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Last Updated: August 16, 2019
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Market Watch 

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 12 August 2019 – Brent: US$58/b; WTI: US$54/b

  • Saudi Arabia’s overtures to further stabilise prices was met with a largely positive response by the market, allowing crude prices to claw back some ground after being hammered by demand concerns
  • Saudi officials reportedly called other members in the OPEC and OPEC+ producer clubs to discuss options on how to stem the recent rout in prices, with an anonymous official quoted as saying that it ‘would not tolerate continued price weakness’
  • Reports suggest that Saudi Arabia plans to keep its oil exports at below 7 mmb/d in September according to sales allocations, which was seen as a stabilising factor in crude price trends
  • This came after crude prices fell as the US-China trade war entered a new front, causing weakness in the Chinese Yuan, although President Trump has floated the idea of delaying the new round of tariffs beyond the current implementation timeline of September 1
  • Crude had also fallen in response to a slide in American crude oil stockpiles and a receding level of tensions in the Persian Gulf
  • In a new report, the International Energy Agency said that the outlook for global oil demand is ‘fragile’ on signs of an economic slowdown; there is also concern that China will target US crude if the US moves ahead with its tariff plan
  • The US active rig count lost another 8 rigs – 6 oil and 2 gas – the sixth consecutive weekly loss that brought the total number of active rigs to 934
  • Demand fears will continue to haunt the market, which will not be offset so easily of Saudi-led efforts to limit production; as a result, crude prices will trade rangebound with a negative slant in the US$56-58/b range for Brent and US$52-54/b for WTI


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Nearly all Anadarko shareholders have approved the Occidental Petroleum deal, completing the controversial takeover bid despite investor Carl Icahn’s attempts to derail the purchase
  • Crude oil inventories in Western Canada have fallen by 2.75 million barrels m-o-m to its lowest level since November 2017, as the production limits in Alberta appear to be doing their job in limiting a supply glut while output curbs are slowly being loosened on the arrival of more rail and pipeline capacity
  • Mid-sized Colorado players PDC Energy and SRC Energy – both active in the Denver-Julesburg Basin – are reportedly in discussion to merge their operations
  • Pemex has been granted approval by the National Hydrocarbon Commission to invest US$10 billion over 25 years to develop onshore and offshore exploration opportunities in Mexico
  • Qatar Investment Authority has acquired a ‘significant stake’ in major Permian player Oryx Midstream Services from Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners for some US$550 million, as foreign investment in the basin increases
  • PDVSA and CNPC’s Venezuelan joint venture Sinovensa has announced plans to expand blending capacity – lightening up extra-heavy Orinoco crude to medium-grade Merey – from a current 110,000 b/d to 165,000 b/d
  • BHP has approved an additional US$283 million in funding for the Ruby oil and gas project in Trinidad and Tobago, with first production expected in 2021
  • CNPC, ONGC Videsh and Petronas have reportedly walked away from their onshore acreage in Sudan, blaming unpaid oil dues on production from onshore Blocks 2A and 4 that have already reached more than US$500 million

Midstream/Downstream

  • Expected completion of Nigeria’s huge planned 650 kb/d Dangote refinery has been delayed to the end of 2020, with issues importing steel and equipment cited
  • Saudi Aramco’s US refining arm Motiva announced plans to shut several key units at its 607 kb/d Port Arthur facility in Texas for a 2-month planned maintenance, affecting its 325 kb/d CDU and the naphtha processing plant
  • ADNOC has purchased a 10% stake in global terminal operator VTTI, expanding its terminalling capacity in Asia, Africa and Europe
  • A little-known Chinese contractor Wison Engineering Services has reportedly agreed to refurbish Venezuela’s main refineries in a barter deal for oil produced, in a bid for Venezuela to evade the current US sanctions on its crude exports
  • Swiss downstream player Varo Energy will increase its stake in the 229 kb/d Bayernoil complex in Germany to 55% after purchasing BP’s 10% stake
  • India has raised the projected cost estimate of its giant planned refinery in Maharashtra – a joint venture between Indian state oil firms with Saudi Aramco and ADNOC – to US$60 billion, after farmer protests forced a relocation

Natural Gas/LNG

  • The government of Australia’s New South Wales has given its backing to South Korea’s Epik and its plan to build a new LNG import terminal in Newcastle
  • Kosmos Energy is proposing to build two new LNG facilities to tap into deepwater gas resources offshore Mauritania and Senegal under development
  • In the middle of the Pacific, the French territory of New Caledonia has started work on its Centrale Pays Project, a floating LNG terminal with an accompanying 200-megawatt power plant, with Nouvelle-Caledonia Energie seeking a 15-year LNG sales contract for roughly 200,000 tons per year

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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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