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Last Updated: December 14, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 December 2018 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$52/b

  • Crude prices strengthened at the start of this week, with OPEC delivering an agreement that will see production across the OPEC+ alliance decline by 1.2 mmb/d beginning January 2019
  • Two-thirds or 800,000 b/d of the cut will be borne by OPEC – with most of it taken up by Saudi Arabia – while the non-OPEC group will take up a cut of 400,000 b/d, most of which will be taken up by Russia
  • Skepticism has reigned before the supply deal was reached, as the first day of the OPEC meeting in Vienna closed without consensus and the threads holding OPEC together showed some stress when Qatar decided to quit the group
  • Crude prices were also boosted by Libya declaring force majeure at its largest oil field at El Sharara over arm protests, while Canada’s Alberta province announced plans to pare back some 325,000 b/d of output to ease a huge glut
  • The coordinated supply deal by OPEC ‘was not easy’ according to UAE Minister of Energy and Industry, with Iran in particular balking at being asked to sign up to a symbolic cut; this might not augur well for future supply deals that might be necessary given current trends
  • However, the supply cut will only last until April 2019, when the terms are due for a review, which would give OPEC+ enough time to consider and deal with the expiration of American waivers for eight countries over continued import of Iranian crude in May
  • Meanwhile, America became a net oil exporter for the first time in almost 75 years, as the unprecedented boom in US crude oil fuelled by the shale revolution powers on, a development that could dilute OPEC+’s attempt to support global crude prices
  • The recent weakening of WTI prices saw the US lose 10 active oil rigs last week, however, the addition of 9 new gas rigs led to a net loss of only 1 in the Baker Hughes active US rig count
  • Crude price outlook: OPEC+’s decision might have provided some relief, but may not be enough to keep crude oil prices trending upwards. Expect prices to moderate to US$60-61/b for Brent and US$50-51/b for WTI

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • ExxonMobil’s winning streak in Guyana continues, as it announces its 10th offshore discovery at the Pluma-1 well, boosting estimated recoverable resources in the Stabroek block by almost 1 mmb/d to over 5 mmb/d
  • Apache has initiated production at the Garten field in the UK North Sea, with an output rate of 13,700 b/d and 15.7 bcf/d of natural gas
  • Chevron has raised its capital expenditure for the first time since 2014 into US$20 billion, with a major focus on expanding operations in the Permian Basin as well as on the Tengiz megaproject in Kazakhstan
  • Canada’s Alberta province, weighed down by a supply glut caused by pipeline bottlenecks, has announced moves to reduce the region’s output by 325,000 b/d
  • Equinor and Faroe Petroleum have agreed to trade a number of assets in the Norwegian Sea and the Norwegian Continental Shelf North Sea, encompassing the Njord, Bauge Hyme, Vilje Ringhome, Marulk and Alve fields, with the deal described as a ‘balanced swap’ in terms of value with no cash consideration

Downstream

  • CNPC’s US$9.53 billion joint venture integrated 400 kb/d petrochemicals/refinery project with PDVSA in Jieyang, China has been reactivated, and is now expected to begin operations in late 2021
  • French president Emmanuel Macron has backtracked and suspended a planned fuel-tax hike, after weeks of violent riots by the so-called Yellow Vests grassroot groups of up to 300,000 protestors
  • Limetree Bay Ventures has secured US$1.25 billion in financing that paves the way for the Limetree Bay refinery in the US Virgin Islands to restart after being idled for years, partnering with BP Products North America on the project

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Equinor has received permission from the Norwegian government to proceed with the development of Troll Phase 3, delivering an additional 2.2 billion boe/d of natural gas with a planned start-up timeframe of 1H2021
  • Shell has completed the construction of Gibraltar’s first LNG regasification facility, a small-scale project that will feed a new power plant in the territory
  • Trinidad and Tobago has agreed to allow BP and Shell to extend the operational life of the Atlantic LNG Train 1 in Point Fortin by five years, with the country receiving the ability to sell LNG cargoes through its state gas firm
  • Tokyo Gas and the Philippines’ First Gen Corporation have signed a joint development agreement to build and operate an LNG receiving terminal, as the three-horse race narrows over the country’s first LNG import facility
  • American LNG player Tellurian has agreed to supply trader Vitol with some 1.5 mtpa of LNG over 15 years from its 27.6 mtpa Driftwood LNG export terminal currently being developed in Calcasiue River, Louisiana
  • Tanzania is opening talks with Equinor and ExxonMobil to launch the East African nation’s first LNG project, likely to derive gas from the Equinor-operated offshore Block 2
  • Shell is expecting to produce its first cargo of LNG from its Prelude FLNG facility in Australia before the end of 2018

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Royal Dutch Shell Poised To Become Just Shell

On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.

But why this and why now?

There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.

There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.

As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.

The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.

So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.

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