‘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.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b
Headlines of the week
Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.
WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.
Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).
On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.
Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.
Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.
Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.
Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 March 2020 – Brent: US$30/b; WTI: US$28/b
Headlines of the week