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Last Updated: May 13, 2020
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Forecast Highlights

Global liquid fuels

  • Although all market outlooks are subject to many risks, the May edition of EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because the effects on energy markets of mitigation efforts related to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are still evolving. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes in energy supply and demand patterns. Crude oil prices, in particular, have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by reduced oil demand because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Despite the April agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) to reduce production levels beyond the end of the STEO forecast period, crude oil prices have remained at some of their lowest levels in more than 20 years. Uncertainties persist across EIA’s outlook for other energy sources, including natural gas, electricity, coal, and renewables.
  • Brent crude oil prices averaged $18 per barrel (b) in April, a decrease of $13/b from the average in March. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $34/b in 2020, down from an average of $64/b in 2019. EIA expects prices will average $23/b during the second quarter of 2020 before increasing to $32/b during the second half of the year. EIA forecasts that Brent prices will rise to an average of $48/b in 2021, $2/b higher than forecast last month, as EIA expects that declining global oil inventories next year will put upward pressure on oil prices.
  • EIA estimates global petroleum and liquid fuels consumption averaged 94.1 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first quarter of 2020, a decline of 5.8 million b/d from the same period in 2019. EIA expects global petroleum and liquid fuels demand will average 92.6 million b/d in 2020, a decrease of 8.1 million b/d from last year, before increasing by 7.0 million b/d in 2021. Lower global oil demand growth for 2020 in the May STEO reflects growing evidence of disruptions to global economic activity along with reduced expected travel globally as a result of restrictions related to COVID-19.
  • EIA expects that global liquid fuels inventories will grow by an average of 2.6 million b/d in 2020 after falling by 0.2 million b/d in 2019. EIA expects inventory builds will be largest in the first half of 2020, rising at a rate of 6.6 million b/d in the first quarter and increasing to builds of 11.5 million b/d in the second quarter as a result of widespread travel limitations and sharp reductions in economic activity. Firmer demand growth as the global economy begins to recover and slower supply growth will contribute to global oil inventory draws beginning in the third quarter of 2020. EIA expects global liquid fuels inventories will fall by 1.9 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA forecasts significant decreases in U.S. liquid fuels demand during the first half of 2020 as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions and disruptions to business and economic activity. EIA expects the largest impacts will occur in the second quarter of 2020 before gradually dissipating over the next 18 months. EIA expects U.S. motor gasoline consumption to fall from 8.6 million b/d in the first quarter of 2020 to an average of 7.0 million b/d in the second quarter before gradually increasing to 8.7 million b/d in the second half of the year. U.S. jet fuel consumption will fall from 1.6 million b/d in the first quarter of 2020 to an average of 0.8 million b/d in the second quarter. U.S. distillate fuel oil consumption is forecast to decline by 0.6 million b/d to average 3.3 million b/d during the same period. For all of 2020, EIA forecasts that U.S. motor gasoline consumption will average 8.3 million b/d, a decrease of 11% compared with 2019, while jet fuel and distillate fuel oil consumption will fall by 25% and 10%, respectively, during the same period.
  • EIA has revised its current forecast of domestic crude oil production down from the April STEO as a result of lower crude oil prices. EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will average 11.7 million b/d in 2020, down 0.5 million b/d from 2019. In 2021, EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to decline further by 0.8 million b/d. If realized, the 2020 production decline would mark the first annual decline since 2016. U.S. crude oil production has not declined for two years in a row since the 17-year period of declines beginning in 1992 and running through 2008. Typically, price changes affect production after about a six-month lag. However, current market conditions will likely reduce this lag as many producers have already announced plans to reduce capital spending and drilling levels.

Natural gas

  • In April, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.73 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). EIA forecasts that natural gas prices will generally rise through the rest of 2020 as U.S. production declines. EIA forecasts that Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $2.14/MMBtu in 2020 and then increase in 2021, reaching an annual average of $2.89/MMBtu. EIA expects prices to rise largely because of lower natural gas production compared with 2020.
  • EIA expects total consumption of natural gas to average 81.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down 3.9% from the 2019 average primarily because of lower industrial sector consumption of natural gas. EIA forecasts industrial natural gas consumption to average 21.3 Bcf/d in 2020, down 7.1% from 2019 as a result of lower expected manufacturing activity. This expected decline is lower than the 0.3% decline forecast in the April STEO because of large downward revisions to the macroeconomic forecast in the May STEO.
  • U.S. dry natural gas production set a record in 2019, averaging 92.2 Bcf/d. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 89.8 Bcf/d in 2020, with monthly production falling from an estimated 93.1 Bcf/d in April to 85.4 Bcf/d in December. Natural gas production declines the most in the Appalachian region and Permian region. In the Appalachian region, low natural gas prices are discouraging producers from engaging in natural gas-directed drilling, and in the Permian region, low oil prices reduce associated gas output from oil-directed wells. In 2021, forecast dry natural gas production averages 84.9 Bcf/d, rising in the second half of 2021 in response to higher prices.
  • EIA estimates that total U.S. working natural gas in storage ended April at 2.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 20% more than the five-year (2015–19) average. In the forecast, inventories rise by 2.1 Tcf during the April through October injection season to reach almost 4.2 Tcf on October 31, which would be a record level.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. liquefied natural gas exports will average 5.8 Bcf/d in the second quarter of 2020 and 4.8 Bcf/d in the third quarter of 2020. U.S. liquefied natural gas exports are expected to decline through the end of the summer as a result of lower expected global demand for natural gas.

Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions

  • Although some stay-at-home orders are beginning to be relaxed, the effects of social distancing guidelines are likely to continue affecting U.S. electricity consumption during the next few months. EIA expects retail sales of electricity in the commercial sector will fall by 6.5% in 2020 because many businesses have closed and many people are working from home. Similarly, EIA expects industrial retail sales of electricity will fall by 6.5% in 2020 as many factories cut back production. Forecast U.S. sales of electricity to the residential sector fall by 1.3% in 2020 because of lower electricity demand as a result of milder winter and summer weather, which is offset slightly by increased household electricity consumption as much of the population spends relatively more time at home.
  • EIA forecasts that total U.S. electric power sector generation will decline by 5% in 2020. Most of the expected decline in electricity supply is reflected in lower fossil fuel generation, especially at coal-fired power plants. EIA expects that coal generation will fall by 25% in 2020. Forecast natural gas generation is relatively flat this year, reflecting favorable fuel costs and the addition of new generating capacity. Renewable energy sources account for the largest portion of new generating capacity in 2020, driving EIA’s forecast of 11% growth in renewable generation by the electric power sector. Renewable energy is typically dispatched whenever it is available because of its low operating cost.
  • Although EIA expects renewable energy to be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020, the effects the economic slowdown related to COVID-19 are likely to affect new generating capacity builds during the next few months. EIA expects the electric power sector will add 20.4 gigawatts of new wind capacity and 12.7 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020. However, these forecasts are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, and EIA will continue to monitor reported planned capacity builds.
  • EIA forecasts U.S. average coal consumption will decrease by 23% to 453 MMst in 2020. The decrease is primarily driven by a 24% decline in electric power sector consumption and persistently low natural gas prices. In 2021, consumption is expected to increase by 10% to 498 MMst because of stronger natural gas prices and an overall economic recovery that results in rising electricity generation.
  • After decreasing by 2.8% in 2019, EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 11% (572 million metric tons) in 2020. This record decline is the result of restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19. CO2 emissions decline from all fossil fuels, particularly coal (23%) and petroleum (11%). In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 5% as the economy recovers and stay-at-home orders are lifted. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.

STEO Short-Term Energy Outlook liquid fuels EIA Brent Natural Gas Coal renewables emissions electricity
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EIA forecasts the U.S. will import more petroleum than it exports in 2021 and 2022

Throughout much of its history, the United States has imported more petroleum (which includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other liquids) than it has exported. That status changed in 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) estimates that 2020 marked the first year that the United States exported more petroleum than it imported on an annual basis. However, largely because of declines in domestic crude oil production and corresponding increases in crude oil imports, EIA expects the United States to return to being a net petroleum importer on an annual basis in both 2021 and 2022.

EIA expects that increasing crude oil imports will drive the growth in net petroleum imports in 2021 and 2022 and more than offset changes in refined product net trade. EIA forecasts that net imports of crude oil will increase from its 2020 average of 2.7 million barrels per day (b/d) to 3.7 million b/d in 2021 and 4.4 million b/d in 2022.

Compared with crude oil trade, net exports of refined petroleum products did not change as much during 2020. On an annual average basis, U.S. net petroleum product exports—distillate fuel oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and motor gasoline, among others—averaged 3.2 million b/d in 2019 and 3.4 million b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that net petroleum product exports will average 3.5 million b/d in 2021 and 3.9 million b/d in 2022 as global demand for petroleum products continues to increase from its recent low point in the first half of 2020.

U.S. quarterly crude oil production, net trade, and refinery runs

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), February 2021

EIA expects that the United States will import more crude oil to fill the widening gap between refinery inputs of crude oil and domestic crude oil production in 2021 and 2022. U.S. crude oil production declined by an estimated 0.9 million b/d (8%) to 11.3 million b/d in 2020 because of well curtailment and a drop in drilling activity related to low crude oil prices.

EIA expects the rising price of crude oil, which started in the fourth quarter of 2020, will contribute to more U.S. crude oil production later this year. EIA forecasts monthly domestic crude oil production will reach 11.3 million b/d by the end of 2021 and 11.9 million b/d by the end of 2022. These values are increases from the most recent monthly average of 11.1 million b/d in November 2020 (based on data in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly) but still lower than the previous peak of 12.9 million b/d in November 2019.

February, 18 2021
The Perfect Storm Pushes Crude Oil Prices

In the past week, crude oil prices have surged to levels last seen over a year ago. The global Brent benchmark hit US$63/b, while its American counterpart WTI crested over the US$60/b mark. The more optimistic in the market see these gains as a start of a commodity supercycle stemming from market forces pent-up over the long Covid-19 pandemic. The more cynical see it as a short-term spike from a perfect winter storm and constrained supply. So, which is it?

To get to that point, let’s examine how crude oil prices have evolved since the start of the year. On the consumption side, the market is vacillating between hopeful recovery and jittery reactions as Covid-19 outbreaks and vaccinations lent a start-stop rhythm to consumption trends. Yes, vaccination programmes were developed at lightning speed; and even plenty of bureaucratic hiccoughs have not hampered a steady rollout across the globe. In the UK, more than 20% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccines, with the USA not too far behind. Israel has vaccinated more than 75% of its population, and most countries should be well into their own programmes by the end of March. That acceleration of vaccinations has underpinned expectations of higher oil demand, with hopes that people will begin to drive again, fly again and buy again. But those hopes have been occasionally interrupted by new Covid-19 clusters detected and, more worryingly, new mutations of the virus.

Against this hopeful demand picture, supply has been managed. Squabbling among the OPEC+ club has prevented a more aggressive approach to managing supply than kingpin Saudi Arabia would like, but OPEC+ has still managed to hold itself together to placate the market that crude spigots will remain restrained. And while the UAE has successfully shifted OPEC+ quota plan for 2021 from quarterly adjustments to monthly, Saudi Arabia stepped into the vacuum to stamp its authority with a voluntary 1 million barrels per day cut. The market was impressed.

That combination of events over January was enough to move Brent prices from the low US$50/b level to the upper US$50/b range. However, US$60/b remained seemingly out of reach. It took a heavy dusting of snow across Texas to achieve that.

Winter weather across the northern hemisphere seemed harsher than usual this year. Europe was hit by two large continent-wide storms, while the American Northeast and Pacific Northwest were buffeted with quite a few snowstorms. Temperatures in East Asia were fairly cold too, which led to strong prices for natural gas and LNG to keep the population warm. But it was a major snowstorm that swept through the southern United States – including Texas – that had the largest effect on prices. Some areas of Texas saw temperatures as low as -18 degrees Celsius, while electricity demand surged to the point where grids failed, leaving 4.3 million people without power. A national emergency was declared, with over 150 million Americans under winter storm warning conditions.

 

For the global oil complex, the effects of the storm were also direct. Some of the largest oil refineries in the world were forced to shut down due to the Arctic conditions, further disrupting power and fuel supplies. All in all, over 3 mmb/d of oil processing capacity had to be idled in the wake of the storm, including Motiva’s Port Arthur, ExxonMobil’s Baytown and Marathon’s Galveston Bay refineries. And even if the sites were still running, they would have to contend to upstream disruptions: estimates suggest that crude oil production in the prolific Permian Basin dropped by over a million barrels per day due to power outages, while several key pipelines connecting Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast were also forced to shutter.

That perfect storm was enough to send crude prices above the US$60/b level. But will it last? The damage from the Texan snowstorm has already begun to abate, and even then crude prices did not seem to have the appetite to push higher than US$63/b for Brent and US$60/b for WTI.

Instead, the key development that should determine the future range for crude prices going into the second quarter of 2021 will be in early March, when the OPEC+ club meets once again to decide the level of its supply quotas for April and perhaps beyond. The conundrum facing the various factions within the club is this: at US$60/b, crude oil prices are not low enough to scare all members in voting for unanimous stricter quotas and also not high enough to rescind controlled supply. Instead, prices are at a fragile level where arguments can be made both ways. Russia is already claiming that global oil markets are ‘balanced’, while Saudi Arabia is emphasising the need for caution in public messaging ahead of the meeting. Saudi Arabia’s voluntary supply cut will also expire in March, setting up the stage for yet another fractious meeting. If a snow overrun Texans was a perfect storm to push crude prices to a 13-month high, then the upcoming OPEC+ meeting faces another perfect storm that could negate confidence. Which will it be? The answer lies on the other side of the storm.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$58-61/b, WTI – US$60-63/b
  • Better longer-term prospects for fuels demand over 2021 and a severe winter storm in the southern United States that idled many upstream and downstream facilities sent global crude oil prices to their highest levels since January 2021
  • Falling levels at key oil storage locations worldwide are also contributing to the crude rally, with crude inventories in Cushing falling to a six-month low and reports of drained storage tanks in the US Gulf Coast, the Caribbean and East Asia
February, 17 2021
The State of Industry: Q4 2020 Financials – A Fragile Recovery

Much like the year itself, the final quarter of 2020 proved to be full of shocks and surprises… at least in terms of financial results from oil and gas giants. With crude oil prices recovering on the back of a concerted effort by OPEC+ to keep a lid on supply, even at the detriment of their market share, the fourth quarter of 2020 was supposed to be smooth sailing. The tailwind of stronger crude and commodity prices, alongside gradual demand recovery, was expected to have smoothen out the revenue and profit curves for the supermajors.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, losses were declared where they were not expected. And where profits were to be had, they were meagre in volume. And crucially, a deeper dive into the financial results revealed worrying trends in the cash flow of several supermajors, calling into question the ability of these giants to continue on their capital expenditure and dividend plans, and the risks of resorting to debt financing in order to appease investors and yet also continue expanding.

Let’s start with the least surprising result of all. For months, ExxonMobil had been signalling that it would be taking a massive writedown on its upstream assets in Q4 2020, which could lead to a net loss for the quarter and the year. Unlike its peers, ExxonMobil had resisted making writedowns on the value of its crude-producing assets earlier in 2020. At the time, it stated that it had already built caution in the value assessments of those assets, reflecting ‘fair value’; not so long after that bold statement, ExxonMobil has been forced to backtrack and make a US$20.2 billion downward adjustment. Unusually, that meant that non-cash impairments aside, ExxonMobil actually eked out a tiny profit of US$110 million for the quarter on the strength of margins in the chemicals segment, but a full year loss of US$22.4 billion: the first ever annual loss since Exxon and Mobil merged in 1998. This was better than expected by Wall Street analysts, who would also be cheering the formation of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, in which the group would pump some US$3 billion through 2025 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2016 levels. That acknowledgement of a carbon neutral future is still far less ambitious than its European counterparts, but is a clear sign that ExxonMobil is starting to take the climate change element of its business more seriously.

If ExxonMobil managed to surprise in a good way, then its closest American rival did the opposite. Chevron had been outperforming ExxonMobil in quarterly results for a while now, but in Q4 2020 retreated with a net loss of US$665 million. That was narrower than the US$6.6 billion loss declared in Q4 2019, but still a shock since analysts were expecting a narrow profit. Calling 2020 ‘a year like no other’, the headwinds facing Chevron in Q4 2020 were the same facing all majors and supermajors, despite gains in crude prices, refining margins and fuel sales were still soft. Chevron’s cash flow was also a concern – as was ExxonMobil’s – which prompted chatter that the two direct descendants of JD Rockefeller’s Standard Oil were considering a merger. If so, then there is at least alignment on the climate topic: Chevron is also following the trail blazed by European supermajors in embracing a carbon neutral future, with CEO Michael Wirth conceding that Chevron may ‘not be an oil-first company in 2040’.

On the European side of the pond, that same theme of lowered downstream performance dragging down overall performance continued. But unlike the US supermajors, the likes of Shell, BP and Total were somewhat insulated from the Covid-19 blows at the peak of the pandemic as their opportunistic trading divisions capitalised on the wild swings in crude and fuel prices. That factor is now absent, with crude prices taking on a steady upward curve. That’s good for the rest of their businesses, but bad for trading, which thrives on uncertainty and volatility. And so BP reported a Q4 net profit of US$115 million, Shell followed with a Q4 net profit of US$393 million and Total closed out the earning season with industry-beating Q4 net profit of US$1.3 billion, above market expectations.

The softness of the financials hasn’t stopped dividend payouts, but has also been used by Europe’s Big Oil to set the tone for the next few decades of their existence. Total and BP paid a hefty premium to secure rights to build the next generation of UK wind farms; Total joined the Maersk-McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping to develop carbon neutral shipping solutions and splashed out on acquiring 2.2 GW of solar power projects in Texas; BP signed a strategic collaboration agreement with Russia’s Rosneft to develop new low carbon solutions; and aircraft carrier KLM took off with the first flight powered by synthetic kerosene that was developed by Shell through carbon dioxide, water and renewables. That’s a lot of a groundwork laid for the future where these giants can be carbon neutral by 2050.

The message from Q4 seems clear. Big Oil has barely begun its recovery from the Covid-19 maelstrom, and the road to a new normal remains long and painful. But this is also an opportunity to pivot; to set a new destination that is no longer business-as-usual, but embraces zero carbon ambitions. Even the American supermajors are slowly coming around, while the European continues to lead. Will majors in Asia, Latin America and Africa/Middle East follow? Let’s see what that attitude will bring over this new decade.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$60-62/b, WTI – US$57-59/b
  • The Brent crude benchmark rose above US$60/b level for the first time in over a year, as the demand outlook for fuels improves with the accelerating rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and tight stockpiles brush off worries of oversupply
  • On the latter, the IEA estimated that global stockpiles of crude and fuels in onshore and floating storage has shrunk by 300 million barrels since OPEC+ first embarked on its deep production controls in May; in China, stockpiles are at their lowest level over a 12-month period, with US crude stockpiles also fell by 1 million barrels
  • Despite a tenuous alliance, OPEC+ has continuously reassured the market that it will work to clear the massive oil surplus created by the pandemic-induced demand slump, signalling that despite its internal differences, a repeat of last March’s surprise price war is not on the cards

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February, 10 2021