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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 27 August 2018 – Brent: US$76/b; WTI: US$68/b

  • Having risen progressively over last week over a larger-than-expected fall in US crude stockpiles and signs that the sanctions on Iranian crude are beginning to bite, crude prices started the week off on even trends.
  • While the Trump administration has been starting fires over trade with allies and foes alike, news that the US and Mexico may have come to agreement over a new bilateral trade agreement to replace NAFTA has calmed markets, with Canada also reportedly mulling over concessions to secure a new trade deal.
  • Strong demand in Asia, particularly from China, and modest gains in OPEC output have also been helpful for prices, with OPEC reporting that its member nations had cut output in July by 9% more than was called for.
  • News that OPEC’s compliance level over the (previous) supply reduction agreement was 120% in June and 147% in May stoked some fears that the market balance could tighten increasingly over the rest of the year.
  • The Iranian question is still hanging like the Sword of Damocles over the market, and OPEC looks like it will be kicking the ball further down the road, announcing that it will only discuss if its members can compensate for a sudden drop in Iranian oil supply at its next bi-annual meeting in December.
  • The awkward introduction of the new sovereign bolivar in Venezuela – linked to its new petro-cryptocurrency and crude prices – raises worries that the implosion in Venezuelan could derail OPEC’s careful plans.
  • There is conflicting news over Saudi Aramco’s planned IPO – news has filtered out that the IPO is being shelved temporarily to concentrate on an acquisition in SABIC, but the government has just granted Aramco an official 40 year concession for exploration rights to bolster the company’s value.
  • With crude prices in flux, the active rig count in the US has also been very fluid, moving from a huge gain two weeks ago, to being flat last week, to dropping by 13 this week – the biggest drop in two years – as 9 oil rigs and 4 gas rigs stopped work.
  • Crude price outlook: Signs that the market is tightening will see crude prices on a rising tide this week. We expect Brent to trade in the US$76-78/b range, while WTI will inch up towards the US$70/b mark.


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • ConocoPhillips and PDVSA have settled their long-running dispute over the nationalisation of the Venezuelan oil industry, with PDVSA agreeing to pay some US$2 billion in recovery fees to COP.
  • Angola has created a new regulator for its upstream industry, seeking to break Sonangol’s grip on the energy industry by transferring its role as the national concessionaire to the new National Agency of Petroleum and Gasin (NOGA) by 2020, with the goal on reviving flailing upstream output.

Downstream

  • Abu Dhabi’s Adnoc is looking to sell minority stakes in its US$20 billion refining business, with Eni and Austria’s OMV – already its existing partners with Adnoc on the upstream side – reportedly being the front-runners.
  • CNPC has completed the planned upgrade of its Shymkent refinery in Kazakhstan, installing a new catalytic cracker unit to boost fuel quality from Euro II to Euro IV/V.
  • Petronas is on the hunt for specialty chemicals acquisitions, for both ‘technology and market penetration’, as it prepares to capitalise on its upcoming jump in petrochemicals production through the RAPID project.
  • Indonesia has allowed nine new companies to sell biodiesel, including the local outfits of ExxonMobil and Shell, as it moves to implement a hard B20 biodiesel mandate across the country to reduce costly gasoil imports.
  • China has sold diesel to South Africa for the first time through Sinopec, a sign that Chinese refiners are struggling to deal with a domestic supply glut.
  • Glencore has been given the go-ahead by South Africa’s competition watchdog to purchase Chevron’s downstream assets in SA and Botswana for US$900 million, potentially scuppering an earlier sale to Sinopec.
  • Despite chaos at home over the introduction of a new cryptocurrency, PDVSA has reached an agreement with NuStar Energy to resume usage of the St. Eustatius storage facility in the Caribbean after settling outstanding fees.

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Total has sold off its 26% stake in India’s Hazira LNG project to Shell, boosting Shell’s share of the import project in Gujarat to 74%; as part of the same deal, Shell has also agreed to buy some 500,000 tpa of LNG over five years beginning in 2019 from Total, to be delivered into India and South Asia.
  • Carnavron Petroleum and Quadrant Energy have completed their initial assessment of the North West Shelf Dorado discovery, estimating that it has some 1.1 tcf of natural gas resources in place.
  • Sinopec and Zhejiang Energy Group are building a new 3 million tpa LNG plant in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, with the first phase of the project planned to be operational by 2021 as Sinopec’s fourth LNG receiving terminal.
  • Thailand’s state-run Electricity Generating Authority (EGAT) is looking to import LNG directly for the first time, as the country plans to boost competition in the power sector, breaking a monopoly held by PTT.

Corporate

  • Saudi Aramco is reportedly putting plans for a giant IPO on hold so that it can focus on a more immediate goal of purchasing a strategic stake in SABIC, a transaction that could cost as much as US$70 billion.
  • Santos has agreed to entirely purchase West Australian specialist Quadrant Energy – partner in the giant Dorado discovery – for US$2.15 billion.

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Natural gas inventories surpass five-year average for the first time in two years

Working natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states totaled 3,519 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ending October 11, 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). This is the first week that Lower 48 states’ working gas inventories have exceeded the previous five-year average since September 22, 2017. Weekly injections in three of the past four weeks each surpassed 100 Bcf, or about 27% more than typical injections for that time of year.

Working natural gas capacity at underground storage facilities helps market participants balance the supply and consumption of natural gas. Inventories in each of the five regions are based on varying commercial, risk management, and reliability goals.

When determining whether natural gas inventories are relatively high or low, EIA uses the average inventories for that same week in each of the previous five years. Relatively low inventories heading into winter months can put upward pressure on natural gas prices. Conversely, relatively high inventories can put downward pressure on natural gas prices.

This week’s inventory level ends a 106-week streak of lower-than-normal natural gas inventories. Natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states entered the winter of 2017–18 lower than the previous average. Episodes of relatively cold temperatures in the winter of 2017–18—including a bomb cyclone—resulted in record withdrawals from storage, increasing the deficit to the five-year average.

In the subsequent refill season (typically April through October), sustained warmer-than-normal temperatures increased electricity demand for natural gas. Increased demand slowed natural gas storage injection activity through the summer and fall of 2018. By November 30, 2018, the deficit to the five-year average had grown to 725 Bcf. Inventories in that week were 20% lower than the previous five-year average for that time of year. Throughout the 2019 refill season, record levels of U.S. natural gas production led to relatively high injections of natural gas into storage and reduced the deficit to the previous five-year average.

The deficit was also decreased as last year’s low inventory levels are rolled into the previous five-year average. For this week in 2019, the preceding five-year average is about 124 Bcf lower than it was for the same week last year. Consequently, the gap has closed in part based on a lower five-year average.

Lower 48 natural gas inventories, difference to five-year average

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report

The level of working natural gas inventories relative to the previous five-year average tends to be inversely correlated with natural gas prices. Front-month futures prices at the Henry Hub, the main price benchmark for natural gas in the United States, were as low as $1.67 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in early 2016. At about that same time, natural gas inventories were 874 Bcf more than the previous five-year average.

By the winter of 2018–19, natural gas front-month futures prices reached their highest level in several years. Natural gas inventories fell to 725 Bcf less than the previous five-year average on November 30, 2018. In recent weeks, increasing the Lower 48 states’ natural gas storage levels have contributed to lower natural gas futures prices.

Lower 48 natural gas inventories and Henry Hub futures prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report and front-month futures prices from New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX)

October, 21 2019
Your Weekly Update: 14 - 18 October 2019

Market Watch  

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 October 2019 – Brent: US$59/b; WTI: US$53/b

  • Crude oil prices remain stubbornly stuck in their range, despite several key issues that could potentially move the market occurring over the week
  • The sudden thawing of the icy trade relations between the US and China last week – announcing a partial trade deal where new tariffs would be halted – was a positive for the waning health of the global economy; this, however, failed to send prices any higher as previous optimism has always been dashed
  • The trade spat has already caused fears of an economic recession and tumbling global oil demand, with the IEA projecting yet another drop in the demand that has neutralised another possible ‘geopolitical premium’ on prices
  • That geopolitical premium focuses on the fragile situation in the Middle East, with risk spiking up as Iran announced that one of its tankers in the Red Sea – far away from the Persian Gulf - had been struck by missiles; an initial accusation that Saudi Arabia was behind the attack was later withdrawn
  • Meanwhile, news emerged that Nigeria had been quietly handed an increased quota under the OPEC+ supply deal, from 1.685 mmb/d to 1.774 mmb/d, in July, which would help it meet compliance under the deal
  • After more than two months of continuous declines, the US active rig count increased for the first time, but not by much; two oil rigs were added, offset by the loss of a gas rig, but a net gain of 1 to a total of 856
  • We expect prices to remain entrenched as it displays resilience against political and economic factors, with Brent hovering in the US$58-60/b area and WTI at the US$52-54/b range


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • The US Department of the Interior will be opening up 722,000 acres of federal land along California’s central coast near Fresno, San Benito and Monterey for oil and gas leasing – the first sale in the state since 2013
  • Alongside the lease sale in California, the US will also be opening up some 78 million acres in Gulf of Mexico federal waters for sale in 2020, covering all available unleased areas not subject to Congressional moratorium
  • Santos has confirmed oil flows at the Dorado-3 well in the Bedout Basin offshore Western Australia, with some 11,1000 b/d in place
  • After having exited Norway, ExxonMobil is now reportedly looking into selling its Malaysian offshore upstream assets as part of its divestiture programme, fetching up to US$3 billion for assets including the Tapis Blend operations
  • Equinor has won a new exploration permit – WA-542-P – in the offshore Western Australia Northern Carnarvon Basin, located new the Dorado well
  • Nigeria is looking to settle a US$62 billion income-sharing dispute with international oil firms such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and Eni operating in the country, with hopes of reaching a settlement
  • Barbados is looking to emulate its nearby neighbour Guyana as it gears up for its third offshore bid round that will launch in early 2020
  • Petroecuador has been forced to declare force majeure on its crude exports, as widespread protests over the removal of fuel subsidies have led to the shutdown of some oilfields
  • Abu Dhabi is looking to create a new benchmark price for Middle Eastern crude based on its Murban grade that could compete with Brent and WTI

Midstream/Downstream

  • Aruba has ended its contract with Citgo – PDVSA’s US refining arm – to operate its 209,000 b/d refinery that is currently idled; a new operator is being sought, paralleling the situation over Curacao’s Isla refinery and PDVSA
  • Poland’s crude pipeline operator expects to only be able to clear its system of contaminated Russian oil from the Druzhba incident by July 2020
  • Gunvor’s Rotterdam refinery will only be able to produce low sulfur fuel oil by March 2020, part of a larger planned overhaul of the 88,000 b/d site

Natural Gas/LNG

  • After Total’s departure, it is now the turn of CNPC to quit the South Pars Phase 11 project in Iran, leaving Iran to go ahead alone its largest natural gas project ever as the threat of US sanctions bites down
  • CNPC has taken over operation of the Chuandongbei sour gas field in China’s Sichuan basin from Chevron, and will kick of Phase 2 development soon
  • Qatar has invited ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips and some other ‘big players’ to assist in the North Field expansion that will underpin its ambitions to boost gas output to 110 million tpa from a current 77 million tpa
  • The FID on the Rovuma LNG project in Mozambique has been pushed back by a year, with first production now expected by 2025 at the earliest
  • Pakistan has cancelled a ‘huge’ 10-year tender covering 240 LNG cargoes to its second LNG terminal, turning instead to spot cargoes due to inadequate demand
  • Inpex has formally received a 35-year extension for the PSC covering the Abadi LNG project in Indonesia, extending its operation of the Masela block to 2055
October, 18 2019
Ecuador Exits OPEC

Amid ongoing political unrest, Ecuador has chosen to withdraw from OPEC in January 2020. Citing a need to boost oil revenues by being ‘honest about its ability to endure further cuts’, Ecuador is prioritising crude production and welcoming new oil investment (free from production constraints) as President Lenin Moreno pursues more market-friendly economic policies. But his decisions have caused unrest; the removal of fuel subsidies – which effectively double domestic fuel prices – have triggered an ongoing widespread protests after 40 years of low prices. To balance its fiscal books, Ecuador’s priorities have changed.

The departure is symbolic. Ecuador’s production amounts to some 540,000 b/d of crude oil. It has historically exceeded its allocated quota within the wider OPEC supply deal, but given its smaller volumes, does not have a major impact on OPEC’s total output. The divorce is also not acrimonious, with Ecuador promising to continue supporting OPEC’s efforts to stabilise the oil market where it can. 

This isn’t the first time, or the last time, that a country will quit OPEC. Ecuador itself has already done so once, withdrawing in December 1992. Back then, Quito cited fiscal problems, balking at the high membership fee – US$2 million per year – and that it needed to prioritise increasing production over output discipline. Ecuador rejoined in October 2007. Similar circumstances over supply constraints also prompted Gabon to withdraw in January 1995, returning only in July 2016. The likelihood of Ecuador returning is high, given this history, but there are also two OPEC members that have departed seemingly permanently.

The first is Indonesia, which exited OPEC in 2008 after 46 years of membership. Chronic mismanagement of its upstream resources had led Indonesia to become a net importer of crude oil since the early 2000s and therefore unable to meet its production quota. Indonesia did rejoin OPEC briefly in January 2016 after managing to (slightly) improve its crude balance, but was forced to withdraw once again in December 2016 when OPEC began requesting more comprehensive production cuts to stabilise prices. But while Indonesia may return, Qatar is likely gone permanently. Officially, Qatar exited OPEC in January 2019 after 48 years of continuous membership to focus on natural gas production, which dwarfs its crude output. Unofficially, geopolitical tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia – which has resulted in an ongoing blockade and boycott – contributed to the split.

The exit of Ecuador will not make much material difference to OPEC’s current goal of controlling supply to stabilise prices. With Saudi production back at full capacity – and showing the willingness to turn its taps on or off to control the market – gains in Ecuador’s crude production can be offset elsewhere. What matters is optics. The exit leaves the impression that OPEC’s power is weakening, limiting its ability to influence the market by controlling supply. There are also ongoing tensions brewing within OPEC, specifically between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The continued implosion of the Venezuelan economy is also an issue. OPEC will survive the exit of Ecuador; but if Iran or Venezuela choose to go, then it will face a full-blown existential crisis. 

Current OPEC membership:

  • Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE
  • Africa: Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya, Nigeria, Republic of Congo
  • Latin America: Venezuela
  • Total: 13
  • Withdrawing: Ecuador (January 2020)
  • Membership under consideration: Sudan (October 2015)
October, 18 2019