The US-China trade war took a turn for the worse this week and could fester for months, potentially denting Chinese economic growth and oil demand well into 2019. That spectre controlled oil market sentiment almost to the exclusion of all other influences this week and had forced Brent to re-test recent support levels around $71/barrel on Friday.
Decisions by Washington and Beijing on August 7 and 8, to proceed with a second round of bilateral tariffs on $16 billion worth of annual imports starting from August 23, squashed any hopes of a return to negotiations. The Trump administration wants to narrow the $375-billion trade gap the US had with China as of 2017 and has threatened to impose duties on all $500 billion worth of its imports from the Asian giant. China is expected to run out of ammunition in its reciprocal retaliation much before that finish line, and yet, it is hard to see it backing off.
Chinese oil consumption is still centered around manufacturing despite the economy’s ongoing pivot to a services-led growth model, and there have been other signs of a demand slowdown, especially after the independent refiners or “teapots”, were hit hard by tightened tax regulations in March that had nothing to do with the tariffs dispute.
Crude imports by China, the largest in the world and a closely monitored proxy for its appetite, slipped two months in a row over May and June. Though there was a slight uptick in July imports to around 8.52 million b/d from a six-month nadir of 8.39 million b/d in June, market confidence in the country’s growth has been shaken.
Consensus expectations on US economic growth remain sanguine but it may be worth paying closer attention to its oil consumption data. Refined products supplied across the US, a proxy for consumption, averaged around 20.93 million b/d in the week to August 3, a slump of 1 million b/d from the corresponding week of 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration. Gasoline use, which accounts for nearly 45% of US oil demand, slid by 540,000 b/d from a week ago to around 9.35 million b/d, in the midst of the country’s peak summer driving demand season. However, four-week average figures, which smooths out volatility that may be more noise than signal, do not indicate any major downtrends.
In a curious last-minute twist in the trade war, China dropped US crude from its list of items that will attract 25% import duty from August 23 and included diesel, jet fuel, naphtha and propane, alongside a host of petrochemical products. The about-turn on crude could be aimed at alleviating pressure on Chinese refiners and holding it as a trump card for later use when Beijing’s leverage in terms of the value of remaining goods to tax withers.
China was the largest overseas buyer of US crude in May, averaging 427,000 b/d of imports, according to the latest monthly data from the EIA. Imports spiked to a record 553,000 b/d in June, according to Reuters. However, Chinese refiners began shunning US crude from July and may not risk resuming imports despite the commodity having been left off the latest tariff list, for fear that it may be reinstated any time. US LNG, which China had left alone but decided to threaten with a 25% import tariff on August 3, is a case in point.
The broader global economic fallout of a bitter fight between the world’s two largest economies defies prediction, but appears to have invited a general sense of gloom as far as oil demand is concerned. That may have been helped by bearishness closing in from the supply side as well. Growing flows from some of the OPEC/non-OPEC producers who have been ramping up in line with the ministerial agreement in Vienna on June 23 to boost collective output by up 1 million b/d have hit progressively the market since June (the Saudis had likely started ramping up that month, even before the Vienna deal).
A moderate-sized contango has entrenched itself at the front end of the Brent forward curve since mid-July, a market state that typically signals supply overshadowing demand. However, WTI, Dubai and Oman time spreads are in backwardation.
What's next for oil? We see no escape from the vortex of bearishness for the next few weeks, though we expect the OPEC/non-OPEC leadership to regroup to shore up prices if Brent breaches the key psychological level of $70/barrel. Looking beyond the next few weeks, the combination of Iran sanctions, moderating US oil production growth, and an exhausted OPEC/non-OPEC spare production capacity could hit the market with a perfect storm in Q4.
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‘Nine to five plus a single employer’ is no longer an equation that the current workforce operates on. This traditional marketplace has been disrupted with the advent of new technology that has heralded gig or on-demand economy. Players like Uber, Airbnb, & Deliveroo offer a classic example of how these innovators have leveraged on this concept of gig economy and have shaken up the traditional setup. Millions of people today, prefer flexible work timings, multiple employers, interest-based projects and multiple revenue streams, the working style we commonly refer to as gig economy.
CIPD describes the gig economy as a new way of working that is based on the temporary jobs or projects, which is paid on the project or hourly basis. It is also referred to as the ‘sharing economy’ or ‘collaborative economy’
The gig economy: pros and cons in the context of the Oil & Gas Industry
The Oil and Gas industry is considered traditional when it comes to adapting to new technology or concepts. However, the notion is changing now with 30% of its workforce comprising of gig workers and the trend is expected to rise in coming years. Instead of depending on the recruitment agencies, companies are now focussing on targeted industry digital platforms to search, shortlist, verify and hire the gig contractors or freelancers. However, like everything else, there are pros and cons of hiring freelancers or gig employees:
Reduced Overhead cost
The cost of hiring an in-house employee is immense because apart from salary it also includes costs of insurance, perks, benefits, training, leaves, and cost associated with providing the facilities like internet, sitting arrangements, refreshments, canteen, electricity, and so on. All the extra cost apart from salary gets waived off when it comes to hiring gig employees or also known as “freelancers” in the market. Thus reducing the huge chunk of overhead cost for the employing company.
Low Financial Risk
In the case of full-time employees, the company needs to pay even during “down-times” when the work is low, or the productivity standards are not met. However, in the case of temporary staff or freelancers, the company only pays for the work accomplished as per the specified standard. Thereby lowering the financial risk.
Bigger and better pool of talent
The energy sector is a highly specialized sector and hence requires employees with a specific skill set. Specially for an on-site project, location is the biggest constraint. What if you do not find the right talent at your location? Then you are left with two options: either to hire a new employee and provide training or offload and distribute the work to the current employees. Both this scenario is risky. That’s when the gig employees are a real life-saver. The boundaries are no barrier, you can gain access to any person sitting in any part of the world. You do not even have to compromise on the skills and invest in training.
Innovation and knowledge-sharing
The company spends a substantial amount on strategizing and talent development. However, when you opt for a freelancer, you gain access to knowledge that the employee brings in by working with other organizations. So, in the oil and gas sector, a new employee can bring an innovation in the process or methodology by his experience and observation with different clients.
Round the clock functioning
Sometimes, the gig employee operates from different time zone which means that you can get your work running even while you have closed down at your part of the world. Additionally, you can reach out to freelancers for revisions, urgent works, even after the fixed working hours and during weekends, which is a great relief during tight-deadline projects.
Lack of supervision and discipline
Most gig workers operate remotely, and you cannot monitor their work physically which means that you can never be sure whether the hourly rates that the employee billed you for, is actually spent on work or for leisure. However, now there are numerous monitoring sites like Hubstaff that tracks the productivity level of the employee. Also, working in oil and gas sector involves potential hazards that can lead to serious injuries and even death. In case of remote workers, managing and monitoring all safety measures pertaining to explosions and fires, equipment safety, machine hazards and so on is a daunting task.
Until you gain mutual trust, there is a lot at the stake. For example: if you hire a temporary staff or freelancer to work on a project, you cannot be certain if the person will be able to deliver his/her duties. The risk of losing time, money, and energy is high. If all turns well, you can enjoy the perks however if it didn’t go your way then you suffer a loss on multiple levels. To avoid this scenario, it is advisable to ask for previous work references and keep reviewing the work periodically so that you are aware of the direction things are shaping in.
Loyalty and company ethics
Because, each company has its own set of principles and working guidelines which forms the culture of the company, it is challenging for the freelancer to operate as per the company’s code of conduct or policies. Furthermore, they work for multiple clients at a time, their loyalty may be questionable.
Training and development issue
Every company works and operates differently though key process remains the same. The complete onboarding of the remote worker is not possible as in the case of a full-time employee where the company’s working style becomes their second nature. Additionally, the effort to organize a training program for the gig worker is tricky because of the location and time bound issues.
Thus, for a dynamic industry like oil and gas, gig employees can be an asset if they can bring in the required expertise, skill set and attitude to outperform your expectation. You can find the right talent by using dedicated oil & gas professional networking platforms that bring talents and employers together. Use it to your advantage and you are good to go.
Malaysia has the fourth largest oil and gas reserve in Southeast Asia and produces a whopping 30,000 megawatts of energy per year. The country continues to be hopeful about the prospects of its oil & gas industry and expects it to contribute meaningfully towards the growth of its economy. But then again, what does it mean for the employees who are working in the industry or plan to enter it? Is it a profitable industry in terms of salary growth and expectations? Let’s figure out what the industry holds for its employees and job seekers of oil and gas jobs in Malaysia.
What does the number say?
The best way to analyze the oil and gas job sector is to look at the recent studies and research conducted, which can give a substantial view into the future of the industry. As per the statistics department, Malaysia saw 8.1% growth in the salary in 2017 amounting to RM 2880 as compared to 2016, in which the average salary recorded was RM 2657. Additionally, the chief statistician of the department, Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, said that an increase in the mean monthly salary and also the wages are in sync with the country’s economic performance. Even the exports indicated to grow by 20.3% which amounts to RM935.5bil. He made these observations based on the results of Salaries and Wages Survey 2017 of oil and gas professionals and entry-level oil and gas job seekers.
What the number means for prospects of oil and gas salary in Malaysia
If the above data is viewed on a sectoral basis, then the mining and quarrying sector indicated the highest monthly salaries as well as wages, which amounted to a mean of RM5,709 and a median of RM3,700.
Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, further added that capital-intensive industries like the oil and gas, which is a major part of mining and quarrying sector, employs professionals, who are highly skilled and hence a bigger paycheck and higher mean and median salary.
The observation made by the chief statistician gets further backing by an online job site’s employment index. Although, it shows a decrease of 11% in May 2018 for the hiring activities in comparison to the previous year. However, it pointed towards a steep growth in the Oil & Gas sector. The hiring activity went up by 14% year-on-year in May 2018.
What can be the salary expectations for energy professionals?
The above studies and research indicate a positive outlook for both upstream and downstream players of this sector. However, it is important to note that a lot of factors help to determine your salary potential, which includes: education, years of experience, expertise, work ethics, job location, skill set and so on.
As per payscale.com, a Petroleum Engineer can earn on an average RM 104,343 per year. Which means an average salary of RM 99,803 with an estimated average bonus of RM 22,500 and profit sharing of RM 5120. Your experience and education play a major role in determining your salary. Similarly, in oil and gas industry, the average salary of a mechanical engineer amounts to RM 72,000 whereas the average salary of Account is RM 82,248 and for Project Engineer is RM 57,000 while a sales manager has the potential of RM 120,000.
Since the industry prefers professionals with high-level skills in the respective areas, it is advisable to enhance your overall employability factors to enjoy higher compensation and perks. And also use oil and gas professional networks to your advantage in getting the desired contacts and opportunities.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 August 2018 – Brent: US$72/b; WTI: US$67/b
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