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Doom and Gloom for North American Oil Producers

Lower Oil Prices

To the dismay of U.S. shale producers, oil prices continue their long slow slide into the abyss.  Perhaps the current price of $35 per barrel – an 11 year low – is the final destination.  More than likely, however, it’s a brief reprieve before the next descent.

excess natural gas burns southeast of BaghdadPhoto credit: Mohammed Ameen / Reuters

Oil exporters, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, have maintained high production rates.  Their goal is to bankrupt U.S. shale companies and preserve market share.  At the same time, oil demand is tapering as the global economy cools.

1-World3Global crude oil and condensate (c+c) production as of June 2015. In record high territory.

The combination of high production and declining demand has resulted in excess supply, and lower prices.  The trend of lower prices won’t change until either demand increases or production decreases.  At the moment, it doesn’t appear that either of these factors will change any time soon.

So how low can oil prices go?  If you recall, in the late-1990s, oil prices dropped below $20 per barrel.  Goldman Sachs thinks we’ll see $20 per barrel oil again.

Obviously, oil prices can’t go to zero.  However, this offers little consolation for the many oil companies that borrowed gobs of money from Wall Street to leverage development of fracked wells that require $60 per barrel oil to pencil out.

2-Russia3Contrary to widespread expectations, Russian production has proved more than resilient in the face of low prices. The decline in the ruble and high export taxes on oil (which are based on threshold prices) have left Russian producers in a competitive situation.

Declining Hedges

So while it isn’t possible for oil prices to go to zero.  It is possible for the stock prices of oil companies to go to zero.  In fact, over the next 12 months there could be a rash of bankruptcy’s that results in delisted, worthless shares.

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