Posts tagged “OPEC”
As the year expires and the new year arrives, there are several topics I like to cover in a series of articles. One is to review the top energy stories of the year. Another is to grade my predictions for the year. And finally, I lay out my predictions for the upcoming year.
Usually I have a dilemma of whether to grade my predictions first, or to lay out the energy stories first — because I normally do both stories at the end of the year, and something could potentially happen right at the end of the year that might change the narrative. For example, I might do the top energy stories this week, but what if something monumental happens in the next two weeks? The other option is of course to wait until after the first of the year, but then that delays my predictions.
This year, however, there isn’t much of a dilemma on which story to do first. I can grade my 2014 predictions at this point with a high level of confidence. CONTINUE»
The latest news in the declining oil price saga comes from Saudi Arabia. Last week softening prices of Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, appeared to be resulting from weaker growth prospects in Europe and Asia. This week, according to a Reuters exclusive, the Saudis suggested that market share is preferable to them over the higher prices that other OPEC members such as Venezuela prefer. However, senior Saudi officials would not comment on this market share agenda that was reported as a result of last weeks investor and analyst meetings in New York, where Reuters obtained their information. It is also hypothesized that the Saudi trial balloons could be a vehicle to help other OPEC members see the wisdom in all members sharing in production cuts to shore up prices, not just the Saudis, which is par for the course.
By the November 27th meeting, more clarity from OPEC is expected. Concerns about U.S. oil supply growth with the potential for glut have been on the radar of numerous analysts for over a year. The prices of Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) have fallen in tandem in the last few months. WTI dropped to $85 Friday October 10; January WTI futures fell $5.03 since Sept. 30 to $84.73 a barrel today on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted October 8:
The price of North Sea Brent crude oil,[the global benchmark], has fallen to around $91 per barrel, the lowest level in more than two years and about 21% lower than its year-to-date peak of $115 per barrel on June 19. Average monthly Brent spot prices had traded within a narrow $5 per barrel range, from $107 to $112 per barrel, for 13 consecutive months through July 2014.
Saudi Arabia, the OPEC producer with the most influence, has made adjustments to production and pricing. Saudi Arabia cut its crude production by about 400,000 barrels a day in August. This reduction was tied to lower exports to Asian markets. OPEC said it had reduced estimated demand for its crude by 200,000 barrels a day for 2015. The EIA curbed its forecasts for OPEC oil and other liquid fuels production to 35.51 million barrels a day in 2015, down 350,000 bpd from last month’s forecast. For crude oil output alone the EIA cut its forecast by 300,000 bpd to 29.24 million bpd. In September, OPEC pumped nearly 31 million bpd. The EIA projects that Brent crude oil prices will average $98 a barrel in the fourth-quarter of 2014. Brent traded around $88 as of early afternoon October 13th.
Risks, Rewards, and Soft Power
In oil markets, the year 2014 already looks to repeat 2013 with some important differences. Unpredictability in the commodities’ extraction and delivery, political risk, and policy risk may play a bigger role in 2014. The potential lifting of the crude oil export ban, which the industry and some lawmakers desire, may also stir up the market.
On the policy front, safety and methods of transporting oil and water disposal issues arose in 2013, and will likely again in 2014. The second rail disaster from transporting oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec incident with loss of life and the December 30th Casselton derailment, renewed the debate between pipelines versus rail transportation. The director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources “predicted that as much as 90 percent of crude produced in the Bakken this year will move by rail” a recent article noted. In Parker County, Texas, the Texas Railroad Commission listened to residents’ complaints about earthquakes, which they attribute to disposal wells. The US Geological Survey sees a link between the earthquakes and wastewater disposal; a similar renewal in earthquake activity is reported in Oklahoma as well. CONTINUE»
More Supply, Competition and Friction Possible
News of Iran’s potential slow ramp up of oil supply resounded with a downward small ping in prices in late November, later to bounce back based on supply realities and economic growth. Iraqi oil supply keeps increasing, averaging about 3 million barrels per day, a new high in the last 20 years. Iraq plans to keep pumping — growing production 500,000 – 750,000 barrels more per day in 2014. Iraq’s output relative to OPEC production hovers near 10%, from around 7.5% in 2008. Iran’s contribution to OPEC production was around 12% in 2008, dropping in 2013 to 8.6%, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
“Al Arab Yantafiq lam yantafique,” said Mr. Charles Kestenbaum, a top Middle East expert and former U.S. Trade Specialist, in a November 25th interview, immediately following the news of Iran’s nuclear deal. This Arabic expression is translated as: ”Arabs can only agree to disagree.” In late November, the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations hosted Charles Kestenbaum, a veteran of Middle East affairs since the mid-1970s. In his quote, a common expression, lies the challenges ahead in the Middle East.
Forty Years After
In October 1973 the United States and other Western countries experienced a new phenomenon: an embargo on oil deliveries from a group of the world’s largest oil exporters, imposed in response to our military support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War then underway. Last week I attended a session in Washington hosted by the US Energy Security Council commemorating these events. It included a fascinating conversation between Ted Koppel and Dr. James Schlesinger, US Secretary of Defense at the time of the embargo and later the first US Energy Secretary.
The other, related purpose of the meeting was a presentation and discussion proposing that fuel competition provides a surer means of achieving energy security than our pursuit of energy independence for the next four decades following the Arab Oil Embargo. This idea warrants serious consideration, since energy independence, at least in the sense of no net imports from outside North America, is beginning to appear achievable.
Impacting Economics, Geopolitics and Markets
The U.S. is expected to spend about 8.5% of its GDP on energy in 2013. In 2008, when oil prices peaked, it was closing in on 10%. U.S. oil production provides a buffer to supply shocks — which happens frequently in the Middle East and North Africa, two key crude supply regions. In July 2013, disruptions to crude oil and liquids production were nearly 2.7 million barrels per day. Of the supply disruptions, 800,000 barrels were from non-OPEC nations and the other 1.9 million from OPEC, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). August is estimated at a 2.8 million shortfall.
The OPEC-related outages, which include Iran, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria, are considered to be the highest since early 2009. This has contributed to rising prices, from the year’s low of $97 in April to a high nearing $117 August 27th, after Syrian chemical weapons attacks followed on the heels of Egypt’s political turmoil. The causes of the outages in Libya were from labor disputes, while Iraq’s shortfalls originated from pipeline disruptions from violence; Iran’s woes stem partly from sanctions, and Nigerian oil challenges related generally to oil theft and infrastructure sabotage and degradation.
Geopolitical Risk Continues, Part Two
Turmoil in Egypt continues to roil oil markets and confound Middle East regional stability. Goldman Sachs said Monday, August 19th, five days after the violence escalated, it expected tighter oil markets to propel Brent to $115 “in the very near term.” More interesting though are the shifts occurring in the geopolitical landscape of the broader Middle East.
Saudi King Abdullah publicly gave his approval and support for the military-backed government of Egypt. He pledged a $12 billion aid package along with the UAE and Kuwait, four times as much as the military and economic grants from the U.S. and the European Union combined ($1.5bn and $1.3bn respectively). The threat of political Islam vis-a-vis the Muslim Brotherhood is seen as potentially up-ending stability in the Kingdom. This high-stakes game of regional poker has just gotten more complicated. The outcome, which may occur in waves of violence and instability, could take many years to be realized.
While U.S. benchmark (WTI) crude-oil futures were up 4.6% since the start of 2013, the futures prices of the global benchmark Brent was down. Analysts suggest that the investment demand for exposure to oil prices was supporting these numbers, not physical demand growth. So what information content is behind oil prices, and how do we parse reality from the hype?
Dealing With the Total Picture
Last week, Governor Romney released his plan for “Energy Independence” that promises to “increase domestic energy production and increase partnership with Mexico and Canada to gain energy independence by 2020.” Briefly, the plan proposes to increase domestic fossil fuel production by opening new areas to exploration and by reducing regulatory barriers to the building of new power plants.
My concern is that this is simply a one-sided energy policy – it focuses solely on increasing the supply of energy (and almost exclusively on fossil fuels, especially oil). A true energy plan would realize that no matter how much oil your country produces, it can never escape the world market price. In a world with a globalized market for oil, OPEC will always be the most important price-setter, and the price of oil will not be set at home. The price will track with demand from economic growth in India and China and will follow supply shocks from the most recent unrest in oil-producing regions, whether Iran, Sudan, or the South China Sea.
A Changing U.S. Energy Picture
This weekend, Thomas Friedman posed a question in his Sunday New York Times column: “Should the US join OPEC?” I generally don’t like to get into Friedman’s columns, as his name-dropping and taxicab reporting will drive you crazy. However, he probably has the widest readership of anyone in this field, and he does a good job of simplifying complicated issues.
Friedman says the “debate we’re again having over who is responsible for higher oil prices fundamentally misses huge changes that have taken place in America’s energy output, making us again a major oil and gas producer — and potential exporter — with an interest in reasonably high but stable oil prices.”
I hate to say it, but he’s right – although we’re nowhere near being a petroleum exporter today (a clear requirement for membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), I believe that fundamental changes in America’s supply and demand over the next 20-30 years mean that we’re moving towards a world where the U.S. has a real interest in exports – probably not of unrefined crude oil, but of all energy products.