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Last Updated: December 19, 2019
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 December 2019 – Brent: US$65/b; WTI: US$60/b

  • Oil prices have stayed their recent gains, as cautious hope from the new OPEC+ deal mingles with the announcement of a phase 1 trade deal between the US and China, providing some optimism for the immediate future
  • The partial trade deal – which has not yet been signed – does not reverse any of the existing tariffs placed on US and Chinese goods by either country, but it did prevent new tariffs from kicking in on December 15; tariffs on US crude and LNG entering China, however, still remain in place
  • The deal is expected to be signed in January, provided an armistice to the trade war, but a more comprehensive trade deal probably remains further off as there are key disagreements between the two countries left unresolved
  • In response, the EIA raised its crude price forecast for the second time in a row, averaging at around US$60/b in 2020, but warns of increases in global oil inventories ‘particularly in the first half of 2020’
  • In Saudi Arabia, the Aramco IPO has proven to be a wild success; the first day of trading valued the world’s most profitable oil firm at a record US$18.8 trillion, bursting past the target US$2 trillion mark on its second day of trading
  • The valuation will underscore Saudi Arabia’s more aggressive stance at the recent OPEC meeting, balancing a need to ensure compliance with the group’s targets with keeping oil prices at an acceptable level
  • The US active rig count broke a long streak of declines, staying flat last week as a gain of 4 oil rigs was offset by the loss of 4 gas rigs; the overall rig count remained at a 32-month low at 799
  • Optimism over the trade deal will keep crude prices firm, although a lack of details on the deal’s specifics may hold back the market; Brent will remain in the US$64-66/b range, while WTI will trade at US$60-62/b levels

 

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Total is deepening its foothold in Libya, with the National Oil Corp approving the French supermajor’s acquisition of Marathon Oil’s assets – including a minority stake in the Waha concessions – for some US$450 million
  • Mexico’s Quesqui deposit – touted as Pemex’s most important find in three decades – might be smaller than expected, with estimates of 500 million barrels of light oil, condensate and gas in place, and output levels of 69,000 b/d
  • Ghana National Petroleum Company and Springfield E&P have announced a ‘significant’ oil discovery offshore Ghana, at the Afina-1 well in the West Cape Three Points Block 2, with some 1.5 billion barrels of oil in place
  • Chevron has sanctioned development on its US$5.7 billion Anchor project in the US Gulf of Mexico – the first deepwater high-pressure development in the industry, capable of handling pressures of up to 20,000 psi – with capacity for 75,000 b/d of crude and 28 mcf/d of natural gas
  • Guyana’s first crude oil exports are expected to begin in January or February 2020, a remarkable turnaround for a country where first oil was only discovered in 2015, with discoveries indicating a potential for 750,000 b/d of production
  • Talos Energy has acquired a portfolio of US Gulf of Mexico assets – from ILX Holdings, Castex Energy and Venari Resources – for some US$640 million, with a current production rate of 19,000 boe/d
  • Malaysian state giant Petronas has raised some US$1.4 billion through block trading of stakes in its subsidiaries Petronas Dagangan, Petronas Gas and MISC in order to raise capital to fund further overseas expansion in the Americas
  • ExxonMobil’s exit from Norwegian upstream is now official, with Var Energi confirming that its acquisition of ExxonMobil’s NCS assets has been completed
  • Equinor has started up its third UK crude project in 2019, with the Barnacle field starting up recently with estimated peak production levels of 4,300 b/d

Midstream/Downstream

  • China has announced the creation of a national oil and gas pipeline company, which will merge the pipeline networks of PetroChina, Sinopec and CNPC into a single firm that aims to streamline infrastructure and drive demand
  • China’s Zhejiang Petroleum & Chemical has launched its 3.8 million tpa reformer unit at its 200,000 b/d Zhoushan refinery, processing naphtha into aromatics alongside existing 1.4 mtpa ethylene and 4 mtpa paraxylene plants
  • Indonesia’s beleaguered drive to improve its refineries might clinch a concrete deal soon, as Pertamina and Saudi Aramco are reportedly ready to sign a deal to upgrade capacity at the Cilacap refinery by 50 kb/d to 400 kb/d in Q1 2020
  • Even as it is finalising the sale of four refineries in Brazil, Petrobras is looking to expand its Comperj refinery with a lubricant plant that will raise blending capacity there to 225,000 cubic metres through a US$400 million investment

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Milestone after milestone is being hit in the US Gulf LNG sector, with Freeport LNG’s Train 1 in Texas starting up commercial production; Freeport LNG Train 2 is expected in January 2020 and Train 3 in May for a total of 15 mtpa
  • Pakistan Energas is aiming to start up the country’s largest LNG import terminal in 2021 pending regulatory approval, with ExxonMobil supporting the project
  • Shell and Husky Energy have reached separate deals with CNOOC to take significant stakes in the giant Lingshui deepwater gas play near Hainan

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December, 01 2021
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.

End of Article 

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