Posts from Bob Tippee

Sunday, 09/26/2021

Producers of crude oil face historic insecurity about their market. Not only is there still uncertainty stemming from COVID, oil demand is also under pressure as governments and international organizations push to replace fossil fuels with energy forms free of hydrocarbons. Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) face special challenges from measures taking shape to discourage oil use. Their economies, more than most others, depend on oil sales and many members of the exporters’ group have limited sources of replacement income. Yet OPEC producers do not lack leverage in a market expected to grow at diminishing rates and eventually shrink. Many of them can produce crude oil much less expensively than counterparts elsewhere and some of them plan to profit from that advantage by increasing output, even as the market flattens, and are investing to raise production capacity to ‘get while the getting is good.’ In today’s RBN blog, we look at capacity-boosting plans within OPEC, explain why most members cannot take part in the effort, and describe how this developing priority might intensify market competition.

Tuesday, 08/24/2021

This summer’s resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic in many parts of the world will wreck forecasts of demand for petroleum products and, therefore, for crude oil. Most oil-market forecasts published in the first half of 2021 didn’t anticipate the 75% jump in new weekly coronavirus cases that has occurred since mid-June, or new possibilities for travel limits and other restrictions of the type that clobbered economies — and oil demand — around the globe in 2020. Obviously, swerves away from expectations for oil consumption scramble the supply-demand balances widely used in oil-market analysis. But they do happen. In fact, deviation between forecast and actual demand is the rule, not the exception. It’s just not always as extreme as the balance adjustments likely to be needed after the latest COVID surprise. Even when there’s no deadly pandemic to worry about, demand can be tricky to define, difficult to measure, and frustrating to predict. In today’s blog, we discuss the intricacies of oil-demand assessment and explain why balance calculations, based on forecasts destined to be wrong, remain meaningful to analysts mindful of their limitations.

Sunday, 07/25/2021

As the outlook for crude oil in 2022 came into three-dimensional view this month, the market’s steadying mechanism managed to right itself again after another wobble. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) took its first formal look at next year in its July Monthly Oil Market Report (OMR), becoming the third of three widely watched prognosticators to do so. Among the other two, the International Energy Agency (IEA) began projecting 2022 oil-market data in its June Oil Market Report, and the intrepid U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) took its first analytical shot at next year way back in January in its Short Term Energy Outlook. The important third dimension that OPEC gave to the 2022 oil-market picture arrived on July 15 after two weeks of worry about whether production restraint by most of the group’s members and cooperating countries would survive. On July 18, though, the internal squabble driving that concern ended in a compromise that will result in production quota increases for several OPEC+ members. The 2022 projections by OPEC, IEA, and EIA, not to mention worry-driven elevation of crude oil prices prior to the compromise, make clear that the market needs OPEC+ to continue the orderly unwinding of its production cuts. In today’s blog, we compare the three forecasts and look at how the latest adjustment to OPEC+ supply management will affect the market.

Monday, 07/12/2021

Crude oil is demonstrating yet again its penchant for what markets hate most: surprise. Last month, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and collaborating governments were carefully easing the production cuts with which they steered the market through an oil-demand crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Demand was recovering as economies reopened after being locked down during most of 2020 and early 2021. And the near-month futures price for light, sweet crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) — having closed below zero for the first time ever on April 20, 2020 — rose above $70/bbl for the first time since October 2018. Until mid-June, the market’s main concern was the potential for a supply surge if Iran escaped sanctions by agreeing with the U.S. to again suspend nuclear development. Surprise! Only days after his election as Iranian president on June 18, Ebrahim Raisi announced new limits on what his government would negotiate regarding nuclear work and said he would not meet with U.S. President Joe Biden. Suddenly, new oil supply from Iran looked less imminent than it did before Raisi’s election. Then July arrived. Surprise! OPEC members and nonmembers, collectively known as OPEC+, which had been voluntarily limiting production ended an important meeting without agreeing, as had been expected, to extend their phasedown of supply restraint. Suddenly, the market had to wonder whether the result would be too little supply or a price-crushing production spree if OPEC+ discipline collapsed. In today’s blog, we examine how these developments relate to each other in the twin contexts of a rebalancing oil market and of past oil-supply management.

Monday, 05/31/2021

Much like the world at large, the crude oil market has been healing from the ravages of COVID-19. Overall, market conditions are far better than they were in April 2020, when global oil consumption, crushed by pandemic-related lockdowns, slumped to 80.4 MMb/d, a 17% decline from the start of last year and a 20% drop from April 2019. Demand has been rebounding in fits and starts for a full year now — recovering from downturns is what markets do. But this recovery has gotten a big assist: 10 members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), acting in concert with 10 non-members, have restrained crude oil production in a program unprecedented in scale and duration. Now, oil prices are high enough to revive activity by some producers outside the so-called OPEC+ group. For at least the rest of this year, in fact, the market looks like a steel-cage match between crude supply subject to coordinated management and supply governed only by raw market signals. Today, we look at oil-market projections from three important agencies and estimate demand for oil not supplied by the OPEC+ exporters.

Tuesday, 03/24/2020

In the stormiest market environment for crude oil in many years, it’s hard to find a spot where the sailing is smooth. If even-keel conditions exist anywhere in the oil-producing world today, it might be the offshore Gulf of Mexico, where producer decisions to invest in new platforms or subsea tiebacks are based on very long-term oil-price expectations and the production, once initiated, is steady. In the second half of the 2010s, Gulf producers significantly reduced the average breakeven prices needed to justify their most promising new investments — from more than $55/bbl back in 2015 to less than $35/bbl today. Given what’s happened to crude oil prices the past few days, however, it’s logical to wonder whether any of even the best prospective Gulf of Mexico projects will be sanctioned this year. Today, we discuss how cost-cutting and efficiency improvements have made the offshore Gulf a comparatively steady, growing base of U.S. crude oil production that so far has been less vulnerable than shale output to oil-price gyrations.

Wednesday, 03/11/2020

New U.S. liquefaction trains and export terminals have added LNG to an oversupplied global market. International gas prices are at their lowest levels in several years, price spreads between the U.S. and destination markets have collapsed and — to make matters even worse — a coronavirus pandemic threatens to undermine LNG demand growth. U.S. LNG exports nevertheless have been increasing with each new liquefaction train that comes onstream, though, mostly because their long-term offtake contracts make cargo liftings relatively insensitive to global prices. The question is, will dire global market conditions somehow undo U.S. LNG production growth? Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on the future of U.S. LNG exports.

Tuesday, 03/10/2020

It’s a new world, folks. The Saudis and Russians, who until a few days ago had been trying to prop up crude oil prices through supply management, are now engaged in an all-out war for market share. Crude oil prices are sharply lower. Three weeks ago, West Texas Intermediate was selling for $53/bbl and Western Canadian Select for $37/bbl; yesterday, they were selling for $34/bbl and $22/bbl, respectively. And things may get worse. All this has profound implications for North American production, but the effects on production in U.S. shale plays versus the Canadian oil sands will be very different. Today, we explain how the oil sands provide steady-as-she-goes baseload supply through pricing peaks and valleys while U.S. shale plays serve as a global swing supplier.

Monday, 02/24/2020

Oil-production restraint by OPEC and 10 cooperating countries grows more challenging with time, and just when market projections began to hint at relief for the OPEC-Plus group, the spread of the new coronavirus in China and beyond became a sudden and possibly serious impediment to global economic growth and oil demand. Yesterday’s slide in crude oil prices amid newly heightened concern about the potential pandemic’s effects will only add to the challenges that OPEC-Plus countries will face in managing crude supply. So far, the OPEC-Plus group has achieved unprecedented compliance with its production ceilings, which it implemented in January 2017 and has adapted a few times since in response to market pressure. That effort has kept the crude price above the ruinous levels of 2015, memories of which have encouraged quota discipline. But the threat of a major, coronavirus-related slowdown in global oil demand could seriously undermine OPEC-Plus’s efforts, which already had been hurt by dissent within its ranks. Today, we continue our series with a look at Monday’s price drop, the latest supply and demand forecasts and a discussion of the obstacles that might affect OPEC-Plus going forward. 

Thursday, 02/06/2020

U.S. shale oil production and exports have contributed to global oversupply in recent years, which, in turn, has amplified pressure on OPEC to implement production cuts to keep crude oil prices from collapsing to untenable levels. That’s led to an agreement among most OPEC countries and nearly a dozen other non-member producing countries — together known as OPEC-Plus — to limit production, an accord that’s remained in place since January 2017. However, oversupply conditions now are also prompting U.S. oil and gas producers to pull back on their planned capital expenditures for 2020, suggesting a slowdown in U.S. production growth later this year and into 2021. Recent global oil supply and demand forecasts by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and OPEC itself suggest that such a slowdown, if it materializes, could present a window of opportunity for OPEC-Plus to relax its quotas and potentially reclaim some of its lost oil market share, at least for a time. Today, we examine what the recent changes in monthly data from IEA, EIA and OPEC indicate about potential shifts in the OPEC versus non-OPEC oil supply and demand balance and what that could mean for OPEC’s role in meeting global demand.

Tuesday, 02/04/2020

In the global crude oil market, at least some degree of coordinated management of supply has been the norm since the end of World War II. From the mid-1940s to the early 1970s, the cabal of oil companies known as the Seven Sisters jointly managed production to keep crude prices at levels that accommodated their interests. Then it was OPEC’s turn. More recently, the efforts to keep supply from overwhelming demand — and help prevent oil prices from crashing — have been led by a combination of OPEC and some other major producers, including Russia. U.S. shale producers — who’ve contributed significantly to the global supply growth in recent years — have both benefited from this supply management and partially thwarted it by continuing to increase production to offset cuts by “OPEC-Plus.” But a projected slowdown in U.S. production growth in 2021 may change these market dynamics. Today, we begin a short blog series on global oil supply and demand trends, supply management efforts by OPEC-Plus, and what it all means for OPEC, U.S. producers and the broader oil market.

Tuesday, 01/21/2020

Fear about supply interruption isn’t the frantic force it used to be in the crude oil market. A deadly confrontation that might have pushed the U.S. and Iran to the verge of war raised the spot Brent crude oil price to above $70/bbl early in the week of January 6. Despite continuing regional concerns, the price quickly subsided. By January 13, Brent spot had fallen to $64.14/bbl, its lowest point since December 3. Before the Shale Era, a U.S.-Iranian face-off may well have launched Brent crude to well over $100/bbl as oil traders blew fuses over the heightened possibility of disruption to Persian Gulf oil production and transportation. There’s nothing like adequacy of supply, globally dispersed, to keep things calm —  or at least calmer than they would have been if the U.S. and Iran had drawn so much sword a dozen years ago. In this blog, we’ll discuss where U.S. crude exports have been heading, how close the oil gets to strategically touchy areas, and whether the market still has reason to worry about disruption to oil supply.