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Oil Update–April 2017

Oil prices dipped below $50 late last week, tumbling since Wednesday when the US Energy Information Administration announced an unexpected gasoline build in its weekly update on inventory levels. More downward pressure came on Friday, April 21, when Baker Hughes said that the oil-rig count rose by five to 688.

On that same Friday, the Financial Times wrote (subscription required) the following:

But concerns are mounting that a ramp up in US shale production will undermine a push by Opec and other producers such as Russia to reduce excess stockpiles and bring to a close the worst price crash in a generation.

One Wall Street trader said: “There are lots of things at play. US production is surging, there are concerns about demand in Asia, hedge funds are reducing their bets on a higher oil price. It’s all coinciding and putting pressure on prices.”

While there is plenty of news to suggest that oil prices will remain soft, I continue to expect that oil prices will generally be bound by $50 to $60 per barrel. I anticipate that in late May OPEC will agree to extend its production cuts for another six months. Furthermore, more oil is expected to be consumed as driving seasons kicks into high gear over the next few months. With continued production cuts and increased consumption, prices should be supported at $50 per barrel.

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Oil Update–March 2017

Although West Texas Intermediate prices are hovering around $50 per barrel, we’ve seen oil prices dip into the high $40s in March, which is lower than I expected.

To understand oil prices better I read online newspapers and other sources. At lower oil prices there were more bearish articles forecasting $40 in the near term. Now, there are more bullish forecasts—for example, Reuters’ analyst John Kemp reported that Goldman Sachs suggests that an OPEC production cut extension might not be need to support prices.

I anticipate that OPEC will extend its cuts because it seems determined to provide support to oil prices. As evidence, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported on March 29 the following:

Investors also welcomed comments from OPEC members who are showing a willingness to cut more of their supplies to make a dent in global inventories. United Arab Emirates announced plans to reduce its production by about 200,000 barrels from March to May, “which is actually more than was agreed,” said Commerzbank analysts in a recent note.

For the next couple of months, I continue to expect that WTI prices will stay between $50 to $60 per barrel.

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Oil Update–February 2017

As I expected, oil prices have remained relatively range bound in the mid-$50 range. I continue to expect this range to hold for the next few weeks.

At these prices, many are concerned that increased drilling for shale oil production will offset the recent production cutbacks and force oil prices back down again. While that might happen, I expect that it won’t.

Looking at oil production data in the US Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2017” report, note in the reference case that US total oil production from the lower 48 states is forecast to be relatively flat from 2018 to 2050. In 2018, the forecast volume is 9.32 million barrels per day. In 2029, forecast production hits a peak at 10.55 million barrels per day, and in 2050 forecast production is 9.86 million barrels per day. Oil wellhead prices are forecast to increase from $49.90 per barrel in 2017 to $72.18 in 2020 and to over a $100 by 2036. All prices are in 2016 US dollars. The key point is that even though prices are rising quickly, oil production forecasts do not rise significantly above 10 million barrels per day.

I am also closely watching “U.S. crude oil and liquid fuels production” data forecasts from US Energy Information Administration’s “Short Term Energy Outlook” monthly reports. Crude oil and liquid fuels production includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, ethanol, and biodiesel.

The January 2017 “Short Term Energy Outlook” report contained the following total production data, both historical and forecasts, in millions of barrels per day:

  • December 2016: 13.500
  • December 2017: 14.276
  • December 2018: 14.810

2017 shows an increase of about 5.75 percent, and 2018 shows an increase of about 3.74 percent.

In February’s monthly report, the historical and forecast data were revised as follows:

  • December 2016: 13.443
  • December 2017: 14.382
  • December 2018: 15.253

2017 shows an increase of about 6.98 percent, and 2018 shows an increase of about 6.06 percent.

It’s important to note that the percentage increases are increases in the average production during the month of December compared to average daily production during the prior December. This is in contrast to the average daily production increase throughout the year that is forecast to be much less. For example, in the January report, the forecast annual average daily growth in crude only, excluding natural gas plant liquids, ethanol, and biodiesel, for 2017 was 1.3 percent and for 2018, 3.3 percent. In the February report, the data was revised for 2017 at 1.1 percent growth, and 2018, 6.1 percent.

As more “Short Term Energy Outlooks” are released, I plan to track the changes to both historical and forecast production data. Will production forecasts continue to increase and, if so, more rapidly than previously thought?

On January 19, 2017, the Financial Times article “‘Permania’ grips the US shale oil industry” (subscription required) revealed estimated breakeven oil prices for Permian basin producers. Most participants have an average breakeven price of between $40 and $60 dollar per barrel. The most productive assets have breakeven prices below $40 per barrel. The least productive assets, however, require much higher prices, up to $100 per barrel for Apache, for example. I expect that companies are focused on their more productive assets now when prices are in the mid $50s. A key point, though, is that oil prices will need to exceed $60 for all Permian basin assets to be developed.

The following quote comes from the Wall Street Journal February 16 article “Oil Gains on Possible Extension to Production Cuts” (subscription required).

On Thursday, Reuters reported that OPEC sources said the cartel could extend the six-month deal to cut supply, or make more severe cuts, if oil stocks don’t drop by around 300 million barrels.

Because US production is not forecast to exceed much beyond 10 million barrels per day in the near term and because current world production is likely unsustainable at prices below $60 per barrel, Saudi Arabia will probably play a waiting game. It will likely continue to keep or deepen current cuts until such time as more OPEC production is desired.

Forecasts are always wrong—it’s just a question of how wrong. It is important to keep monitoring information and adjusting one’s forecasts.

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Oil Update–January 2017

In my December 2016 update, I wrote that I expected oil prices to be more stable in early 2017. Oil prices have been relatively stable so far, with WTI prices hovering over $50 per barrel. I further mentioned that I did not expect significant oil production cheating. OPEC and non-OPEC countries that are participating in the oil production cuts have shown solid compliance so far.

From my review of various news sources, the views of analysts and traders range from optimism where production cuts will make a meaningful difference to pessimism where increased drilling in shale plays will offset production cuts. The next few weeks will gauge the effectiveness of the production cuts in reducing worldwide oil inventories against the rate of oil production increases.

My expectation is that during the next few weeks, oil production cuts will continue to support current prices while the concerns about increased production will keep oil prices capped below $60 per barrel.

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Oil Update–December 2016

As a quick follow up to November’s post, I expect oil prices in early 2017 to be more stable. Given the recent run up of oil prices going into the New Year, I am not sure how much further they might rise in the first few months. Like everyone else, I will be watching the oil production response from the rest of the world and for any signs of cheating from those OPEC and non-OPEC countries that have agreed to reduce production. And, unlike many analysts and traders, I don’t expect significant cheating, at least not initially. After a few months of anticipated reduced production, analysts and traders should have a better understanding.

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season, and I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2017.

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Oil Update–November 2016

Those of us who follow oil know that at the end of November, OPEC will hold a meeting and will decide whether to follow through on its Algiers commitment to reduce members’ oil production. Most articles in the major financial newspapers indicate that many analysts, traders, and speculators are skeptical, if not dismissive, that OPEC will follow through. I, however, think that OPEC will announce a reduction, though I am not certain that it will be as large as many hope.

Helima Croft of RBC Capital Markets Research wrote a report, which Barron’s cited in an article “OPEC Must Strike Deal For Its Own Good” (subscription required), with the following key points:

  • Revenue is the key item for all concerned;
  • Saudi Arabia—the pivotal player in OPEC—wants a deal done for domestic reasons;
  • Because most members are at or near maximum capacity, the opportunities for cheating are constrained;
  • A sustainable increase in production for Croft’s “fragile five” looks challenging in the near term;
  • OPEC is aware of extremely adverse price and reputational risks from failure to reach an agreement; and
  • The election of Donald Trump should not dramatically alter OPEC dynamics.

I agree with all of her points.

The Wall Street Journal article “Oil Prices Await Effect of OPEC Deal” (subscription required) mentions the prices that banks expect for 2017.

Underscoring the uncertainty about the deal’s prospects, banks polled by The Wall Street Journal kept their price forecasts largely unchanged from the previous month. The 14 banks in the survey predict that international Brent crude will average at $56 a barrel next year while U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate will average $54 a barrel next year.

On Friday, Brent was trading at $48.54 a barrel while WTI was at $47.60 a barrel. Those prices are still down by more than half from mid-2014.

OPEC agreed in September to reduce its record output, but its members have since increased production even more, complicating its calculations for a cut. That means the nitty-gritty details of any OPEC agreement on Wednesday will be more important than usual.

The banks’ prices are likely a sweet spot—high enough to make a substantial difference in producers’ revenue while low enough to prohibit higher cost oil assets from being exploited.

For those of us interested in the oil markets, Wednesday should prove to be an interesting day.

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Autumn Leaving

It's Time To Leave

Last weekend, I shot a couple of photographs at North Glenmore Park, capturing the change in seasons; the summer leaves have left as nature prepares for winter.

For those not familiar with Calgary or its climate, North Glenmore Park is located on the north border of Glenmore Reservoir, a large man-made reservoir that is used for Calgary’s drinking water and to create electricity. Many also use the reservoir for sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and dragon boat races. People can walk or bike around the reservoir, too. If I recall correctly, it’s about 16 kilometers or almost 10 miles. For the most part, the path is relatively flat with a few hills in the Weaselhead Flats area. As a side note, the Weaselhead Glenmore Park Preservation Society works to protect this delicate area.

At this time of year, the weather tends to be variable. Sometimes there is snow. Most years, however, it is still reasonably warm at about 9 °C or nearly 50 °F for daily highs and close to freezing at nights.

As we turn our backs to the summer and autumn seasons, Calgarians are preparing for colder winter temperatures.

The top and bottom pictures were taken at about 5:50 p.m. during the “golden hour,” which is a period shortly before sunset. You can see long shadows in both photographs.

Autumn Leaving

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Oil Update–September 2016

On late Wednesday, September 28, OPEC announced an agreement of sorts to reduce its production by roughly 250 to 750 kbd to its overall combined production mbd, where kbd and mbd represent thousands of barrels per day and millions of barrels per day respectively.

The Conference, following the overall assessment of the global oil demand and supply balance presented by the OPEC Secretariat, noted that world oil demand remains robust, while the prospects of future supplies are being negatively impacted by deep cuts in investments and massive layoffs. The Conference, in particular, addressed the challenge of drawing down the excess stock levels in the coming quarters, and noted the drop in United States oil inventories seen in recent weeks.

The Conference opted for an OPEC-14 production target ranging between 32.5 and 33.0 mb/d, in order to accelerate the ongoing drawdown of the stock overhang and bring the rebalancing forward.

The Conference decided to establish a High Level Committee comprising representatives of Member Countries, supported by the OPEC Secretariat, to study and recommend the implementation of the production level of the Member Countries. Furthermore, the Committee shall develop a framework of high-level consultations between OPEC and non-OPEC oil-producing countries, including identifying risks and taking pro-active measures that would ensure a balanced oil market on a sustainable basis, to be considered at the November OPEC Conference.

This agreement is an agreement to agree, which might prove very difficult to effect. Moreover, I am not sure which, if any, OPEC countries, will be exempt from production cuts. If there are exempt OPEC countries, will their future production overwhelm the agreed cuts? Saudi Arabia typically reduces its production as the summer ends and autumn starts. Assuming this planned production cut is part of agreed cut, what is the effective production cut? If prices should rise to nearly or above $50 per barrel, will other higher cost producers step in and threaten OPEC’s market share? Until we have more clarity by way of a final agreement and see how other OPEC and non-OPEC producers respond, I will remain cautiously optimistic.

Here are some other articles, from subscription sources, that you might find helpful:

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Calgary's McDougall School Just Before Sunrise

I attended many meetings at McDougall School, at 412 – 7 Street SW, Calgary, when the oilsands industry and provincial and federal government representatives were negotiating fiscal terms during the mid to late 1990s. Because it is one of the oldest buildings in Calgary’s downtown core with a unique architecture and history, I always found the school interesting.

When it was constructed during 1906 to 1908, life in Calgary was very different. It was originally used as a school for training teachers, although it now contains offices and meeting rooms primarily used, I believe, by the Alberta government. After its construction it was likely one of the prominent buildings in Calgary. Today it is dwarfed by the many skyscrapers that occupy the downtown core. Then, horses transported people from place to place. Now, vehicles and a transit system move people about Calgary. Then, Calgary was an important hub for agricultural and ranching communities. Now, while Calgary hasn’t forgotten its agricultural and ranching roots, it is, perhaps, most popularly known as the location for the head offices for Canadian and Canadian subsidiaries of international oil and gas companies. So much has changed during the past century.

I took the above photograph at about 6:24 a.m., approximately 20 minutes before sunrise, on August 28, 2016.

For those interested in learning more about its history, please visit Canada’s Historic Places: “McDougall School.”

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Oil Update–July 2016

Last month I was concerned about Brexit and its implications for the oil market. At present, Brexit doesn’t seem to be playing an important role in the markets.

Oil recently has softened as there is a glut of refined products. With too much inventory, refineries are likely to cut back on their crude purchases. Making matters worse, according to Reuters, “OPEC oil output set to reach record high in July: survey.” Furthermore, as we enter into August, refinery utilization rates typically begin to slow as we approach the shoulder season between summer driving and winter heating. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides a graph showing last year’s and this year’s “Crude oil refinery inputs.” Looking at the graph, we see that crude oil inputs begin to slow sometime in early August and reach their low points in late October or early November.

Now that oil prices have softened to the low $40s, we are left wondering will prices continue to fall or stabilize before heading higher again?

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