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The Debt Crisis Is Mounting For Oil Economies

The Debt Crisis Is Mounting For Oil Economies

Dubai. Abu Dhabi. Bahrain. And, of course, Saudi Arabia. The two emirates this year issued debt for the first time in years. So did Bahrain. Saudi Arabia stepped up its debt issuance. The moves are typical for the oil-dependent Gulf economies. When the going is good, the money flows. When oil prices crash, they issue debt to keep going until prices recover. This time, there is a problem. Nobody knows if prices will recover.

In August, Abu Dhabi announced plans for what Bloomberg called the longest bond ever issued by a Gulf government. The 50-year debt stood at $5 billion, and its issuance was completed in early September. The bond was oversubscribed as proof of the wealthiest Emirate’s continued good reputation among investors.

Dubai, another emirate, said it was preparing to issue debt for the first time since 2014 at the end of August. Despite the fact the UAE economy is relatively diversified when compared to other Gulf oil producers, it too suffered a hard blow from the latest oil price crash and needed to replenish its reserves urgently. Dubai raised $2 billion on international bond markets last week. Like Abu Dhabi’s bond, Dubai’s was oversubscribed.

Oversubscription is certainly a good sign. It means investors trust that the issuer of the debt is solid. But can the Gulf economies remain solid by issuing bond after bond with oil prices set to recover a lot more slowly than previously expected? Or could this crisis be the final straw that tips them into actual reforms?

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The Net Zero Emissions Lie

The Net Zero Emissions Lie

Cutting carbon emissions has become a central focus of countries and companies alike in the past decade. The oil majors are racing to ‘go green, Microsoft has pledged to go ‘carbon negative’, and over 20 nations have either committed to or achieved net-zero carbon targets. For public companies, the incentives to go green are clear, with a recent boom in ESG investing, the continued threat of activist divestment, and a growing body of government regulation. Meanwhile, for governments, the environment is becoming an increasingly important electoral issue and political parties are eager to be seen as being proactive on the issue. But just as the ESG investment boom has led to an increase in the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’, countries who are eager to make grand statements about being carbon zero within a decade or two may be overselling exactly what it is that they are doing.

Climate change is, by its very nature, a global problem. With that in mind, it is possible for one country to reduce its carbon emissions to zero without any reduction in the level of carbon emitted worldwide. As long as that same country continues to trade and consume, the carbon-reliant products it needs will simply be imported from a nation without any limits on carbon emissions. To claim ‘real’ net-zero emissions, countries would have to go significantly further.

That isn’t to say that the net-zero initiatives are entirely without merit. Increasing renewable energy usage, building more energy-efficient homes, and electrifying transportation would all have a tangible effect on decreasing global carbon emissions. But, as economist Dieter Helm points out in his recent book, if an individual state wants to truly become a net-zero carbon emitter, then it would need to have a carbon tax at its border as well as reducing its production of carbon domestically.

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$65 Oil And $5000 Gold: Traders Expect Volatility In Key Commodities

$65 Oil And $5000 Gold: Traders Expect Volatility In Key Commodities

The year of the pandemic put two commodities under the spotlight, but for different reasons. Gold prices hit an all-time high in August, while crude oil slipped into negative for a day in April, when demand crashed and inventories soared.

Both oil and gold have seen much volatility this year. Oil prices started 2020 at over $60 a barrel, dipped to the low teens in April – with front-month WTI Crude futures settling one day at a negative price – and rose to $40 in the summer, staying rangebound since then. The crash in demand pushed oil lower, while increased uncertainty over the economic and oil demand recovery, as well as the fears of a second COVID-19 wave, pushed investors to seek safe havens such as gold, driving the precious metal’s price to an all-time high of $2,075 an ounce last month.

The wild rides in the two commodities could represent buying opportunities, analysts argue, expecting oil and gold to rise in the medium term.

For oil, the uptrend may not come as soon as it could in gold, because of the heightened concern about the stalled demand recovery. Still, investment banks and analysts expect prices to increase from current levels over the next one to two years, especially if an effective vaccine hits the markets in 2021.

For gold, low or negative interest rates, continued economic stimulus, and the perception that gold is a hedge against uncertainty about the economy and the upcoming U.S. presidential election are expected to drive prices higher.

Alissa Corcoran, Director of Research at Kopernik Global Investors, told MarketWatch’s Myra P. Saefong that the short-term volatility in commodities could be an opportunity instead of risk.

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Private Equity Is Bargain Hunting In Canada’s Oil Patch

Private Equity Is Bargain Hunting In Canada’s Oil Patch

After two months of an encouraging—if not half-hearted–rebound, oil prices have gone into reverse gear once again. Futures tied to WTI crude were down a whopping 8% on Monday morning to trade at $36.35/barrel, a level they last touched two months ago as the markets come under a fresh wave of pressure from a stalling recovery in demand as well as a mistimed expansion of production by OPEC that threatens to reverse the gains by the cartel’s latest production cuts.  The latest rout has elicited another round of price cuts by Saudi Arabia in a situation eerily reminiscent of the oil price war that sent the markets crashing into negative territory for the first time ever.

But as the debt-riddled U.S. shale patch braces for a new reality of ‘Lower Forever’ with massive asset writeoffs amid a growing wave of bankruptcies, its equally distressed neighbor further north has resorted to a different trick: Mergers and Acquisitions.

Starved of vital capital by weary banks and shareholders, small- and mid-sized oil and gas companies in Canada are scrambling to find partners in a bid to become bigger and– hopefully–more solvent.

Meanwhile, bargain-hunting private equity firms have pounced on the opportunity, hoping to buy distressed assets for pennies on the dollar.

WTI Oil Price 30-Days Change

Source: Business Insider

Source: Visual Capitalist

Orphaned Businesses

After years of continuous underperformance and paltry returns following a six-year downturn by the sector, cheap credit for Canada’s oil and gas companies has dried up, forcing them to look for less conventional means to survive.

The Covid-19 crisis has only served to worsen the situation, with the S&P/TSX Capped Energy–Canada’s equivalent of the U.S.’ Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLE)–down 46.8% in the year-to-date vs. -41.9% return by XLE.

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California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

Amid a heatwave in the West, the largest U.S. solar state, California, is grappling with power issues and with keeping its electricity grid stable as demand exceeds supply. And in a looming renewable future, those power disruptions just might be a sign of things to come.

California energy consumers were warned of rolling outages as there is insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) said over the weekend.

The warning to Californians about the outages and strained grid should serve as a warning for policymakers and system operators across the United States and elsewhere: a rush to boost renewable energy power generation should be coupled with – and even preceded by – more careful planning on how to ensure the reliability and stability of the power grid.

California’s Struggles With Power Reliability

In the case of California, where solar power supplies more than 20 percent of electricity as per the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the rolling outages this week were the worst such outages since the 2000-2001 energy crisis in the state.

Some blame the current power crisis on California’s aggressive renewable energy rollout and retirement of natural gas-powered plants. Others say that there is a way for the state to reconcile renewables with reliability, although this would not come in the near term and certainly not soon enough to help with the current power supply issues.

It would seem that California has put the renewable cart before the proverbial horse.

The blame game and the debate about how exactly to cope with reliability in a heavily renewable power grid highlight the fact that meeting clean energy goals and reducing emissions should be made only after careful planning on how to ensure reliable power supply to customers and how to prepare the grid for an increased share of solar and wind power.

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Saudi Arabia Refuses To Learn From Its Two Failed Oil Price Wars

Saudi Arabia Refuses To Learn From Its Two Failed Oil Price Wars

Having failed to achieve the slightest semblance of success in the two oil price wars that it started – the first running from 2014 to 2016, and the second running from the beginning of March to effectively the end of April this year – it might be assumed that key lessons might have been learned by the Saudis on the perils of engaging in such wars again. Judging from various statements last week, though, Saudi Arabia has learned nothing and may well launch exactly the same type of oil price war in exactly the same way as it has done twice before, inevitably losing again with exactly the same catastrophic effects on it and its fellow OPEC members. At the very heart of Saudi Arabia’s problem is the collective self-delusion of those at the top of its government regarding the Kingdom’s key figures relating to its oil industry that underpins the entire regime. These delusions are apparently not discouraged by any of the senior foreign advisers who make enormous fees and trading profits for their banks from Saudi Arabia’s various follies, most notably oil price wars. It is, in the truest sense of the phrase, a perfect example of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, although in this case, it does not just pertain to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) but to all of the senior figures connected to Saudi Arabia’s oil sector. One of the most obvious examples of this is the chief executive officer of Saudi Arabia’s flagship hydrocarbons company, Saudi Aramco (Aramco), Amin Nasser, who said last week – bewilderingly for those who know even a modicum about the global oil markets – that Aramco is to go ahead with plans to increase its maximum sustained capacity (MSC) to 13 million barrels per day (bpd) from 12.1 million bpd.

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Is The OPEC+ Alliance Coming To An End?

Is The OPEC+ Alliance Coming To An End?

It’s been a wild and bumpy ride for OPEC+ this year. The consortium, consisting of the traditional members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus oil and gas superpower Russia, was largely responsible for the huge collapse in oil prices toward the end of April.  After a huge drop in oil demand corresponding with the devastating spread of the novel coronavirus around the world, an OPEC+ strategy meeting turned into a spat between Russia and Saudi Arabia which then turned into an all-out oil price war and massive global oil glut. The oil storage shortage created by this glut would go on to push the West Texas Intermediate crude benchmark into previously-unthinkable negative territory, closing out the day on April 30th at nearly $40 below zero per barrel.

OPEC+ has since reconciled and once again banded together to address the oil market crisis, making myriad pledges and severe production cuts to bolster crude oil prices. But many of the countries that made those pledges have fallen far short of their promises. “OPEC reached a historic deal to cut output by 9.7 million barrels per day in April, but a number of countries fell significantly short in meeting their production targets,” reports Markets Insider. 

But, just this week Iraq, OPEC’s second-biggest member just made a huge commitment to cut its oil production in the coming months. After a Thursday night conversation between Iraqi and Saudi leadership, Baghdad “made a commitment to cut oil production by 400,000 barrels per day in August and September,” a massive uptick from the nation’s relatively paltry July production cut of 11,000 barrels per day. 

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The Forgotten Conflict That Is Threatening Energy Markets

The Forgotten Conflict That Is Threatening Energy Markets

One of the world’s forgotten conflicts is now making headlines again. In the last week, the military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has reignited, with the two nations having already been engaged in a military confrontation for decades. Nagorno Karabach, an Armenian enclave inside of Azerbaijan, is one of the main underlying factors for the conflict, but the growing rivalry between Russia and Turkey is also playing a part. More than 16 soldiers have been killed in the most recent round of fighting. Both sides are accusing each other of aggression and military action. The use of full scale armed forces and drones have been involved, killing several soldiers on both sides and reportedly an Azerbaijani general. The current outbreak of fighting has been the deadliest since the “April War” of 2016. While most clashes normally occur in and around the Armenian controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region, the current clashes are on the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The international community is urging both sides to end the clashes.  The United States, European Union, and the OSCE Minsk Group are trying to defuse the situation. While it remains unclear what reignited the conflict, it seems that Armenia played a large role in increasing tensions. Armenia recently constructed a new military outpost, which could have given Armenian armed forces a tactical advantage and tempted Azerbaijan to strike. At the same time, Azerbaijan is being buoyed by strong support from Ankara and may have wanted to test Russia’s support for Armenia. Remarkably, Armenia has called upon the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Armenia is a member, to intervene. The CSTO’s response, from Yerevan’s point of view, however, is lacking. As of July 14, the CSTO has only called for a normalization of the situation on the border, not implying that it would provide military support for Armenia.

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Oil Price Crash Sparks A Wave Of Banking Mergers In The Middle East

Oil Price Crash Sparks A Wave Of Banking Mergers In The Middle East

The historic oil price crash and Covid-19 pandemic have left major producers of the commodity in a deep economic crisis. Dramatic production cuts by OPEC+ has exacerbated the situation by further lowering export inflows for economies that depend heavily on oil dollars. Some, such as the UAE, have tried to put on a brave face by touting the strength of their banking systems and claiming they can withstand shocks of any scale.

Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence suggests pretty much the opposite: A wave of banking mergers is sweeping through the Middle East as the sector scrambles to stay afloat amid slowing economic growth.

About $440 billion worth of deals are already on the table. That’s a remarkable feat for a region that has the lowest banking penetration anywhere on the globe. 

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia–guilty of initiating the oil price war with Russia that triggered the oil price crash–is well represented in the growing trend.

Source: World Bank

Giant mergers

Source: Bloomberg

#1 Saudi Arabia The National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia’s largest lender by assets, has lined up a $15.6 billion takeover bid for rival Samba Financial Group. The $15.6B tab represents a nearly 30% premium to Samba’s valuation before the deal was announced, while the potential deal will create a $210 billion (assets) behemoth.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the Kingdom’s central bank, has unveiled nearly $27 billion in stimulus packages to support its flagging banking system suffering from years of weak private sector loan growth. The Kingdom’s oil and gas sector accounts for 50% of GDP and 70% of export earnings. The IMF has estimated Saudi Arabia’s fiscal breakeven sits at $76.1 per barrel, a far cry from the current ~$40/bbl.

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Huge Debt Payments Come At Worst Time Possible For Canadian Drillers

Huge Debt Payments Come At Worst Time Possible For Canadian Drillers

The collapse in oil prices has significantly deteriorated Canada’s oil companies’ finances and has made repaying their debt more challenging. Over the past decade, Canadian firms have borrowed money to survive the previous oil crisis of 2015-2016 and boost production post-crisis. But now the second price collapse in less than five years is leaving Canada’s oil patch, especially the smaller players, extremely vulnerable as debt maturities approach.   

This year, the oil crash coincides with the highest-ever annual debt maturities in the Canadian energy sector, according to Refinitiv data cited by Reuters. In 2020, oil and gas firms have to repay US$3.7 billion (C$5 billion) in debt maturities, up by 40 percent compared to last year.  

The debt pressure adds to the Canadian energy sector’s new predicament with low oil prices, low cash flows, and low overall demand for crude oil due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some companies are set to default on debts, while others are looking at restructuring options and refinancing. Banks are not generally too keen to own energy assets. But the banks may be the ultimate judge of who can refinance, who can stay afloat, or who can go belly up in this crisis, legal and industry professionals told Reuters.

Some of Canada’s oil and gas firms had not overcome the previous crisis when this one hit.

According to Bank of Canada’s recent Financial System Review—2020, the COVID-19 crisis led to widespread financial distress in all sectors, but “Canada is also grappling with the plunge in global oil prices, which hit while many businesses in the energy sector were still recovering from the 2014–16 oil price shock.”

The energy sector has the most refinancing needs over the next six months, at US$4.43 billion (C$6 billion), and faces the most potential downgrades, according to Bank of Canada.

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The World’s Most Important Oil Consumers And Producers

The World’s Most Important Oil Consumers And Producers

Following last week’s release of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020, I began to review and analyze the data. Today I take a deeper dive into the numbers on petroleum. Oil accounts for a third of the world’s energy consumption. That is the greatest share for any category of energy. In 2019, the world consumed a record 98.3 million barrels per day (BPD) of oil. This was nearly 1 million BPD higher than consumption in 2018, and marked the 10th consecutive record for global oil consumption.

Over the past 35 years, global oil consumption has risen by 39 million BPD, an average increase of 1.1 million BPD each year. Last year’s rise fell just short of that average.

In recent years, BP has begun to provide more granularity in the Review. In previous years, the oil consumption category included biofuels. Now, they have split biofuels into a separate category, so the consumption numbers above are for just oil and derivatives of natural gas and coal (e.g., synthetic oil).

The U.S. continues to lead all countries in the consumption of oil, but China has had the fastest consumption growth for several years. Below are the Top 10 global consumers of oil for 2019.

Related: Saudi Arabia Eyes Total Dominance In Oil And GasOil consumption fell in most developed countries and rose in most developing countries. A notable exception was Germany. Although consumption in OECD countries fell by 0.6% and consumption across Europe was down 0.3%, Germany bucked the trend and saw its consumption grow by 0.9%.

The biggest percentage increase in oil consumption was in Iran, which was the world’s 11th largest consumer. Demand there jumped by 10.0%. Iran was the only country in the world with a double-digit percentage increase in demand.

In contrast, double-digit decreases in oil demand were seen in Iceland (-12.7%), Venezuela (-11.6%), and Pakistan (-10.5%).

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Natural Gas Price Plunge Could Soon Lead To Shut-Ins

Natural Gas Price Plunge Could Soon Lead To Shut-Ins

Natural gas prices plunged to new lows this week, falling below $1.50/MMBtu, a catastrophically low price for U.S. gas drillers.  The factors afflicting the gas market are multiple. Prices had already fallen below $2/MMBtu at the start of 2020, weighed down by oversupply. But it wasn’t a problem confined to the U.S. There was also a global glut of LNG due to a wave of capacity additions in 2019.  

That was the situation heading into 2020. But just as the Covid-19 pandemic tore apart the oil market, natural gas also went into a tailspin. Global gas demand is expected to fall by 4 percent this year, “largest recorded demand shock” in history, according to the International Energy Agency. 

Buyers of U.S. LNG are now cancelling shipments at a rapid clip. U.S. LNG exports have declined by more than half compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“There would have been too much LNG in the world even without Covid-19,” Ben Chu, a director at Wood Mackenzie’s Genscape service, said in a statement. “Covid-19 has made it worse.”

Buyers abroad are willing to pay a cancellation fee instead of receiving shipment from U.S. exporters, a sign of how badly the market has deteriorated. For August delivery, between 40 and 45 cargoes have been cancelled, nearly double the rate of cancellation in June. 

Typically, cheaper gas can stimulate demand, particularly in the electric power sector. But that outlet is not as large as it may have been in the past, not least because gas has already been cheap for quite some time. Thus, the coal-to-gas option is limited. Without an export route, and without larger uptake from utilities, the gas glut has deepened. 

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Peak Fuel Demand Will Occur Within 10 Years

Peak Fuel Demand Will Occur Within 10 Years

It has been a tough few months for the oil industry, and there’s more pain on the way as the industry struggles with disruptive forces that could completely transform it. Now, according to BloombergNEF, oil and gas companies have one more thing to worry about: peak fuel demand.  In an outlook for road fuels published earlier this month, BloombergNEF forecasts that gasoline demand will peak in 2030, with diesel following three years later. As a result, demand for crude oil from the road transport sector is seen peaking in 2031, BloombergNEF said, at 47 million barrels daily. That’s higher than BloombergNEF’s 2019 projection, which saw oil demand from light and heavy-duty vehicles peaking at 45.1 million bpd.

To fully realize the implications of this trend, here is some context. As of 2019, road transport accounted for more than 40 percent of overall global oil demand. What’s more, road transport has accounted for more than half of total oil demand growth over the past two decades. Peak demand for road transport fuels, therefore, is a harbinger of peak oil demand.

The immediate outlook for fuel demand is also not rosy, with the lockdowns and international movement restrictions erasing ten years’ worth of demand growth, according to BloombergNEF. This effect will likely be temporary; as lockdowns ease, demand for fuels begins to recover, even though it remains doubtful whether it will recover fully to pre-pandemic levels.

So, what are the culprits behind this looming slump in fuel demand? First, there is fuel efficiency: a factor that, according to BP, will improve so much that energy consumption in the transport sector will only rise by 20 percent by 2040. BP made that forecast last year, long before the coronavirus. Now, those changes could accelerate.

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30% Of U.S. Shale Drillers Could Go Under

30% Of U.S. Shale Drillers Could Go Under

U.S. shale was one of the big losers of the Saudi-Russian price war that many saw as a war on U.S. shale. Producers scrambled to stay afloat as prices sank back to lows not seen since 2016, and they are still scrambling. Banks are giving them the cold shoulder, worried that many will not be able to pay their debts. Is there a way out? According to various forecasting agencies, there is, but it will take a while. A Bloomberg analysis of forecasts for the shale industry made by outlets such as the International Energy Agency, energy consultancy Rystad, IHS Markit, Genscape, and Enervus suggests shale will be back on its feet by 2023, with production back to over 12 million bpd.

This is not a long time for a full recovery, really, especially given the current circumstances, including shut-in wells, abandoned drilling plans, tight cash, and, for many, looming bankruptcies.

As much as 30 percent of shale drillers could go under if oil prices fail to move substantially higher, Deloitte said in a recent study, as quoted by CNN. These 30 percent, the firm said, are technically insolvent at oil prices of $35 a barrel. Right now, West Texas Intermediate is higher than $35 but not by much. Oil is now trading closer to $35 than to $50—the level at which most shale drillers will be making money.

And they need to make money: banks have started cutting credit lines for industry players as they reassess their assets and the production that they promised would be realized from these assets. According to calculations by Moody’s and JP Morgan, cited by the Wall Street Journal, banks could reduce asset-backed loan availability for the industry by as much as 30 percent, which translates into tens of billions of dollars.

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Global Gas Production Set To Tumble In 2020

Global Gas Production Set To Tumble In 2020

  • Natural gas production, which was originally projected to grow in 2020, is now facing an estimated decline of 2.6 percent.
  • Associated gas from oil fields is going to be hit hardest, with an expected decline of 5.5 percent compared to 2019 levels
  • The biggest drop in associated gas production will be in North America, which makes up roughly half of the global output

The Covid-19 pandemic has landed a lasting blow to both oil and gas markets. Global oil production has absorbed the lion’s share of the impact, but natural gas output, which was previously set to grow, is also set to decline by 2.6 percent this year, Rystad Energy forecasts. Production of associated gas from oil fields will be hit most, losing some 5.5 percent compared to 2019 levels.

Before Covid-19 forced a new reality upon the energy world, Rystad Energy expected total natural gas production to rise to 4,233 billion cubic meters (Bcm) in 2020, from 4,069 Bcm last year. Now this estimate is revised down to 3,962 Bcm for this year, rising to 4,015 Bcm in 2021 and to 4,094 in 2022.

Production from natural gas fields, which was initially expected to rise to 3,687 Bcm this year from 3,521 Bcm in 2019, is expected to reach 3,445 Bcm instead, recovering to 3,485 Bcm in 2021 and further to 3,551 Bcm in 2022.

The most affected output in percentage terms is the one of associated gas, which was initially forecast to stay largely flat year-over-year from the 2019 level of 547 Bcm. It is now expected to fall to 517 Bcm instead in 2020, rising to 530 Bcm in 2021 and 542 Bcm in 2022. Associated gas will likely only again exceed 2019 levels from 2023 onwards.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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