Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Russian deal, an Indian election, Libya & more

While the Europeans are busy squabbling about how to diversify their natural gas supplies and reduce reliance on Russia, the country's President Vladimir Putin hedged his bets earlier this week and reacted smartly by inking a 30-year supply deal with China.

No financial details were revealed and the two sides have been haggling over price for better parts of the last decade. However, yet again the Russian president has proved more astute than the duds in Brussels! Nevertheless, the Oilholic feels Russia would have had to make substantial compromises on price levels. By default, the Ukraine standoff has undoubtedly benefitted China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), and Gazprom has a new gas hungry export destination.

Still there is some good news for the Europeans. Moody's believes that unlike in 2008-09, when gas prices spiked in the middle of the winter due to the cessation of Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine, any temporary disruption via Ukraine would have only have a muted impact.

"This opinion factors in a combination of (1) lower reliance on Ukraine as a transit route, owing to alternative supply channels such as the Nord Stream pipeline which became operational in 2011; (2) low seasonal demand in Europe as winter has come to an end; and (3) gas inventories at high levels covering a full month of consumption," the ratings agency noted in a recent investment note.

Meanwhile, a political tsunami in India swept the country's Congress party led government out of power putting an end to years of fractious and economic stunting coalition politics in favour of a right-wing nationalist BJP government. The party's leader Narendra Modi delivered a thumping majority, which would give him the mandate to revive the country's economic fortunes without bothering to accommodate silly whims of coalition partners.

Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, one of the country's most prosperous provinces and home to the largest in the refinery in the world in the shape of Jamnagar. In many analysts' eyes, regardless of his politics, the Prime Minister elect is a business friendly face.

Moody's analyst Vikas Halan expects that the new BJP-led government will increase natural gas prices, which would benefit upstream oil & gas companies and provide greater long term incentives for investment. Gas prices were originally scheduled to almost double in April, but the previous government put that increase on hold because of the elections.

This delay has meant that India's upstream companies have been losing large amounts of revenue, and a timely increase in gas prices would therefore cushion revenues and help revive interest in offshore exploration.

"A strong majority government would also increase the likelihood of structural reform in India's ailing power sector. Closer co-ordination between the central and state governments on clearances for mega projects and land use, two proposals outlined in the BJP's manifesto, would address investment delays," Halan added.

The Oilholic agrees with Moody's interpretation of the impact of BJP's victory, and with majority of the Indian masses who gave the Congress party a right royal kick. However, one is sad to see an end to the political career of Dr Manmohan Singh, a good man surrounded by rotten eggheads.

Over a distinguished career, Singh served as the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and latterly as the country's finance minister credited with liberalising and opening up of the economy. From winning the Adam Smith Prize as a Cambridge University man, to finding his place in Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, Singh – whose signature appears on an older series of Indian banknotes (see right) – has always been, and will always be held in high regard.

Still seeing this sad end to a glittering career, almost makes yours truly wish Dr Singh had never entered the murky world of mainstream Indian politics in the first place. Also proves another point, that almost all political careers end in tears.

Away from Indian politics, Libyan oilfields of El Sharara, El Feel and Wafa, having a potential output level 500,000 barrels per day, are pumping out the crude stuff once again. However, this blogger is nonplussed because (a) not sure how long this will last before the next flare up and (b) unless Ras Lanuf and Sidra ports see a complete normalisation of crude exports, the market would remain sceptical. We're a long way away from the latter.

A day after the Libyan news emerged on May 14, the Brent forward month futures contract for June due for expiry the next day actually extended gains for a second day to settle 95 cents higher at US$110.19 a barrel, its highest settlement since April 24.

The July Brent contract, which became the forward-month contract on May 16, rose 77 cents to settle at US$109.31 a barrel. That's market scepticism for you right there? Let's face it; we have to contend with the Libyan risk remaining priced in for some time yet.

Just before taking your leave, a couple of very interesting articles to flag-up for you all. First off, here is Alan R. Elliott's brilliant piece in the Investor’s Business Daily comparing and contrasting fortunes of the WTI versus the LLS (Louisiana Light Sweet), and the whole waterborne crude pricing contrast Stateside.

Secondly, Claudia Cattaneo, a business columnist at The National Post, writes about UK political figures' recent visit to Canada and notes that if the Americans aren't increasing their take-up of Canada's energy resources, the British 'maybe' coming. Indeed, watch this space. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Pipeline, India © Cairn Energy

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Abu Dhabi’s ‘spot’ chaps, ADNOC & INR

It's good to spot a traditional dhow on millionaire's yacht row at the marina here in Abu Dhabi. Though a millionaire or some tour company probably owns the thing! Switching tack from spot photography to spot crude oil trading – the community here in the UAE is in bullish mood, as is the national oil company – ADNOC.

With the spot Brent price in three figures, and above the US$110-level last time this blogger checked, few here (including the administration), have anything to worry about. The Oilholic has always maintained that a $80 per barrel plus price keeps most in OPEC, excluding Venezuela and Iran and including the Saudis and UAE happy. Short-term trend is bullish and Egyptian troubles, Libyan protests plus the US Federal Reserve's chatter will probably keep Brent there with the regional (DME Oman) benchmark following in its wake, a mere few dollars behind.

Furthermore, of the three traders the Oilholic has spoken to since arriving in the UAE, American shale oil is not much of a worry in this part of the world. "Has it dented the (futures) price?? An American bonanza remains…well an American bonanza. The output will be diverted eastwards to importing jurisdictions; they have in any case been major importers of ADNOC’s crude. What we are seeing at the moment are seasonal lows with refiners in India and China typically buying less as summer demand for distillate falls," says one.

In fact, on Wednesday, Oil Movements – a tanker traffic monitor and research firm – said just that. It estimates that OPEC members, with the exception of Angola and Ecuador, will curtail exports by 320k barrels per day or 1.3% of daily output, in the four weeks from August 10 to September 7.

Meanwhile, ADNOC is investing [and partnering] heavily as usual. Recently, it invited several IOCs to bid for the renewal of a shared licence to operate some of the Emirate's largest onshore oilfields. The concession (on Bu Hasa, Bab, Asab, Sahil and Shah oilfields), in which ADNOC holds a 60% stake, is operated by Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (or ADCO) subsidiary.

Existing partners for the remaining stake include BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Total and Partex O&G. All partners, except Partex have been invited to apply again, according to a source. Additionally, ADNOC has also issued an invitation to seek new partners. Anecdotal evidence here suggests Chevron is definitely among the interested parties.

The existing 75-year old concessions expire in January 2014, so ADNOC will have to move quickly to decide on the new line-up of IOCs. For once, its hand was forced as the UAE's Supreme Petroleum Council rejected an application for a one-year extension of the existing arrangement. Doubtless, Chinese, Korean and Indian NOCs are also lurking around. A chat with an Indian contact confirmed the same.

Whichever way you look at it – its probably one of the few new opportunities, not just in the UAE but the wider Middle East as well. Abu Dhabi is among the few places in the region where international companies would still be allowed to hold an equity interest; mostly a no-no elsewhere in the region. But in the UAE's defence, ever since the first concession was signed by this oil exporting jurisdiction in 1939 – it has always been open to foreign direct investment, albeit with caveats attached. ADNOC is also midway through a five-year $40 billion investment plan aimed at boosting oil and gas production and expanding/upgrading its petrochemical and refining facilities.

Meanwhile, the slump of Indian Rupee (INR) is headline news in the UAE, given its ties to the subcontinent and a huge Indian expat community here in Abu Dhabi. The slump could stoke inflation, according to the Reserve Bank of India, which is already struggling to curtail it. The central bank has tried everything from capital controls to trying to stabilise the INR for a good few months by hiking short-term interest rates. Not much seems to have gone its way (so far).

Furthermore, the INR's troubles have exposed indebtedness of the country's leading natural resources firms (and others) – most notably – Reliance, Vedanta and Essar. Last week, research conducted by Credit Suisse Securities noted that debt levels of top ten Indian business houses in the current fiscal year have gone up by 15% on an annualised basis.

With the currency in near freefall, the report specifically said Reliance ADA Group's gross debt was the highest, with Vedanta in second place among top 10 Indian groups. Draw your own conclusions. On a personal level, Mukesh Ambani (Chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd, the man who holds right to the world largest refinery complex and India's richest tycoon), has lost close to $5.6 billion of his wealth as the INR's plunge has continued, according to various published sources.

Few corporate jets less for him then but a much bigger headache for India Inc, one supposes. If the worried lot fancy a pipe or two, then the "Smokers Centre" (pictured right) on the City's Hamdan Street is a quirky old place to pick up a few. More generally, should one fancy a puff of any description shape, size or type then Abu Dhabi is the city for you. What's more, the stuff is half the price compared to EU markets! For the sake of balance, this humble blogger is officially a non-smoker and has not been asked to flag this up by the tobacco lobby!

Just one more footnote to the INR business, Moody's says the credit quality of state-owned oil marketing and upstream oil companies in India will likely weaken for the rest of the fiscal year (April 2013 to March 2014), if the Indian government continues to ask them, as it did in April-June, to share a higher burden of the country's fuel subsidies.

To put this into context - the INR has depreciated by about 10% and the crude oil prices have increased by about 6% since the beginning of June, as of August 20. Moody's projections for the subsidy total assumes that there will be no material changes in either the INR exchange rate or the crude oil price for the rest of the fiscal year (both are already out of the window). That's all from Abu Dhabi for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.

To email: [email protected]
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo 1: A dhow on the Abu Dhabi marina, UAE. Photo 2: Smokers Centre, Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi, UAE © Gaurav Sharma, August, 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Speculators make the oil price belie market logic

The fickle crude oil market is yet again giving an indication about how divorced it is from macroeconomic fundamentals and why a concoction of confused geopolitics and canny speculation is behind the recent peaks and troughs. To give a bit of background – the WTI forward month futures contract surpassed the US$106 per barrel level last week; the highest it has been in 16 months. Concurrently, the spread between WTI and Brent crude narrowed to a near 33-month low of US$1.19 in intraday on July 11 [versus a high of US$29.70 in September 2011].
 
Less than a couple of weeks ago Goldman Sachs closed its trading recommendation to buy WTI and sell Brent. In a note to clients, the bank’s analysts said they expected the spread to narrow in the medium term as new pipelines help shift the Cushing, Oklahoma glut, a physical US crude oil delivery point down to the Houston trading hub, thus removing pressure from the WTI forward month futures contract to the waterborne Brent.
 
Goldman Sachs' analysts were by no means alone in their thinking. Such a viewpoint about the spread is shared by many on Wall Street, albeit in a nuanced sort of way. While Cushing's impact in narrowing the spread is a valid one, the response of the WTI to events elsewhere defies market logic.
 
Sadly Egypt is in turmoil, Syria is still burning, Libya’s problems persist and Iraq is not finding its feet as quick as outside-in observers would like it to. However, does this merit a WTI spike to record highs? The Oilholic says no! Agreed, that oil prices were also supported last week by US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments that economic stimulus measures were "still" necessary. But most of the upward price pressure is speculators' mischief - pure and simple.
 
Less than two months ago, we were being peddled with the argument that US shale was a game changer – not just by supply-side analysts, but by the IEA as well. So if that is the case, why are rational WTI traders spooked by fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East? Syria and Egypt do not even contribute meaningfully to the global oil market supply train, let alone to the North American market. Furthermore, China and India are both facing tough times if not a downturn.
 
And you know what, give this blogger a break if you really think the US demand for distillates rose so much in 10 days that it merited the WTI spiking by the amount that it has? Let's dissect the supply-side argument. Last week's EIA data showed that US oil stocks fell by about 10 million barrels for a second consecutive week. That marked a total stockpile decline of 20.2 million barrels in two weeks, the biggest since 1982.
 
However, that is still not enough to detract the value of net US inventories which are well above their five-year average. Furthermore, there is nothing to suggest thus far that the equation would alter for the remainder of 2013 with media outlets reporting the same. The latest one, from the BBC, based on IEA figures calmly declares the scare over 'peak oil' subsiding. US crude production rose 1.8% to 7.4 million barrels per day last week, the most since January 1992 and in fact on May 24, US supplies rose to 397.6 million, the highest inventory level since 1931!
 
But for all of that, somehow Bernanke's reassurances on a continuation of Federal stimulus, flare-ups in the Middle East [no longer a big deal from a US supply-side standpoint] and a temporary stockpile decline were enough for the latest spike. Why? Because it is a tried and tested way for those who trade in paper barrels to make money.
 
A very well connected analogy can be drawn between what's happening with the WTI and Brent futures' recent "past". Digging up the Brent data for the last 36 months, you will see mini pretexts akin to the ones we've seen in the last 10 days, being deployed by speculators to push to the futures contract ever higher; in some instances above $110 level by going long. They then rely on publicity hungry politicians to bemoan how consumers are feeling the pinch. Maybe an Ed Markey can come alone and raise the issue of releasing strategic petroleum reserves (SPRs) and put some downward pressure – especially now that he's in the US Senate.
 
Simultaneously, of course the high price starts hurting the economy as survey data factors in the drag of rising oil prices, usually within a three-month timeframe, and most notably on the input/output prices equation. The same speculators then go short, blaming an economic slowdown, some far-fetched reason of "uptick" in supply somewhere somehow and the Chinese not consuming as much as they should! And soon the price starts falling. This latest WTI spike is no different.

Neither the underlying macroeconomic fundamentals nor the supply-demand scenarios have altered significantly over the last two weeks. Even the pretexts used by speculators to make money haven't changed either. The Oilholic suspects a correction is round the corner and the benchmark is a short! (Click graph above to enlarge)
 
Away from crude pricing matters to some significant news for India and Indonesia. It seems both countries are reacting to curb fuel subsidies under plans revealed last month. The Indian government agreed to a new gas pricing formula which doubled domestic natural gas prices to $8.40/million British thermal units (mmbtu) from $4.20/mmbtu.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is working on plans to increase the price of petrol by 44% to Rupiah 6,500 ($2.50) per gallon and diesel by 22% to Rupiah 5,500. With the hand of both governments being forced by budgetary constraints, that's good economics but bad politics. In Asia, it's often the other way around, especially with general elections on the horizon - as is the case with both countries.
 
Elsewhere, yours truly recently had the chance to read a Moody's report on the outlook for the global integrated oil and gas industry. According to the ratings agency, the outlook will remain stable over the next 12 to 18 months, reflecting the likelihood of subdued earnings growth during this period.

Analyst Francois Lauras, who authored the report, said, "We expect the net income of the global oil and gas sector to fall within the stable range of minus 10% to 10% well into 2014 as robust oil prices and a slight pick-up in US natural gas prices help offset ongoing fragility in the refining segment." 
 
"Although oil prices may moderate, we expect demand growth in Asia and persistent geopolitical risk to keep prices at elevated levels," he added.
 
The agency anticipates that integrated oil companies will concentrate on reinvesting cash flows into their upstream activities, driven by "robust" oil prices, favourable long-term trends in energy consumption and the prospects of higher returns.
 
However, major projects are exerting pressure on operating and capital efficiency measures as they are often complex, highly capital intensive and have long lead times. In the near term, Moody's expects that industry players will continue to dispose of non-core, peripheral assets to complement operating cash flows and fund large capex programmes, as well as make dividend payouts without impairing their balance sheets.
 
Finally, the agency said it could change its outlook to negative if a substantial drop in oil prices were triggered by a further deterioration in the world economy. It would also consider changing its outlook to positive if its forecast for the sector's net income increased by more than 10% over the next 12-18 months.

Moody's has maintained the stable outlook since September 2011. In the meantime, whatever the macroeconomic climate might be, it hardly ever rains on the speculators' parade. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!
 
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To email: [email protected]
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Pump Jacks, Perryton, Texas, USA © Joel Sartore / National Geographic. Graph: WTI Crude Futures US$/barrel © BBC / DigitalLook.com

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The oil market in 2013: thoughts & riddles aplenty

Over a fortnight into 2013 and a mere day away from the Brent forward month futures contract for February expiring, the price is above a Nelson at US$111.88 per barrel. That’s after having gone to and fro between US$110 and US$112 intra-day.

As far as the early January market sentiment goes, ICE Future Europe said hedge funds and other money managers raised bullish positions on Brent crude by 10,925 contracts for the week ended January 8; the highest in nine months. Net long positions in futures and options combined, outnumbered short positions by 150,036 lots in the week ended January 8, the highest level since March 27 and the fourth consecutive weekly advance.

On the other hand, bearish positions by producers, merchants, processors and users of Brent outnumbered bullish positions by 175,478, down from 151,548 last week. It’s the biggest net-short position among this category of market participants since August 14. So where are we now and where will we be on December 31, 2013?

Despite many market suggestions to the contrary, Barclays continues to maintain a 2013 Brent forecast of US$125. The readers of this blog asked the Oilholic why and well the Oilholic asked Barclays why. To quote the chap yours truly spoke to, the reason for this is that Barclays’ analysts still see the Middle East as “most likely” geopolitical catalyst.

“While there are other likely areas of interest for the oil market in 2013, in our view the main nexus for the transmission into oil prices is likely to be the Middle East, with the spiralling situations in Syria and Iraq layered in on top of the core issue of Iran’s external relations,” a Barclays report adds.

Macroeconomic discontinuities will continue to persist, but Barclays’ analysts reckon that the catalyst they refer to will arrive at some point in 2013. Nailing their colours to mast, well above a Nelson, their analysts conclude: “We are therefore maintaining our 2013 Brent forecast of US$125 per barrel, just as we have for the past 21 months since that forecast was initiated in March 2011.”

Agreed, the Middle East will always give food for thought to the observers of geopolitical risk (or instability) premium. Though it is not as exact a science as analysts make it out to be. However, what if the Chinese economy tanks? To what extent will it act as a bearish counterweight? And what are the chances of such an event?

For starters, the Oilholic thinks the chances are 'slim-ish', but if you’d like to put a percentage figure to the element of chance then Michael Haigh, head of commodities research at Société Générale, thinks there is a 20% probability of a Chinese hard-landing in 2013. This then begs the question – are the crude bulls buggered if China tanks, risk premium or no risk premium?

Well China currently consumes around 40% of base metals, 23% major agricultural crops and 20% of ‘non-renewable’ energy resources. So in the event of a Chinese hard-landing, not only will the crude bulls be buggered, they’ll also lose their mojo as investor confidence will be battered.

Haigh thinks in the event of Chinese slowdown, the Brent price could plummet to US$75. “A 30% drop in oil prices (which equates to approximately US$30 given the current value of Brent) would ultimately boost GDP growth and thus pull oil prices higher. OPEC countries would cut production if prices fall as a result of a China shock. So we expect Brent’s decline to be limited to US$75 as a result,” he adds.

Remember India, another major consumer, is not exactly in a happy place either. However, it is prudent to point out the current market projections suggest that barring an economic upheaval, both Indian and Chinese consumption is expected to rise in 2013. Concurrently, the American separation from international crude markets will continue, with US crude oil production tipped to rise by the largest amount on record this year, according to the EIA.

The independent statistical arm of the US Department of Energy, estimates that the country’s crude oil production would grow by 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2013 to 7.3 million bpd. While the rate of increase is seen slowing slightly in 2014 to 600,000 bpd, the total jump in US oil production to 7.9 million bpd would be up 23% from the 6.4 million bpd pumped domestically in 2012.

The latest forecast from the EIA is the first to include 2014 hailing shale! If the agency’s projections prove to be accurate, US crude oil production would have jumped at a mind-boggling rate of 40% between 2011 and 2014.

The EIA notes that rising output in North Dakota's Bakken formation and Texas's Eagle Ford fields has made US producers sharper and more productive. "The learning curve in the Bakken and Eagle Ford fields, which is where the biggest part of this increase is coming from, has been pretty steep," a spokesperson said.

So it sees the WTI averaging US$89 in 2013 and US$91 a barrel in 2014. Curiously enough, in line with other market forecasts, bar that of Barclays, the EIA, which recently adopted Brent as its new international benchmark, sees it fall marginally to around US$105 in 2013 and falling further to US$99 a barrel in 2014.

On a related note, Fitch Ratings sees supply and demand pressures supportive of Brent prices above US$100 in 2013. “While European demand will be weak, this will be more than offset by emerging market growth. On the supply side, the balance of risk is towards negative, rather than positive shocks, with the possibility of military intervention in Iran still the most obvious potential disruptor,” it said in a recent report.

However, the ratings agency thinks there is enough spare capacity in the world to deal with the loss of Iran's roughly 2.8 million bpd of output. Although this would leave little spare capacity in the system were there to be another supply disruption. Let’s see how it all pans out; the Oilholic sees a US$105 to US$115 circa for Brent over 2013.

Meanwhile, the spread between Brent and WTI has narrowed to a 4-month low after the restart of the Seaway pipeline last week, which has been shut since January 2 in order to complete a major expansion. The expanded pipeline will not only reduce the bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma but reduce imports of waterborne crude as well. According to Bloomberg, the crude flow to the Gulf of Mexico, from Cushing, the delivery point for the NYMEX oil futures contract, rose to 400,000 bpd last Friday from 150,000 bpd at the time of the temporary closure.

On a closing note, and going back to Fitch Ratings, the agency believes that cheap US shale gas is not a material threat to the Europe, Middle East and Africa’s (EMEA) oil and gas sector in 2013. It noted that a lack of US export infrastructure, a political desire for the US to be self-sufficient in gas, and the prevalence of long term oil-based gas supply contracts in Europe all suggest at worst modest downward pressure on European gas prices in the short to medium term.

Fitch’s overall expectation for oil and gas revenues in EMEA in 2013 is one of very modest growth, supported by continued, if weakened, global GDP expansion and potential supply shocks. The ratings agency anticipates that top line EMEA oil and gas revenue growth in 2013 will be in the low single digits. There remains a material – roughly 30% to 40% – chance that revenue will fall for the major EMEA oil producers, but if so this fall is unlikely to be precipitous according to a Fitch spokesperson.

That’s all for the moment folks! One doubts if oil traders are as superstitious about a Nelson or the number 111 as English cricketers and Hindu priests are, so here’s to Crude Year 2013. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Holly Rig, Santa Barbara, California, USA © James Forte / National Geographic.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why Iran is miffed at (some in) OPEC?

The talking is over, the ministers have left the building and the OPEC quota ‘stays’ where it is. However, one OPEC member – Iran – left Vienna more miffed and more ponderous than ever. Why?

Well, if you subscribe to the school of thought that OPEC is a cartel, then it ought to come to the aid of a fellow member being clobbered from all directions by international sanctions over its nuclear ambitions. Sadly for Iran, OPEC no longer does, as the country has become a taboo subject in Vienna.

Even the Islamic Republic’s sympathisers such as Venezuela don’t offer overt vocal support in front of the world’s press. Compounding the Iranians’ sense of frustration about their crude exports being embargoed is a belief, not entirely without basis, that the Saudis have enthusiastically (or rather "gleefully" according to one delegate) stepped in to fill the void or perceived void in the global crude oil market.

Problems have been mounting for Iran and are quite obvious in some cases. For instance, India – a key importer – is currently demanding that Iran ship its crude oil itself. This is owing to the Indian government’s inability to secure insurance cover on tankers carrying Iranian crude. Since July, EU directives ban insurers in its 27 jurisdictions from providing cover for shipment of Iranian crude.

Under normal circumstances, Iranians could cede to the Indian demand. But these aren’t normal circumstances as the Iranian tanker fleet is being used as an oversized floating storage unit for the crude oil which has nowhere to go with the speed that it used to prior to the imposition of sanctions.

The Obama administration is due to decide this month on whether the USA will renew its 180-day sanction waiver for importers of Iranian oil. Most notable among these importers are China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. US Senators Robert Menendez (Democrat) and Mark Kirk, have urged President Obama to insist that importers of Iranian crude reduce their purchase contracts by 18% or more to get the exemption.

So far, Japan has already secured an exemption while decisions on India, South Korea and China will be made before the end of the month. If the US wanted to see buyers cut their purchases progressively then there is clear evidence of this happening. Two sources of the Oilholic’s, in the shipping industry in Singapore and India, suggested last week that Iranian crude oil exports are down 20% on an annualised basis using November 23 as a cut off date. However, a December 6 Reuters' report by their Tokyo correspondent Osamu Tsukimori suggested that the annualised drop rate in Iranian crude exports was actually much higher at 25%.

Of the countries named above, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been the most aggressive in cutting Iranian imports. But the pleasant surprise (for some) is that India and China have responded too. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Chinese and Indian imports of Iranian crude were indeed dipping in line with US expectations.

When the Oilholic visited India earlier this year, the conjecture was that divorcing its oil industry from Iran’s would be tricky. Some of those yours truly met there then, now agree that Iranian imports are indeed down and what was stunting Iranian exports to India was not the American squeeze but rather the EU’s move on the marine insurance front.

If Iran was counting on wider support within OPEC, then the Islamic republic was kidding itself. That is because the Organisation is itself split. Apart from the Iraqis having their own agenda, the Saudis and Iranians never get along. This splits the 12 member block with most of Iran’s neighbours almost always siding with the Saudis. Iran’s most vocal supporter Venezuela, is currently grappling with what might (or might not) happen to President Hugo Chavez since he’s been diagnosed with cancer.

Others who support Iran keep a low profile for the fear of getting embroiled in diplomatic wrangling which does not concern them. So all Iran can do is moan about OPEC not taking ‘collective decisions’, hope that Chinese patronage continues even if in a diminished way and stir up disputes about things such as the appointment of the OPEC Secretary General.

The dependency of Asian importers on Iranian crude is not going to go overnight. However, they are learning to adapt in fits and starts as the last 6 months have demonstrated. This should worry Iran.

That’s all from Vienna folks! Since it’s time to say Auf Wiedersehen and check-in for the last British Airways flight out to London, the Oilholic leaves you with a view of his shadow on a sun soaked, snow-capped garden at Schönbrunn Palace. Christmas is fast approaching but even in the season of goodwill, OPEC won’t or for that matter can’t come to Iran’s aid while the US and EU embargo its exports. Even cartels, if you can currently call OPEC one, have limits. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Empty OPEC briefing room podium following the end of the 162nd meeting of ministers, Vienna, Austria. Photo 2: Schönbrunn Palace Christmas market © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

An OPEC seminar & an Indian minister

Indian oil minister S. Jaipal Reddy is rather sought after these days. You would be, if you represented one of the biggest consumers of the crude stuff. So it is just about right that OPEC’s 5th international seminar here in Vienna had Reddy speak at a session titled: “Oil and the World Economy.”

In face of growing international pressure to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil and running out of capital market mechanisms to actually pay for the stuff in wake of US/EU sanctions, the Indian minister certainly had a few things to say and wanted to be heard.

India is the world's fourth-largest oil importer with all of its major suppliers being OPEC member nations, viz. - Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Given what is afoot from a global macroeconomic standpoint, Reddy has called upon oil producing and consuming countries to work together to build trust and share market data to establish demand certainty in international oil markets.

Unsurprisingly, he admitted that in an oil-importing country like India, higher oil prices lead to domestic inflation, increased input costs, an increase in the budget deficit which invariably drives up interest rates and slows down the economic growth.

“There could not be a more direct cause and effect relation than high oil prices retarding economic growth of oil-importing countries,” Reddy said adding that a sustained US$10 per barrel increase in crude prices reduces growth in developing countries by 1.5%.

“We are meeting in difficult times. The Eurozone crisis, the continuing recession in the global economy, rising geopolitical tensions, a sustained phase of high and volatile international oil prices, extraneous factors continuing to influence the price formation of oil – all these pose serious challenges to the health of the global economy and stability of the world’s financial system. The current global financial crisis, which has lasted longer than we thought in 2008, is the greatest threat faced by the global economy since the Great Depression eight decades ago,” he said further.

Reddy revealed that between the Financial Year 2010-11 and 2011-12, India’s annual average cost of imported crude oil increased by US$27 per barrel, making India’s oil import bill rise from US$100 billion to a whopping US$140 billion.

“Furthermore, since we could not pass on the full impact of high international oil prices, we had to shell out subsidies to consumers amounting to US$25 billion dollars...India’s GDP grew at 6.9% during the last financial year down from the 8% plus growth rate experienced in the past few years,” he continued.

India and perhaps many others see themselves distinguishing two schools of thoughts here in Vienna. One school holds that the global economy has built up enough resilience to absorb oil price hikes due to (a) stronger demand from emerging economies and, (b) more enlightened Central Bank policies; the other school is categorical that high oil prices are one of the primary reasons for the weak conditions in the economies of the US and Europe.

“We subscribe to the latter view and hold that very high and volatile oil prices will continue to weaken global efforts for an expeditious recovery from the ongoing global economic recession and financial crisis,” Reddy concluded.

The viewpoint of an importers’ club member is always welcome at an exporting cartel’s event. For good measure, the representatives of Nigeria, Ecuador and Iran provided the exporters’ perspective and IFC’s spokesperson did the balancing act as a sideshow. As for the word “Iran” and the sanctions it faces; the Oilholic has been told in no uncertain terms by quite a few key people that it’s...er...ahem...a taboo subject at this meeting. That's all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Indian Gas Station © Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Clinton in Crudeland, Ghanem’s death & Cressier

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been clocking up air miles trying to persuade India and China to import less of the crude stuff from Iran. While diplomatic issues dominated the headlines during her visit, Clinton is understood to have impressed upon the Chinese to lower Iranian imports. However, recent media reports suggest that instead of seeking alternative supplies away from Iran, the economic powerhouse is seeking alternative modes of payment to Tehran away from the US Dollar. First, Reuters cited Mohammed Reza Fayyad, Iran's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, acknowledging that his country was accepting Yuan payments in kind for oil exports to China. Then the FT reported that China has been providing the Yuan to Iran via Russian banks rather than its own international banks.

Arriving next in India, Clinton had a similar message for New Delhi. She “commended” India for lowering its reliance on Iranian imports urging it to do more. However, as the Oilholic noted on his non-state visit to India earlier this year - Indian policymakers openly admit this is easier said than done. Meanwhile conspiracy theories about the death on April 29 of former Libyan Oil Minister Shokri Ghanem, whose body was found in the River Danube in Vienna, are unlikely to go away with his funeral held four days ago.

In June 2011, his defection from the Gaddafi regime was the epicentre of media gossip – both in the run-up to the 159th OPEC meeting as well as during the event itself where his defection relieved some and riled others. Some doubted his intentions while others doubted that he’d even defected.

All in public domain was that since his defection he had been living in Vienna with his family and working as a consultant. It seemed to be a natural choice since Ghanem’s connection with the city went back a few decades. He had held a number of posts at the old OPEC HQ in Vienna rising to its head of research in 1993 before joining the Gaddafi government first as Prime Minister and then Oil minister which marked his regular return to Vienna until last year.

The Oilholic’s sources in Vienna suggest the Austrian authorities have ruled out foul play. All yours truly knows is that a passer-by saw his body in the river and called the police who found no other documents on him other than business cards of his consultancy. There were no signs of violence on the body and it is thought that he died of natural causes. At the time of his death, he was setting up a business with another OPEC veteran - Algeria's Chakib Khelil and other investors.

However back home, the new government in Tripoli never trusted him despite his defection and was in fact preparing a court case against him for making illegal gains during his time in the Gaddafi regime. Regardless of its circumstances, the void left by his death would be felt in Viennese diplomatic circles and at OPEC HQ where he began his career in earnest.

Going back to 2008, the Oilholic remembers his first interaction with Ghanem from press scrums at a meeting of ministers where journalists jostled to receive his answers in fluent English. His audience in Vienna had grown, more so as his boss Gaddafi had denounced terrorism and come back from the cold to rejoin the international community. Whether Ghanem himself was a saint or a sinner will now never be known.

Away from crude politics, troubled refiner Petroplus’ administrators have found a buyer for its Swiss asset – the Cressier Refinery – in the shape of Varo Holding, a joint venture between trading firm Vitol and AltasInvest. Under the sale agreement, cash strapped Petroplus would transfer Cressier and allied Swiss marketing and logistics assets - Petroplus Tankstorage, Oléoduc du Jura Neuchâtelois and Société Française du Pipeline du Jura to Varo.

Sources suggest Varo hopes to close the deal before the end of June with plans of restarting the 68,000 barrels per day refining facility thereafter. Finally, fresh economic headwinds are bringing about a price correction in the crude markets as recent elections in Greece and France have triggered a Greek Tragedy (Part II) and a Geek Tragedy (a.k.a. Francois Hollande) respectively.

A hung parliament and political stalemate with fears of the terms of the last Greek bailout not being met is impacting market sentiment on the one hand. On the other, newly elected Socialist President of France – Francois Hollande – sees his less than convincing mandate as one of the French public voting against ‘austerity’ and perhaps uncosted grandiose spending plans. On Tuesday, oil trading sessions either side of the pond remained volatile in light of the situation.

Summing up the nerviness in the markets following events of the past few days, Sucden Financial analyst Myrto Sokou notes, “Spain has confirmed that it will provide with additional money for the bank rescue of Bankia, the country's third largest bank in terms of assets. In Greece, the political situation is still uncertain as the country remains without a government after Sunday’s elections…The parties which signed the EU bailout memorandum are now in a minority as Greek voters rejected further austerity plans.”

Concurrently, analysts at Société Générale believe that generally bearish sentiments and still weak fundamentals should continue to combine and prevail and that the entire energy complex seems to be headed for a continued correction downwards. “Oil has performed better than other European energy commodities in 2012, but this seems to have changed during the first week of May. Oil price behaviour will be the key to avoid further slides in European energy prices,” they note.

As if that was not crude enough, an investment note by Citibank just hitting the wires suggests there is now a 75% possibility that Greece would be forced to leave the Eurozone within 12 to 18 months. With no swift Eurozone solution in sight, be prepared to expect further volatility and perceptively bearing trends in the crude markets. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Rig © Cairn Energy Plc.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Out of its ‘Shell’ & into the ‘Cove’ plus ‘Providence’

Many analysts thought supermajor Royal Dutch Shell which was embroiled in a bidding war for London-listed Cove Energy for better parts of Q1 this year, would emerge out of its conservative shell and trump rival bids from Thailand’s PTTEP and a couple of interested parties from India outright.

In the end the deal was sealed by a conservative, albeit apparently successful, counter offer by Shell for the East Africa focussed E&P company. Having seen its offer for US$1.6 billion back in February trumped by PTTEP, the Anglo-Dutch major returned to the table with a bid of US$1.81 billion which matched rather than bettered the Thai state company’s offer.

On April 24, Cove’s directors accepted and recommended Shell's offer which the Oilholic thinks had much to do with Mozambique as a nation wanting Shell’s expertise as well as its investment. The possibility of a bid battle has now receded; more so as the agreement includes a break fee clause, under which Cove Energy will have to pay Shell US$18 million if it now accepts a rival bid.

An approval from the government of Mozambique is awaited as Shell eyes Cove’s main asset – an 8.5% stake in the Rovuma Offshore Area 1 in the country where Anadarko projects recoverable reserves of 30 tcf of natural gas. Shell as a company continues to be in good nick having recently announced a rise in Q1 profits while rival ExxonMobil saw its profits dip. On an annualised basis, Shell Q1 profits were up 11% at US$7.66 billion while in a strange coincidence Exxon’s profits fell 11% to US$9.45 billion. Both majors said oil prices would be ‘volatile’ in the coming months.

Talking about the luck of the Irish, London and Dublin listed Providence Resources’ quest for Black Gold off the coast of Ireland appears to be on song. The company, which dug Ireland’s first oil prospection well that might be anywhere near profitability, looks good for its 520pence plus share price on the AIM when the Oilholic last checked.

This accolade of Ireland’s first profitable oil well goes to Barryroe prospection field, some 70km off Cork, where a future full-scale extraction to the tune of nearly 4000 barrels per day – which makes a lot of commercial sense – is within relative touching distance. Providence Resources also holds drilling permits in Northern Ireland. Since Irish crude prospection has been riddled with disappointments, Providence deserves a pat on the back and its current share price for its effort.

How do UK petrol prices compare with other countries?Finally, the Oilholic is a bit miffed about being told by people that the UK now has the most expensive petrol price in the world, which it clearly does not. Yours truly knows that prices at the pump bite everyone, but we Brits aren’t the worst off.

However, to argue otherwise often results in farcically loud arguments especially with people who think the more inexpert they are, the more valid their opinion is! Thankfully, experts at Staveley Head – a provider of specialist insurance products – have some handy figures to back up the Oilholic which suggest that while UK is almost always on the list of the most expensive countries to buy petrol – it is not the most expensive (yet).

Click on their infographic - the Global Petrol Price Index (above right) - to compare the UK with the others. It would suggest that current price per litre is the highest in Norway, followed by Turkey, Netherlands, Italy and Greece. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Shell Gas Station © Royal Dutch Shell. Infographic: Global Petrol Price Index © Staveley Head.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What prospective Albertan pipelines mean for BC

If a new permit application by TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas does not get approved after the US 2012 presidential elections, attention will shift towards expanding the pipeline network westwards within Canada. If the project does get approved, well attention would still shift towards expanding the pipeline network westwards within Canada.

The Oilholic’s conjecture is that policy debate within Canada is already factoring in a westward expansion of pipelines eyeing exports via the Pacific Coast to China, Japan, India and beyond, whether the Keystone XL pipeline extension gets built or not. When US President Barack Obama did not grant approval to the original Keystone XL pipeline application earlier this year, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his ‘disappointment’, had a candid conversation with Obama at an Asia Pacific leaders summit and then got on a plane to China.

He has also been to India on a high level mission in recent memory. At the 20th World Petroleum Congress in Doha last year, Indian officials listened intently to what was coming out of the Canadian camp. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has already noted increasing interest from Korean and other Asian players as well when it comes to buying in to both crude oil reserves and natural gas in Western Canada. Club it all together and a westward expansion is inevitable.

Central to a westward expansion is British Columbia (BC), the Canadian province neighbouring Alberta, which could become as important in terms of pipeline infrastructure as Alberta is in terms of the crude stuff itself. From the standpoint of a ‘crude’ analogy, the situation is a bit like South Sudan (which has all the resources) and Sudan (which has the infrastructure to bring the resource to market) with a good Canadian fortune of zero conflict or geopolitical flare-ups. Thankfully for Canada and the importers club, Albertans and British Columbians also get along a tad better than their Sudanese counterparts and what is Alberta’s gain could also be BC's gain.

Last year, over a meeting with the Oilholic in Calgary, Dave Collyer, President of CAPP, noted, “As our crude production grows we would like access to the wider crude oil markets. Historically those markets have almost entirely been in the US and we are optimistic that these would continue to grow. Unquestionably there is increasing interest in the Oil sands from overseas and market diversification to Asia is neither lost on Canadians nor is it a taboo subject for us.”

At present, there are five major pipelines that are directly connected to the Albertan supply hubs at Edmonton and Hardisty – Enbridge Mainline, Enbridge Alberta Clipper, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, Kinder Morgan Express, and of course the original TransCanada Keystone pipeline.

Of these, the Trans Mountain system transports crude to delivery points in BC, including the Westridge dock for offshore exports, and to a pipeline that provides deliveries to refineries in the US state of Washington. It is the only pipeline route to markets off the West coast and is currently operating as a common carrier pipeline where shippers nominate for space on the pipeline without a contract. Since May 2010, the pipeline has been in steady apportionment.

Excess demand for this space is expected to continue until there is additional capacity available to transport crude oil to the west coast for export according to CAPP. The available pipeline capacity depends on the amount of heavy crude oil transported. (For example, in 2010, about 27% of the volumes shipped were heavy crude oil).

So four more have been proposed via BC (see map above) – namely Enbridge Northern Gateway (from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, BC, Capacity: 525,000 barrels per day), Kinder Morgan TMX2 (from Edmonton, Alberta to Kamloops, BC, Capacity: 80,000 bpd), Kinder Morgan TMX3 (from Kamloops, BC to Sumas, BC, Capacity: 240,000 to 300,000 bpd) and Kinder Morgan TMX Northern Leg (Rearguard/Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, BC, Capacity: 400,000 bpd).

Given that it’s green BC in question, there already are legal impediments as well as a major bid to address the concerns of the Native Indian First Nations communities according to the Oilholic’s local feedback here. Environmental due diligence should be and is being taken seriously on the West Coast. Then there is the spectre of a socialist NDP provincial government or a hung parliament at the next elections in BC which could hamper activity and investment.

Taking in to account all this, realistically speaking not much may start happening before 2015, but there is a growing belief within the province that happen it most likely will and the benefit to the provincial economy would manifold. To begin with jobs, direct construction related to the proposed pipelines and revenues spring to mind. Additionally, there is likely to be a decade long rise in service sector jobs in the province.

Then given that BC has a proven crown agency in Partnerships BC which since its inception has been building generally bankable infrastructure projects; an ancillary social infrastructure boom to cater to what would become a burgeoning Kitimat and Kamloops is also within the realm of possibility.

Over the last ten days the Oilholic has gathered the thoughts of legal professionals, financial advisers, provincial civil servants and last but certainly not the least the average British Columbian you’d run into in a bar or a Starbucks. The overriding emotion was one of positivity though everyone acknowledges the impediments.

Furthermore, many think the pipelines would assist in diversifying BC's economy which is largely reliant on tourism and timber to include yet another key sector without necessarily compromising its green credentials and a record of accommodating the First Nations Native Indian population. That’s all from Canada folks! Yours truly is off to Houston, Texas. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Map: Proposed (in dotted lines) and existing pipelines to the West Coast of Canada © CAPP 2011.

Friday, March 30, 2012

‘Crude’ views from across the pond

The view on the left is that of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but more on that later. The Oilholic landed in California on Wednesday to begin yet another North American adventure and instantly noted the annoyance in our American cousins’ voices about rising gasoline prices at the pump.

The extent to which the average American is miffed depends on where he/she buys gasoline which is comfortably in excess of US$4 per gallon with regional and national disparities. For instance in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara CA, gasoline is retailing in the region of US$4.19 to US$4.49 per gallon.

However, head to downtown San Francisco and it jumps by at least 10 cents on average and cross the Golden Gate Bridge towards outlying gas stations and it jumps another 15 cents on top of the Bay Area price. In an election year, President Obama does not want his voters to be miffed, especially as Republican opponents are conjuring up uncosted phantasmal visions of prices at the pump of US$2.50 per gallon.

The President’s answer, based on a credible rumour mill and the US media, might involve diving (again) into the US Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR). The signs are all there – grumbling American motorists, Obama discussing releasing strategic stockpiles with British PM David Cameron, Iranians issuing threats about closing the Strait of Hormuz and overall bullish trends in crude markets.

For its worth, when Obama dived into the SPR last summer, he had the IEA’s support – something which he does not have at the moment. The Oilholic believes it was a silly idea then and would be a silly idea now. Although it pains one to say so, grumbling American motorists do not constitute a genuine emergency like the Gulf War(s) or Hurricane Katrina (in 2005); there is no supply shock of a catastrophic proportion or shall we say a ‘strategic’ need. North Sea Maintenance work, Sudanese tiffs, Nigeria and minor market jitters do not qualify were it not for an US presidential election year.

Besides, a release of IEA’s strategic pool of reserves collectively did very little to curb the price rise last summer. In its wake, price dropped momentarily but rose back to previous levels in a relatively short period of time. On this occasion driven by Asian consumption, a drive to seek alternative supplies away from Iran by consuming nations and short term supply constriction will do exactly that - were its SPR to be raided again by the US.

In fact, most contacts in financial circles on the West Coast share the Oilholic’s viewpoint; even though the WTI closed lower at US$103.22 a barrel on persistent talk of strategic reserve releases in the US media on Friday. The price also breached support in the US$104.20 to US$103.78 circa. Respite will be temporary; Moody’s raised its price assumptions for benchmarks WTI and Brent for 2012 and 2013, on Wednesday (while lowering assumptions for the benchmark Henry Hub natural gas).

The agency assumes an average WTI price of US$95 per barrel for crude in 2012, and US$90 per barrel in 2013. Brent will rise by US$10 per barrel from the agency’s previous assumption, with average prices of US$105 per barrel in 2012 and US$100 per barrel in 2013. That – says Moody’s – is due to the higher risk of a potential supply squeeze caused by the Iran embargo and continued strong demand from China.

Meanwhile, with customary aplomb in an election year, President Obama, “authorised” the usage of new sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil with punitive actions against those who continue to trade in Iranian crude. In a nutshell, if a country or one of its banks, trading houses or oil companies tries to source oil from the Iranian central bank then, at least in theory, they could face being cut off from the US banking system should they not comply by June 28.

However, following on from a law signed in December, Obama admitted that the US has had to make exceptions to countries like Japan, who have already made moves to cut back on Iranian oil. Some like India and China will find innovative ways to get around the sanctions as the Oilholic blogged from Delhi earlier in the year.

One does find it rather humorous that in order to defend his stance on Iran, Obama said US allies boycotting Iranian oil would not suffer negative consequences because there was "enough" oil in the world market and that he would continue to monitor the global market closely to ensure it could handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.

A statement from the White House acknowledged that "a series of production disruptions in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and the North Sea have removed oil from the market" over Q1 2012. "Nonetheless, there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil. In fact, many purchasers of Iranian crude oil have already reduced their purchases or announced they are in productive discussions with alternative suppliers," it adds.

Good, then that settles the argument about the need to raid the SPR (or not?). Meanwhile, Moody’s (and others) also reckon the short term scenario is positive for the E&P industry, at least for the next 12-18 months since the global demand for oil that led to a strong price rally for crude and natural gas liquids (NGLs) shows little sign of abating.

In addition, E&P companies could benefit further from heightened geopolitical risk. Moody's crude assumptions hinge on reduced deliveries in Iran beginning mid-summer, when an embargo takes effect, but crude prices could move even higher if Saudi Arabia fails to fill in the supply shortfall. On the flipside, the industry faces some risk from the fragile European economy and could face lower demand if the euro area destabilises in 2012 and 2013.

Meanwhile, back home in the UK, there have been several crude developments. First panic buying ensued when Government issued advice to British motorists that they ought to stock-up in case oil tanker drivers go on strike leading to long queues at the pump. Then the government issued advice not to “panic.”

Now the petrol station owners’ lobby group is demanding talks, according to the BBC. Seven crude hauliers at the heart of the tanker drivers’ dispute are Wincanton, DHL, BP, Hoyer, JW Suckling, Norbert Dentressangle and Turners. They are responsible for supplying 90% of the UK's petrol stations and some of the country's airports. Workers at DHL and JW Suckling voted against strike action but backed action short of a strike in a dispute over “safety and work conditions”.

The run on petrol retail outlets could continue until Easter Monday according to some sources. Continuing with the UK, Total’s leak from the Elgin gas platform, 150 miles off Aberdeen, which has been leaking gas for the past three days is rumoured to be costing the French giant US$1.5 million per day.

Total is the operator (46.17% stake) of the Elgin/Franklin complex, with Eni and BG Energy holding 21.9% and 14.1% interests respectively. Production on the Elgin, Franklin and West Franklin fields, which averages 130,000 barrel of oil equivalent per day (boepd), is now temporarily shut but ratings agencies Fitch Rating’s and Moody’s believe it is not another “Deepwater Horizon.”

“We have not factored into the company's ratings any catastrophic accident on the platform resulting in an explosion, or a dramatic worsening of the current situation. However, we have considered a "worse-than-base-case" scenario where Total may have to shut down the Elgin field to stop the gas leak. This would imply the loss of a producing field that is worth, in net present value terms, €5.7 billion according to third party valuations. Were the field to become permanently unusable it would cost Total €2.6 billion - its share in Elgin - and the company might have to compensate its partners for the remaining €3.1 billion,” notes a Fitch statement.

Total had around €14 billion in cash on balance sheet at December 2011, and about €10 billion in available unused credit lines. Elsewhere, Petrobras' average oil and natural gas output in Brazil and abroad was 2,700,814 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) in February. Considering only the fields in Brazil, production added up to 2,455,636 boepd. In February, oil output exclusively from domestic fields reached 2,098,064 barrels per day, while natural gas production totaled 56,849,000 cubic meters.

Finally, the Oilholic leaves you with a view of the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent – Point Reyes and its lighthouse built in 1870.

According to the US National Park Service, weeks of fog, especially during the summer months, frequently reduce visibility to hundreds of feet and the historic lighthouse has warned mariners of danger for more than a hundred years.

A US Park Ranger on duty at the Lighthouse said the lens in the Point Reyes Lighthouse is a "first order" Fresnel lens, the largest size of Fresnel lens courtesy Augustin Jean Fresnel of France who revolutionised optics theories with his new lens design in 1823.

Before Fresnel developed this lens, lighthouses used mirrors to reflect light out to sea. The most effective lighthouses could only be seen eight to twelve miles away. After his invention, the brightest lighthouses – including this one – could be seen all the way to the horizon, about twenty-four miles. The Point Reyes Headlands, which jut 10 miles out to sea, pose a threat to each ship entering or leaving San Francisco Bay (click on map to enlarge).

The Lighthouse was retired from service in 1975 when the US Coast Guard installed an automated light. They then transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the National Park Service, which has taken on the job of preserving this fine specimen of American heritage. It is an amazing site and it was a privilege to have seen it and the famous fog.

The area also has a very British connection. The road leading up the rocky shoreline where the lighthouse is situated is named – Sir Francis Drake Boulevard – after the legendary British Navy Vice Admiral and a Crown explorer of the seas. It is thought that Sir Francis’ ship The Golden Hinde landed somewhere along the Pacific coast of North America in 1579, claiming the area for England as "Nova Albion."

The road itself is an east to west traffic linkage in Marin County, California, running just west of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to the trailhead for the Lighthouse right at the end of the Point Reyes Peninsula. His landing place has often been theorised to be at what is now called Drakes Bay on Point Reyes, the western terminus for the boulevard. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Oilholic at the Point Reyes Lighthouse, California, USA. Photo 2: Valero Gas Station Price Board, Sunnyvale, California, USA. Photo 3: Point Reyes Lighthouse © Gaurav Sharma. Photo 4: Archive photo of Point Reyes Lighthouse in 1870. Photo 5: Map of Point Reyes © Point Reyes Visitor Center / US National Parks Service. Photo 6: Oilholic on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard © Gaurav Sharma.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

BP breathes a sigh; but end of legal woes not nigh!

It has been a crudely British fortnight in terms of Black Gold related news, none more so than BP’s announcement – on March 3 – that it has reached a settlement of US$7.8 billion with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC) for civil charges related to the 201 Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement amount is at the upper end of market conjecture and certainly well above conservative estimates. However, it does not mean that the US government is going to in any way, shape or form, let up on BP – especially in an election year. Everyone knows that, especially BP. However for a second time, the trial case brought against it will have to be delayed as the US Judge in the case – Carl Barbier – noted the settlement would lead to a “realignment of the parties in this litigation and require substantial changes to the current Phase I trial plan, and in order to allow the parties to reassess their respective positions.”

The US government maintains that the US$7.8 billion deal does not address "significant damages" to the environment but PSC-BP agreement is expected to benefit regional 100,000 fishermen, local residents and clean-up workers who suffered following the spill.

BP says it expects the money to come from a US$20 billion compensation fund it had previously set aside and the response of the wider market and ratings agencies to the settlement has been positive. While reaffirming BP’s long term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘A’, Fitch Ratings notes that BP has adequate financial resources to meet its remaining oil spill related obligations currently estimated by the agency at US$20 billion between 2012 and 2014.

This figure includes the remainder of BP's provisioned costs of US$10.6 billion and approximately US$10 billion of Fitch assumed additional litigation related payments, excluding potential fines for gross negligence. As of end-December 2011, BP had adequate financial resources to meet this obligation with US$14.1 billion of ‘on balance sheet’ cash and US$6.9 billion of undrawn committed stand-by and revolving credit lines. Additionally, the company plans to dispose of assets for about US$18 billion by end-2013 within its US$38 billion asset disposal programme.

Fitch Ratings estimates BP's total Gulf of Mexico spill related payments, net of partner recoveries, will range between US$45 billion and US$50 billion assuming BP was not grossly negligent. BP's cash outflow related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill amounted to US$26.6 billion by end-2011, net of partner recoveries.

S&P also views the settlement as “somewhat supportive” for its ‘A/A-1/Stable’ ratings on BP and consistent with the agency’s base-case assumptions. “This is because the settlement addresses some material litigation and payment uncertainties, and because we understand that the plaintiffs cannot pursue further punitive damages against BP as a condition of the settlement,” it says.

BP has not admitted liability and still faces other legal claims at State and Federal level. Nonetheless, while the settlement is credit supportive, market commentators in City feel the uncertainty related to the total oil spill liability is not ending any time soon. The Oilholic feels an investigation by US Department of Justice against BP into the oil spill incident encompassing possible violations of US civil or criminal laws could be a potential banana skin as no love has been lost between the two. With several cases still ongoing, a settlement with PSC was a first of many legal hurdles for BP; albeit an important one.

Away from the legal wrangles of “British Petroleum” as US politicians love to call it, Brits themselves had to contend with a record high price of petrol at the pump this week – an average gas station forecourt quote of 137.3 pence per litre on March 5, according to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The previous record of 137.05p was set on May 9, 2011. However, private research by Experian Catalist says the high is a little “higher” at 137.44p per litre.

And if you thought, the Oilholic’s diesel-powered readership was faring any better, the diesel price is hit a record high of 144.7p per litre, up 0.8p from the previous UK record, which was set the week before! As if that wasn’t enough – the country’s (Markit/CIPS) Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for manufacturing slipped to 51.2 in February, down from 52 in January with analysts blaming the high cost oil for manufacturers which rose at the fastest rate in 19 years. It presents another serious quandary for UK Chancellor George Osborne who’s due to table his government’s Union budget on March 21st.

From the price of the refined stuff at British gas station forecourts to the price of a barrel of the crude stuff on the futures market – which saw Brent resisting the US$125 level and WTI resisting the US$106 level for the forward month contract. Myrto Sokou, analyst at Sucden Financial, reckons stronger US economic data brought back risk appetite and improved sentiment this week.

Greece is going to be a main focus for the market with hopes of a positive result on its debt bailout, Sokou adds, but amid renewed rumours whether it would be better for the country to leave the Euro. Cautious optimism is ‘crudely’ warranted indeed.

Elsewhere, the Indian government's attempt divest a 5% stake in one of its NOCs – the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) – via public share offering fell marginally short of expectations last week. Despite tall claims of oversubscription, only 98% of the shares on sale were subscribed. With high hopes of raising something in the region of US$2.5 billion, the government had offered 428 million shares at a price of INR290 per share (approximately US$5.85 and 2% higher than ONGC average share price for February).

However, the Oilholic thinks that even for a company which admittedly has a massive role in a burgeoning domestic market, the price offer was strange at best and overpriced at worst. This probably put off many of the country’s average middle tier investors, especially as many used February’s price as a reference point. Who can blame them and perhaps the Indian government is wiser for the experience too. That’s all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Aerial of the Helix Q4000 taken shortly before "Static Kill" procedure began at Macondo (MC 252) site in Gulf of Mexico, August 3, 2010 © BP Plc.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

India’s Iran connection & the crudely high price

Don’t say the Oilholic did not tell you so after his Indian adventure – that India will find it very hard to match Europeans on censuring Iran in ‘crude’ terms! An interesting newswire copy from the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) as cited by broadcaster NDTV notes that in fact, India is set to step up its energy and business ties with Tehran.

The news emerges in wake of an attack earlier this month on an Israeli diplomat carried out barely yards from the Indian Prime Minister’s residence in Delhi, for which Isreal is blaming Iran. It shows you how ‘crude’ the Delhi-Tehran ties are. The blogosphere is rife with news that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Indian oil companies to pay their Iranian counterparts in wake of international sanctions which hamper processing of international payments and place limits on what the central bank - Reserve Bank of India (RBI) - can or cannot do. Well placed sources suggest that various options from routing payments via Turkey and in suitcases are being trialled.

Pragmatically speaking, few can blame India for not curtailing ties with a country which supplies 10% of its crude imports. The Iranian situation coupled with the geopolitical influence of other events in Nigeria and Sudan alongside a Greek rescue and the Chinese Central bank’s cut of the required reserve ratio of its domestic banks (on Saturday to ease borrowing) have all come together to introduce bullish trends.

The crude price is currently at an 8-month high; when last checked @13:45GMT on Feb 23rd – the ICE Brent forward month futures contract was at US$124.33 per barrel and WTI was at US$106.33 per barrel. Three City analysts told the Oilholic this morning that the strong upside rally in the oil market is likely to continue for some time yet. Additionally, in a note to clients JP Morgan Chase raised its 2012 price forecast for Brent crude by US$6 to US$118 a barrel and its 2013 forecast by US$4 to US$125 a barrel.

Meanwhile, former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lamont – who is now the Chairman of the British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce – recently told BBC Radio 4 that imposing economic sanctions on Iran will not work.

"I can only say we are banging our heads against a wall with this approach...Iran will not buckle under these sanctions. The effect of sanctions is to hit the private sector in Iran, drive companies bankrupt and drive them into the arms of the government, or into the hands of the Revolutionary Guards and into alliances with people in the government smuggling the goods they desperately need," he said.

"I'm not sure this will have the right effect. Could this produce regime change? It's possible but in my view it's just as likely that it will bolster the strength of the regime," Lord Lamont concluded. According to the BBC, data compiled by companies exporting to Iran show that direct trade dropped from just under £500 million in 2008 - to an estimated £170 million in 2011. Blimey – didn’t know we had that much bilateral trade in the first place!

Moving away from what a former UK Chancellor said, an Indian wire reported and the Oilholic ranted about, it is time to discuss some interesting bits of reading material. This humble blog’s rapidly rising North American fan base (to put it modestly) would be keen to know that Reuters’ very own resident Oilholic – Tom Bergin’s splendid book on BP’s Macondo fiasco and its corporate culture – Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP – saw its US edition launched earlier this week.

Here’s the review, and if you lot in the US haven’t been cheeky and ordered a UK copy from an internet retailer, the Oilholic would recommend that you visit you a friendly neighbourhood bookstore (or library) where you are likely to find a local edition. From Bergin’s book which raises serious questions on corporate ethics to a Pastor who raises a rather pious question for us all really - Where would Jesus Frack?

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, a pastor told environmentalists last month that there is a scriptural basis for opposing Marcellus Shale drilling in the US. The Rev. Leah Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Church in Union County, Pennsylvania, USA, wore a hand-sewn white patch that said, "WWJF - Where Would Jesus Frack?" and dropped to her knees to demonstrate the power of prayer.

Asked later to answer the question on her blouse, Schade said, "I don't believe Jesus would be fracking anywhere." She cited Genesis 2;15: "God put human beings into the Garden to till it and keep it, not drill and poison it." Amen!

Continuing with interesting things to read, finally here is a comparison drawn by BBC journalist Vanessa Barford on what are the competing claims of UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands – an old diplomatic spat which has recently acquired a crude dimension. Last but not the least, here is a video of yours truly on an OPEC broadcast discussing project investment by the cartel at its 160th meeting of ministers in December. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo I: Veneco Oil Platform © Rich Reid - National Geographic. Photo II: Front Cover (US Edition) – Spills and Spin © Random House Publishers.

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