some producers that nearly offset anticipated declines from other OPEC members.

Brent spot prices averaged more than $74/b in June 2018, up $10/b from December 2017. Price increases in 2018 have been largely driven by unplanned supply disruptions and the expected loss of some Iranian crude oil production by the end of the year because of renewed sanctions. The August 2018 STEO reflects the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the plan to reinstate sanctions on companies doing business with Iran. Sanctions will likely affect the Iranian oil sector, which would limit the country’s crude oil production and exports by the end of 2018. Uncertainty remains regarding the degree to which the U.S. sanctions will take Iranian crude oil off the market.

Future crude oil production in Venezuela and Libya and the magnitude of the production response from other OPEC members and Russia are also highly uncertain. Developments regarding these and other variables could influence prices in either direction.

Concerns about the pace of future economic and oil consumption growth have likely contributed to demand side uncertainty. The August STEO forecasts global demand growth for petroleum and other liquids to average 1.66 million b/d in 2018 and 1.57 million b/d in 2019, down from the July STEO forecast of 1.72 million b/d and 1.71 million b/d for 2018 and 2019, respectively.

U.S. average regular gasoline price increases, diesel price decreases

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price increased less than one cent from last week to remain at $2.85 per gallon on August 6, 2018, up 47 cents from the same time last year. Rocky Mountain and East Coast prices each rose over a penny to $2.92 per gallon and $2.80 per gallon, respectively, and Midwest prices increased less than one cent to $2.77 per gallon. West Coast and Gulf Coast prices each decreased less than one cent to $3.34 per gallon and $2.59 per gallon, respectively.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased less than one cent from last week to $3.22 per gallon on August 6, 2018, 64 cents higher than year ago. Midwest prices fell nearly one cent to $3.15 per gallon, and West Coast, East Coast, and Gulf Coast prices each decreased less than a penny, remaining virtually unchanged at $3.72 per gallon, $3.22 per gallon, and $3.00 per gallon, respectively. Rocky Mountain prices were unchanged at $3.36 per gallon.

Propane/propylene inventories rise slightly

U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 0.1 million barrels last week to 66.4 million barrels as of August 3, 2018, 9.3 million barrels (12.2%) lower than the five-year (2013-2017) average inventory level for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories increased by 0.3 million barrels and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories rose slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Midwest and East Coast inventories decreased by 0.2 million barrels and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.3% of total propane/propylene inventories.

For questions about This Week in Petroleum, contact the Petroleum Markets Team at 202-586-4522.

Crude oil gasoline STEO (Short-Term Energy Outlook) Petroleum USA Iran Libya Venezuela OPEC OECD
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Royal Dutch Shell Poised To Become Just Shell

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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