Market sentiment has switched to the opinion that prices are not going much lower, despite warnings from Goldman Sachs and other respected observers that there is no fundamental support for higher prices at this time. Last week various pieces of slightly bullish news that are usually are ignored by the markets were enough to move prices higher for the eighth time in the last ten weeks. Crude now is up 67 percent since February, closing on Friday at $43.73 in New York and $45.11 in London.
Tom Whipple is the editor of ASPO-USA’s two flagship publications, Peak Oil News and Peak Oil Review. Tom is a former senior analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since retiring from the CIA, Tom has become a well-known researcher and writer on energy and oil issues. Tom writes a weekly column on peak oil for the Falls Church News, a daily newspaper based in northern Virginia. Tom holds degrees from Rice University and the London School of Economics.
Oil prices climbed to recent highs early last week on hopes that the Doha meeting would eventually lead to some sort of production cut, a weaker dollar, and scattered production problems. Later in the week prices fell as the US crude glut continued to grow and expectations that something meaningful would come from the Doha meeting subsided. At week’s end, New York oil was at $40.36 and London at $43.10 up 2.8 percent for the week.
“Generally, it takes 18 months before the world has a decent picture of supply and demand. This is little consolation to those trying to do real time analysis on the direction of prices. That is why I can say categorically “the fix is in”. In other words, fields are declining, meaning investment is far below levels required just to replace production. The only thing that will change the vector of these declines is more spending, lots more spending, and the only thing will spur lots more spending is higher prices. Significantly higher than $40/bbl.”
Brad Beago, Oilprice.com, in Fortune magazine
Oil prices surged 8 percent last Friday and are now back at levels seen at the top of the last price surge in mid-March. This time strengthening the US and German economies, a falling dollar, and the OPEC price freeze meeting on April 17th was seen as the trigger behind the rally. Friday’s rally was the 12th time in the last two months that daily prices have surged by 5 percent or more showing that there is a lot of money eager to participate in big price rise that will come someday. However, this rally was mostly based on hopes that things are going to get better rather than any specific news, other than the recent increases in US gasoline consumption which are likely to short-lived as retail prices move higher.
“Most of the fields in Argentina are mature, and they are declining in production. A lot of investment [$20 billion per year] is needed to sustain production. This is having an impact on production curve now [with the rig count down from 112 in 2014 to 64 in February].”
Alejandro Gagliano, a partner at Giga Consulting in Buenos Aires
The six-week long surge in oil prices which pushed the price of crude up by roughly 50 percent seems to be coming to an end with prices down 6 percent last week. Looming behind the price increase was the notion that the world’s major crude exporters would to get together and sign an agreement to freeze production at current levels. Supporting the price jump was an increase in US gasoline consumption as prices fell to levels not seen in decades and the never ending hope that the US economy was about to get better. Much of the surge was caused by the liquidation of the unprecedented short futures positions that hedge funds and other speculators had built up during the nearly two-year slide of oil prices. When oil fell below $30 a barrel, many speculators figured that the long price slide was over and that oil was unlikely to go much lower. The resulting liquidation of positions which pushed up prices was the largest on record.
[Regarding natural gas prices:] “Going into summer, producers know it’s going to be a massacre.”
Sami Yahya, a Platts Bentek analyst.
“Global demand and supply will balance very quickly because we’re seeing an extended decline from producing fields.”
Per Magnus Nysveen, Rystad’s head of analysis, saying the world oil market will re-balance this year.
Oil prices finished a holiday-shortened trading week on Thursday relatively unchanged. Oil had been a bit higher on Monday and Tuesday but then underwent a $2 a barrel decline on Wednesday after the weekly stocks report showed a 9.4-million-barrel increase in the US crude inventory. Prices recovered by a dollar or so on Thursday to close at $39 in New York and $40 in London, partly in response to a 15-unit drop in the US oil rig count. The 50 percent price increase since January still seems to be based mostly on unrealistic expectations that the large oil exporters will cut production enough to bring supply and demand back into balance. So far, however, crude stocks have continued to rise, and production cuts have been minimal.
“It could be a lot of years before you see any meaningful rebound in the dividend [of oil companies]. It’s tough to have a really conservative, stable investment in a business that can’t control the price of its own product.”
Josh Peters, editor of Morningstar Inc.’s DividendInvestor newsletter
The price rally that has been on-going since mid-February continued last week with US futures closing Friday at $39.44 a barrel, up 2.4 percent for the week, and London futures closing at $41.20 up 2 percent. Last week the move came from a combination of what one analyst termed a “brilliant communications strategy” and other developments that normally lead to higher prices. The “brilliant communications strategy,” of course, is the meeting in April during which those countries that either cannot or do not want to increase oil production are supposed to agree not to increase their production. During the week, Moscow even hinted that Iran might join the group after it increases its oil output to 4 million b/d, a goal that might take many months or even years to reach. The producers now are scheduled to meet on 17 April in Qatar; the meeting is being heralded as the first agreement to limit global oil production in 15 years even though it is unlikely to have any real impact on oil production.
“I’ve covered this industry since the late 70s and I would have to say I haven’t seen a situation like this, of this magnitude. We’ve concluded that this is not a normal cyclical downturn.”
Carol Cowan, a Moody’s senior analyst
“Shale was a hot growth area and companies made the mistake of borrowing too much. It’s amazing that so many people were willing to lend them money. Many are going to file for bankruptcy, and bondholders and equity are going to get wiped out en masse.”
George Schultze, founder and chief investment officer of Schultze Asset Management in New York
Oil prices continued to move higher last week closing at $38.50 in New York and $40.39 in London, up 7.2 and 4.3 percent respectively for the week. The two-month surge which has taken oil prices up some 45 percent started with reports in January that Russia and the Saudis were trying to bring major oil producers together to agree on a production freeze. This idea is now fading as Iran adamantly refuses to freeze production and no other exporters seem willing to cede current customers to Tehran. The impetus for the price increase now is focusing on forecasts that low prices could lead to a decline of some 750,000 b/d in non-OPEC oil production this year – mostly in the US. Some of this could, of course, be offset by increased Iranian exports. Tehran had hoped to increase production and exports by 1 million b/d this year but is having difficulty finding customers and increasing production. A weaker US dollar also contributed to the oil price increase last week.
About Latin America: “The 70 percent drop in prices is a major shock. Oil was contributing in some countries from 20 to 50 per cent government revenues and 50 to 96 percent of exports. No wonder we are starting to question the financial viability of some countries and some national oil companies.”
Luisa Palacios, head of Latin America at Medley Global Advisors, a risk consultancy
Oil prices rose for the third consecutive week with New York futures closing at $35.92 a barrel and London at $38.72. Prices in London are now up 3.9 percent for the year. Behind the price rise is a continuing drop in the number of drilling rigs operating in the US and the announcement by several major shale oil producers that they plan to suspend new drilling until prices recover. Exactly where profitability is these days is in dispute with some drillers contending they can make money from shale oil if prices rise into the mid- $40s as compared to $60-70 two years ago. Some of these claims are for the benefit of the banks who have become very wary of the oil industry in recent months. The downside, of course, is that if shale oil producers start increasing production if prices get into the mid-$40s, they could easily drive them back down again with unsaleable production.
“The problem is going to be the money. Where is the money going to come from? A lot of people who have burned their fingers on (U.S. shale) are going to be reluctant to reinvest.”
Arnaud Breuillac, president of exploration and production at French oil giant Total.
Oil had a good week for a change with New York futures rising 3.2 percent to close at $32.78 and London climbing 6.3 percent to close at $35.10. This time, there was more than just wishful thinking behind the price increase as pipeline outages shut in 600,000 b/d in Kurdistan and 250,000 b/d in Nigeria to cut global exports by 850,000 b/d. In both cases, it is unclear as to just when the pipelines will reopen. In Nigeria, the outage was due to an underwater leak while the situation in Kurdistan likely is related to one of many wars taking place in the region.
About the proposed production freeze announced last week by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Venezuela: “The four producers involved are already producing close to their peak. The freeze is the oil-market equivalent of calling for a cease-fire when they’re running out of ammo.”
Miswin Mahesh, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London
The oil markets climbed through Thursday last week in hopes that the Saudi-Russian “pact” to freeze oil output would lead to lower production and higher prices. After it became clear on Thursday that countries adhering to the pact were already pumping oil as fast as they could and had little to no interest in lowering production unless forced to by geology, the markets began to fall. In New York, where futures had traded close to $26 a barrel the week before last, prices peaked at nearly $32 before falling back to close Friday at $29.64. London followed a similar pattern, climbing from $30 to nearly $36 before falling away to close at $32.91. This was the third mini price spike we have had in the past year based on stories that an agreement was in the offing that might cut production.
Oil prices plunged for four days last week, settling at a recent low of $26.21 in New York, a drop of nearly 30 percent since the start of the year, and $30.06 in London a 20 percent drop this year. The inevitable rebound came on Friday with a vigorous jump for the day of $3.23 or 12.3 percent in New York to close at $29.44, and $3.30 or 11 percent to $33.36 in London. This time the rebound was started by rumors out of the UAE that OPEC, while not considering a production cut, might be willing to consider halting further increases in production. This rumor was seen by traders as a willingness on the part of OPEC to take charge of the oil supply situation for the first time since the crisis began. Another factor contributing to the decline was the long weekend in the US and the unwillingness of traders to be caught in short positions with prices so low. As one analyst said, “every time someone in OPEC comes out and says we are willing to cooperate, there is always a knee-jerk reaction on the part of oil traders.” “No one wants to be caught selling futures at the bottom of the move.”
Quote of the week: Steven H. Pruett, CEO of Elevation Resources, an oil company based in Midland (TX)
Due to the oil price crash and the industry’s crushing debt load, “The oil industry will be permanently damaged.”
Steven H. Pruett, CEO of Elevation Resources, an oil company based in Midland (TX)
“I never thought I would wish, let alone pray, for higher oil prices, but I am. The world badly needs higher oil prices.”
Han de Jong, chief economist at ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam
It was a volatile week, with prices falling on Monday and Tuesday due to the oversupply situation and traders deciding that a grand agreement between Russia and OPEC to cut oil production was unlikely. However, prices climbed on Wednesday as talk of the Russia/OPEC deal revived, the US dollar underwent a sudden price drop, and a hedge fund that that held $600 million in short oil futures positions was liquidated. On Thursday and Friday, the markets were back to believing that the Saudis were not going to cut production as Riyadh lowered their prices for oil being sold to Europe and Asia as part of the new competition with Iran. A big jump in US crude and gasoline inventories announced on Wednesday helped with the downward pressure. At week’s end, New York futures closed at $30.89, down 8.1 percent for the week and London closed at $34.06, down 5.4 percent for the week.
“The fact that some oil is being sold at $10 per barrel – like some Canadian and Venezuelan crude grades – shows that the strain on producers has rarely been so big. At this level, some producers are not covering capital and operating expenses. And costs are even higher to shut down production. These prices will serve as destabilizing factors in many producing countries and on many bank loans.”
Marco Dunand founder and CEO of trading house Mercuria
Last week there was a surge in oil prices based on rumors and statements from Iraq’s oil minister and a Russian pipeline official that Russia and the Saudis might be considering a meeting to discuss “coordination” of their oil production. The merest hint of a supply cut was enough to send traders into a frenzy. Short positions were covered and prices rose from below $30 a barrel to nearly $36 in London. The story was quickly denied by numerous OPEC officials and even by Russia’s deputy prime minister, but oil prices stayed firm closing at $33.62 in New York and $34.74 in London.
“The situation is worse than it was in 2007. Our macroeconomic ammunition to fight downturns is essentially all used up. Debts have continued to build up over the last eight years and they have reached such levels in every part of the world that they have become a potent cause for mischief. It will become obvious in the next recession that many of these debts will never be serviced or repaid, and this will be uncomfortable for a lot of people who think they own assets that are worth something. The only question is whether we are able to look reality in the eye and face what is coming in an orderly fashion, or whether it will be disorderly. Debt jubilees have been going on for 5,000 years, as far back as the Sumerians.”
William White, chairman, OECD’s review committee; former chief economist, Bank for International Settlements
“So much of the frenzy in shale in the past few years was a result of the money pouring out of Wall Street. It was as much a Wall Street play as it was an oil-and-gas play. It was putting money to work. Companies took on all that risk and now we see the result [–bankruptcies].”
Terry Clark, White Marlin Oil & Gas Co.
Oil prices touched 12 year lows of just above $27 a barrel on Wednesday and then rebounded sharply to close above $32 on Friday. Other than the major east coast snowstorm in the US and the expectation there would be more demand for heating oil, there was no significant news to touch off the rebound other than traders feeling there was not much downside for oil prices left and that it was time to take profits. The rapid rebound was helped by the record size of the short positions held by hedge funds. As these were liquidated, the rebound accelerated to gain some 21 percent from the Wednesday lows. Hints by the European Central Bank last week that there could be a further stimulus coming also supported the move.