It has been a year of surprising elections so far. A historic change in Malaysia. Imran Khan in power in Pakistan. And Mexico veering left by electing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – also known as AMLO – embracing nationalistic and socialist policies after Peña Nieto embarked on a liberalisation drive that busted open long-held monopolies.
The election presages possible changes in Mexico’s energy sector, threatening to undo the gains triggered when former President Nieto broke state-owned Pemex’s dominance in both upstream and downstream. The result? Foreign investment soared. The retail sector was the first to see major change – Shell, BP and even Glencore have set up fuel networks. Pipelines were next, with American firms rushing to connect the US Gulf Coast to energy-hungry Mexico. Net imports of fuel are rising, but that is a symptom of an ageing and ailing refining industry. In upstream, Mexico has offered up blocks for auction to private players over the past two years, attracting plenty of interest from firms like ExxonMobil and Chevron, especially in the deepwater Gulf.
That may change now. AMLO is more protectionist, and indications of his policies when he assumed Presidentship on 1 December 2018 show that he wants to reinstate (some) power to Pemex. He originally vehemently opposed the breakup of the state’s stranglehold on the energy sector, and though he has moderated his position, he still wants the state to play a bigger role than envisaged under Nieto. AMLO reportedly wants to suspend all oil auctions for two years, possibly up to six years, after two successful auctions with high foreign participation. He also wants to review all 107 E&P contacts already awarded, weaken the new technocratic approach at the national regulator, make Pemex the sole marketer of all fuels (included volumes privately-produced) and allow Pemex to choose its upstream private-sector partners, rather than be paired up with the highest bidders. In short, AMLO wants to turn Pemex from Pertamina to Petronas.
It could go even further. AMLO also wants to roll back the new oil and gas laws, a change that would go beyond adjusting current legislation to creating a new law. That is a lot tougher, as it requires a change to the constitution, which is difficult given the fragile state of politics in Mexico. Raising local content rules is also in the works. This is a move that always rankles foreign investors, taking Pemex in the direction of Petrobras – once lauded, but beset with graft scandals brought about by corruption practised between domestic players; but unlike Petrobras, Pemex does not have the lure of vast pre-salt deposits.
This could be a disaster. The supermajors and majors began re-entering Mexico after a long absence in 2017 because Peña Nieto created an environment conducive for them. Rolling back those changes could drive them away, and their much-needed capital. Pemex, like Pertamina, is in no position to fund AMLO’s ambitious plans for Mexican energy. It needs foreign expertise, and crucially, foreign money. To take Pemex towards the standard of a Petronas or Saudi Aramco is a great and laudable ambition; AMLO’s policies are not the way to achieve that.
AMLO’s targets for Mexican energy
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When it was first announced in 2012, there was scepticism about whether or not Petronas’ RAPID refinery in Johor was destined for reality or cancellation. It came at a time when the refining industry saw multiple ambitious, sometimes unpractical, projects announced. At that point, Petronas – though one of the most respected state oil firms – was still seen as more of an upstream player internationally. Its downstream forays were largely confined to its home base Malaysia and specialty chemicals, as well as a surprising venture into South African through Engen. Its refineries, too, were relatively small. So the announcement that Petronas was planning essentially, its own Jamnagar, promoted some pessimism. Could it succeed?
It has. The RAPID refinery – part of a larger plan to turn the Pengerang district in southern Johor into an oil refining and storage hub capitalising on linkages with Singapore – received its first cargo of crude oil for testing in September 2018. Mechanical completion was achieved on November 29 and all critical units have begun commissioning ahead of the expected firing up of RAPID’s 300 kb/d CDU later this month. A second cargo of 2 million barrels of Saudi crude arrived at RAPID last week. It seems like it’s all systems go for RAPID. But it wasn’t always so clear cut. Financing difficulties – and the 2015 crude oil price crash – put the US$27 billion project on shaky ground for a while, and it was only when Saudi Aramco swooped in to purchase a US$7 billion stake in the project that it started coalescing. Petronas had been courting Aramco since the start of the project, mainly as a crude provider, but having the Saudi giant on board was the final step towards FID. It guaranteed a stable supply of crude for Petronas; and for Aramco, RAPID gave it a foothold in a major global refining hub area as part of its strategy to expand downstream.
But RAPID will be entering into a market quite different than when it was first announced. In 2012, demand for fuel products was concentrated on light distillates; in 2019, that focus has changed. Impending new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations are requiring shippers to switch from burning cheap (and dirty) fuel oil to using cleaner middle distillate gasoils. This plays well into complex refineries like RAPID, specialising in cracking heavy and medium Arabian crude into valuable products. But the issue is that Asia and the rest of the world is currently swamped with gasoline. A whole host of new Asian refineries – the latest being the 200 kb/d Nghi Son in Vietnam – have contributed to growing volumes of gasoline with no home in Asia. Gasoline refining margins in Singapore have taken a hit, falling into negative territory for the first time in seven years. Adding RAPID to the equation places more pressure on gasoline margins, even though margins for middle distillates are still very healthy. And with three other large Asian refinery projects scheduled to come online in 2019 – one in Brunei and two in China – that glut will only grow.
The safety valve for RAPID (and indeed the other refineries due this year) is that they have been planned with deep petrochemicals integration, using naphtha produced from the refinery portion. RAPID itself is planned to have capacity of 3 million tpa of ethylene, propylene and other olefins – still a lucrative market that justifies the mega-investment. But it will be at least two years before RAPID’s petrochemicals portion will be ready to start up, and when it does, it’ll face the same set of challenging circumstances as refineries like Hengli’s 400 kb/d Dalian Changxing plant also bring online their petchem operations. But that is a problem for the future and for now, RAPID is first out of the gate into reality. It won’t be entering in a bonanza fuels market as predicted in 2012, but there is still space in the market for RAPID – and a few other like in – at least for now.
RAPID Refinery Factsheet:
Tyre market in Bangladesh is forecasted to grow at over 9% until 2020 on the back of growth in automobile sales, advancements in public infrastructure, and development-seeking government policies.
The government has emphasized on the road infrastructure of the country, which has been instrumental in driving vehicle sales in the country.
The tyre market reached Tk 4,750 crore last year, up from about Tk 4,000 crore in 2017, according to market insiders.
The commercial vehicle tyre segment dominates this industry with around 80% of the market share. At least 1.5 lakh pieces of tyres in the segment were sold in 2018.
In the commercial vehicle tyre segment, the MRF's market share is 30%. Apollo controls 5% of the segment, Birla 10%, CEAT 3%, and Hankook 1%. The rest 51% is controlled by non-branded Chinese tyres.
However, Bangladesh mostly lacks in tyre manufacturing setups, which leads to tyre imports from other countries as the only feasible option to meet the demand. The company largely imports tyre from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
Automobile and tyre sales in Bangladesh are expected to grow with the rising in purchasing power of people as well as growing investments and joint ventures of foreign market players. The country might become the exporting destination for global tyre manufacturers.
Several global tyre giants have also expressed interest in making significant investments by setting up their manufacturing units in the country.
This reflects an opportunity for local companies to set up an indigenous manufacturing base in Bangladesh and also enables foreign players to set up their localized production facilities to capture a significant market.
It can be said that, the rise in automobile sales, improvement in public infrastructure, and growth in purchasing power to drive the tyre market over the next five years.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 January 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$51/b
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