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1. Production and prices

Until Friday, the oil markets were dominated by a weak dollar which sent futures up from $68 to nearly $73 on Thursday. When oil prices stopped short of the $73 mark, trader interest switched from the weak dollar to the likelihood that world stockpiles would continue rising as refiners cut back for seasonal maintenance. Prices then fell nearly $4 to close Friday at $69.29. For yet another week, the struggle between oil fundamentals and economic optimism kept prices within the $65 to $75 a barrel trading range where they have been for nearly six weeks.

Last week OPEC agreed to keep the current production quotas which call for a reduction of 4.2 million b/d from last fall’s quotas even though quotas currently are being exceeded by 1.4 million b/d. Some cartel members did call for stricter compliance with existing quotas. Even though OECD stockpiles increased by12.8 million barrels last month, prices have remained in the vicinity of $70 a barrel since May which is enough to silence member concerns about stockpile growth. After the OPEC meeting, Saudi Oil Minister al-Naimi said “Economic growth is the name of the game, that’s what’s going to drive the price. As long as economic growth is there, the price is going to go up.”

Some analysts, however, are expressing concerns that long range forecasts of a mild winter could significantly reduce demand for heating oil this winter and others are not so sure an economic rebound will be as robust as many believe.

2. The IEA Revises its Forecast

The International Energy Agency raised its 2010 forecast last week to 85.7 million b/d which is 450,000 b/d more than previously estimated. In their report, the IEA said “There is growing evidence that the global economy may be finally stabilizing, with industrial de-stocking coming to an end, coupled with the effects of large-scale government intervention,” and that “oil demand in US, China and other Asia[n countries] appears to be running stronger than preliminary estimates suggested.”

The Agency still projects that oil consumption in 2009, while improving by 450,000 b/d from previous estimates, will still be down by 1.9 million b/d or 2.2 percent as compared with 2008.

Much of the IEA’s improved forecast is based on perceptions of economic recovery and increased oil consumption in China. At the OPEC meeting Saudi Oil Minister al-Naimi said “I am more confident today than what I was back in May about China’s economic recovery.”

Last winter, Beijing embarked on a fast track stimulus plan that loosened credit and injected $700 billion into the economy to counter the drop in China’s exports. Recent government statistics show gains in many economic indicators despite weak exports. Some, however, are questioning the sustainability of China’s government-fostered recovery and even the IEA notes that the true extent of the rebound in Chinese demand may be obscured by “massive stockpile building.”

3. The recovery?

Nearly everybody from the US Administration, to Wall Street, the IMF, and IEA is predicting an economic rebound next year. As there are some significant doubters, this naturally raises the question as to whether these forecasts of growth will actually occur and if so whether the growth will be sufficient to spark another oil price spike.

Beijing released some impressive numbers last week such as 12.3 percent growth in industrial production, a 15 percent growth in retail sales and a 9.3 percent increase in power production. It should be kept in mind, however, that these numbers are being compared with the summer of 2008 when large numbers of Chinese factories were closed in an effort to clean up the air for the Olympics. Exports which for decades have been the key to China’s real economic growth were weaker than expected in August, falling by 23.4 percent as compared to August of last year. Much of China’s recent growth has come from dramatic increases in lending and the money supply which suggest more of a government fostered bubble than real growth.

In the US, data used to support claims of imminent economic growth is heavily distorted by the massive government intervention in an economy that in reality is bouncing along the bottom as fundamental problems such as foreclosures, house prices, and unemployment continue to grow.

All this suggests that the course of oil prices remains uncertain. If prices continue to inversely track the US dollar, they could go higher should the dollar weaken further as many expect. The case for an imminent economic rebound seems to be weaker than the one the US and Chinese governments and their agencies are attempting to make. If this proves to be the case, an oil price spike similar to the one we had last summer seems unlikely in the immediate future.

Quote of the Week

  • “We are running the risk of another oil crisis when demand outstrips supply around 2014 or 2015. There won’t be enough oil and gas by the middle of the next decade.”
    — Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total

Briefs

  • Libya appears to be tugging back the welcome mat it laid down for foreign investors after it successfully blocked Verenex Energy Inc.’s sale to a Chinese firm. The international arm of CNPC formally abandoned the $499-million deal it signed in February. (9/11, #8)
  • IHS CERA expects oil demand to rise by 900,000 b/d in 2010 and reach its 2007 high of 86.5 million b/d by 2012. Oil demand dropped by 2.8 million b/d to reach 83.8 million b/d in 2009. The last time that the world experienced such a severe decline in oil consumption was in the early 1980s, and it took 9 years for demand to return to the 1979 high. (9/9, #4)
  • Iraq asked Japan’s Nippon Oil to submit a revised offer to develop Iraq’s Nassiriyah oil field. The move is seen as a final step before the government awards an $8 billion to $10 billion contract for the Nassiriyah field development (proposed peak production is 600,000 b/d). (9/10, #14)
  • Western oil companies operating in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region may have to wait for years for the government to pay them for the oil they pump, according to Talisman Energy’s chief executive. (9/9, #8)
  • In Iraq, the China National Petroleum Corporation has struck oil at the Ahdab field in Wasit Province, southeast of Baghdad. While the relationship between the company and the Iraqi government has gone smoothly, the presence of a foreign company with vast resources drilling for oil in this poor, rural corner of Iraq has awakened a wave of discontent. (9/7, #7)
  • In North Dakota, dozens of very productive new wells near the Bakken oil field have state officials believing another massive new oil find may be at hand. A newly discovered oil field in the Three Forks-Sanish formation is producing high yields, and some analysts believe it may surpass Bakken oil field just above it. (9/9, #24)
  • Mexico’s oil output is falling faster than expected, increasing the chance that the country will lose its status as a major oil exporter and face a worsening budget shortfall. Output at Cantarell, once the world’s second-largest oil field, has plunged to 500,000 barrels a day from its peak of 2.1 million in 2005. (9/10, #17)
  • Mexico’s President Calderon appointed Juan Jose Suarez Coppel as the new director of Pemex, replacing Jesus Reyes Heroles as part of a broader cabinet reshuffle. IHS Global Insight views the appointment as largely cosmetic, saying that without more fundamental structural reform it is unlikely that the appointment of a new head of Pemex will make much difference. (9/9, #16)
  • Norway’s oil production fell to a preliminary 1.91 million b/d in August from 2.07 million in July. Oil companies on the Norwegian shelf are struggling to maintain production against a long-term declining trend at maturing North Sea oilfields (9/11, #16)
  • Chevron started crude production Aug. 19 at the $3.8 billion Tombua-Landana project off Angola, the company’s costliest project to commence operation this year. Output at the offshore field is expected to peak in 2011 at 100,000 barrels of oil a day. (9/9, #10)
  • In Uganda, daily production could eventually reach 100,000 barrels, enough to support a local refinery. (9/9, #12)
  • Brazil has no interest in joining OPEC because it does not aspire to become a crude oil exporter, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. (9/9, #15)
  • Russia is surpassing Saudi Arabia in oil exports for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse as Prime Minister Putin exploits OPEC production cuts to gain market share. Exports of crude and refined products from Russia rose to about 7.4 million barrels a day in the second quarter, according to Energy Ministry data. Saudi shipments fell to about 7 million barrels a day. (9/8, #4)
  • In Nigeria, OPEC said production was 1.6 million barrels per day in August, down from 1.67 mb/d in July. In contrast, a Nigerian official pegged the country’s crude oil output at 2.3mb/d. (9/8, #10)
  • Exxon Mobil, the largest US oil company, may not meet its 2 percent production growth target this year amid shrinking European demand for natural gas. (9/10, #20)
  • In response to Congressional pressure for greater energy market transparency, EIA director Richard Newell said his agency will now harvest more information about the energy markets and conduct deeper assessments of price factors. (9/10, #9)
  • A rapidly expanding middle class in China and India will provide the main engine for world oil demand growth in the coming years as families in developing nations buy more cars and appliances according to a new study by PIRA. Since 2000, China and India combined have added more than 59 million people per year to middle class — defined as people with an annual income of $6,000 or more — representing over 75 percent of the world’s increase in this group. (9/11, #10)
  • American intelligence agencies have concluded in recent months that Iran has created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon. But new intelligence reports say that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb. (9/10, #12)
  • Repsol YPF SA, Spain’s biggest oil company, discovered a Venezuelan gas field containing as much as 8 trillion cubic feet of fuel, one of the world’s largest finds. 9/13, #9)
  • Natural gas companies are bullish on new sources of shale gas, but that very prospect of new production is driving down prices to the point where development is uneconomic. Drilling results in the remote northeastern corner of British Columbia suggest the Horn River basin could hold as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of gas, but Encana says Horn River needs prices of at least $6 for 1,000 cubic feet to be commercial. (9/11, #14)
  • Royal Dutch Shell may be the first company to develop a floating liquefied natural gas project with the location likely to be off northern Australia. The technique suits stranded gas deposits that are too small and far from the coast to be profitably developed through onshore plants. There are over suitable 100 fields globally. (9/12, #10)
  • Al-Qaeda is using bases in Yemen to launch terror strikes at Saudi Arabia and at Western interests. Last month it tried to assassinate the top Saudi anti-terrorist official. (9/9, #7)
  • Beijing has put its weight behind some state-owned firms struggling with oil derivatives losses, saying it will back them in legal action against the foreign banks that sold the products. (9/9, #17)
  • China National Petroleum Corp. received a $30 billion loan to fund overseas expansion as the country’s government stepped up its hunt for energy resources. The accord underscores China’s strategy to accelerate acquisitions of energy resources abroad after spending $12 billion this year on oil fields and refining assets in foreign countries. (9/9, #18)
  • China’s auto industry continued to post strong growth, with sales of passenger vehicles rising 90 percent over last August. (9/9, #20)…Car sales in India rose 26% in August; that gain—a seventh straight month of increases in local car sales—follows July’s 31% rise. (9/9, #21)
  • The world’s largest solar power plant will be built in China by First Solar Inc., a US-based renewable energy company, as the country plans to increase non-polluting electricity generation. The 2,000-megawatt complex will be built in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia, China by 2019, Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar said Tuesday. (9/9, #27)
  • China may build some 22 reactors in the five years ending 2010 and 132 units thereafter, compared with a Japanese company’s estimate last year for a total 60 reactors. (9/7, #11)
  • Plans to impose tough new sanctions on Iran in order to get it to halt its nuclear program would receive strong public backing in the European Union and in the US, according to a poll for the Financial Times. (9/7, #6)
  • Expanding wind power capacity in the US, the world’s largest producer of wind-generated energy, may lower electricity prices and reduce the use of coal and natural gas according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. (9/7, #21)