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Last Updated: August 30, 2018
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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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The Impact of COVID 19 In The Downstream Oil & Gas Sector

Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.

Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.

Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and  power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.

Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.

But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.

Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.

Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)

Region
Consumption (mmb/d)*
Refining Capacity (mmb/d)
North America

22.71

22.33

Latin America

6.5

5.98

Europe

14.27

15.68

CIS

4.0

8.16

Middle East

9.0

9.7

Africa

3.96

3.4

Asia-Pacific

35

34.75

Total

95.44

100.05

*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$33-37/b, WTI – US$30-33/b
  • Crude oil prices hold their recent gains, staying rangebound with demand gradually improving as lockdown slowly ease
  • Worries that global oil supply would increase after June - when the OPEC+ supply deal eases and higher prices bring back some free-market production - kept prices in check
  • Russia has signalled that it intends to ease back immediately in line with the supply deal, but Saudi Arabia and its allies are pushing for the 9.7 mmb/d cut to be extended to end-2020, putting the two oil producers on another collision course that previously resulted in a price war
  • Morgan Stanley expects Brent prices to rise to US$40/b by 4Q 2020, but cautioned that a full recovery was only likely to materialise in 2021

End of Article

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May, 31 2020
North American crude oil prices are closely, but not perfectly, connected

selected North American crude oil prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.

The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.

Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.

pricing locations of selected North American crudes

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.

Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.

Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.

Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.

Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett

May, 28 2020
Financial Review: 2019

Key findings

  • Brent crude oil daily average prices were $64.16 per barrel in 2019—11% lower than 2018 levels
  • The 102 companies analyzed in this study increased their combined liquids and natural gas production 2% from 2018 to 2019
  • Proved reserves additions in 2019 were about the same as the 2010–18 annual average
  • Finding plus lifting costs increased 13% from 2018 to 2019
  • Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum contributed to the largest reserve acquisition costs incurred for the group of companies since 2016
  • Refiners’ earnings per barrel declined slightly from 2018 to 2019

See entire annual review

May, 26 2020