Morgan Stanley has been pretty pessimistic about oil prices in 2015,
drawing comparisons to the some of the worst oil slumps of the past three decades. The current downturn could even rival the iconic price crash of 1986, analysts had warned—but definitely no worse.
This week, a revision: It could be much worse.
Until recently, confidence in a strong recovery for oil prices—and oil companies—had been pretty high, wrote analysts including Martijn Rats and Haythem Rashed, in a report to investors yesterday. That confidence was based on four premises, they said, and only three have proven true.
1. Demand will rise: Check
In theory: The crash in prices that started a year ago should stimulate demand. Cheap oil means cheaper manufacturing, cheaper shipping, more summer road trips.
In practice: Despite a softening Chinese economy, global demand has indeed surged by about 1.6 million barrels a day over last year’s average, according to the report.
2. Spending on new oil will fall: Check
In theory: Lower oil prices should force energy companies to cut spending on new oil supplies, and the cost of drilling and pumping should decline.
In practice: Sure enough, since October the number of rigs actively drilling for new oil around the world has declined by about 42 percent. More than 70,000 oil workers have lost their jobs globally, and in 2015 alone listed oil companies have cut about $129 billion in capital expenditures.
3. Stock prices remain low: Check
In theory: While oil markets rebalance themselves, stock prices of oil companies should remain cheap, setting the stage for a strong rebound.
In practice: Yep. The oil majors are trading near 35-year lows, using two different methods of valuation.
4. Oil supply will drop: Uh-oh
In theory: With strong demand for oil and less money for drilling and exploration, the global oil glut should diminish. Let the recovery commence.
In practice: The opposite has happened. While U.S. production has leveled off since June, OPEC has taken up the role of market spoiler.
OPEC Production Surges in 2015
For now, Morgan Stanley is sticking with its original thesis that prices will improve, largely because OPEC doesn’t have much more spare capacity to fill and because oil stocks have already been hammered.
But another possibility is that the supply of new oil coming from outside the U.S. may continue to increase as sanctions against Iran dissolve and if the situation in Libya improves, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. U.S. production could also rise again. A recovery is less certain than it once was, and the slump could last for three years or more—”far worse than in 1986.”
“In that case,” they wrote, “there would be little in history that could be a guide” for what’s to come.
Half of the 41 fracking companies operating in the U.S. will be dead or sold by year-end because of slashed spending by oil companies, an executive with Weatherford International Plc said.
There could be about 20 companies left that provide hydraulic fracturing services, Rob Fulks, pressure pumping marketing director at Weatherford, said in an interview Wednesday at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. Demand for fracking, a production method that along with horizontal drilling spurred a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas output, has declined as customers leave wells uncompleted because of low prices.
There were 61 fracking service providers in the U.S., the world’s largest market, at the start of last year. Consolidation among bigger players began with Halliburton Co. announcing plans to buy Baker Hughes Inc. in November for $34.6 billion and C&J Energy Services Ltd. buying the pressure-pumping business of Nabors Industries Ltd.
Weatherford, which operates the fifth-largest fracking operation in the U.S., has been forced to cut costs “dramatically” in response to customer demand, Fulks said. The company has been able to negotiate price cuts from the mines that supply sand, which is used to prop open cracks in the rocks that allow hydrocarbons to flow.
Oil companies are cutting more than $100 billion in spending globally after prices fell. Frack pricing is expected to fall as much as 35 percent this year, according to PacWest, a unit of IHS Inc.
While many large private-equity firms are looking at fracking companies to buy, the spread between buyer and seller pricing is still too wide for now, Alex Robart, a principal at PacWest, said in an interview at CERAWeek.
Fulks declined to say whether Weatherford is seeking to acquire other fracking companies or their unused equipment.
“We go by and we see yards are locked up and the doors are closed he said. “It’s not good for equipment to park anything, whether it’s an airplane, a frack pump or a car.”
The oil industry was listening as OPEC talked down crude prices to a more than five-year low.
Drillers, refiners and other merchantsincreased bets on lower prices to the most in three years in the week ended Jan. 6, government data show. Producers idled the most rigs since 1991, with some paying to break leases on drilling equipment.
Companies are hedging more and drilling less amid concern that the biggest slump in prices since 2008 will continue. Oil dropped for a seventh week after officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates andKuwait reiterated they won’t curb output to halt the decline.
“Producers are desperately hedging their production in a drastically falling market,” Phil Flynn, a senior market analyst at the Price Futures Group in Chicago, said by phone Jan. 9. “They’re trying to lock in prices because they are convinced that the market will stay down for a while.”
WTI slid $6.19, or 11 percent, to $47.93 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Jan. 6, settling below $50 for the first time since April 2009. Futures for February delivery declined $1.53 to $46.83 in electronic trading at 8:09 a.m. local time.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps about 40 percent of the world’s oil, has stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that it won’t curb output to halt the rout. The U.A.E. won’t cut production no matter how low prices fall, Yousef Al Otaiba, its ambassador to the U.S., said at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington on Jan. 8.
The group decided to maintain its collective quota at 30 million barrels a day at a Nov. 27 meeting in Vienna. Output averaged 30.24 million barrels a day in December, according to a Bloomberg survey.
U.S. crude production was 9.13 million barrels a day in the seven days ended Jan. 2 after reaching 9.14 million three weeks earlier, the highest in weekly Energy Information Administration data since 1983. Stockpiles were 382.4 million barrels as of Jan. 2, a seasonal high.
The nation’s oil boom has been driven by a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which have unlocked supplies from shale formations including the Eagle Ford and Permian in Texasand the Bakken in North Dakota. Global oil prices below $40 begin to make wells in such places unprofitable to operate, Wood Mackenzie, an Edinburgh-based consultant, said in a report Jan. 9.
Rigs seeking oil decreased by 61 to 1,421, Baker Hughes Inc. said Jan. 9, extending the five-week decline to 154. It was the largest drop since February 1991, which also followed a slide in prices before the start of the Persian Gulf War.
Helmerich & Payne Inc., the biggest rig operator in the U.S., and Pioneer Energy Services Corp. said last week that they had received early termination notices for rig contracts.
Producers and merchants boosted their net short position by 21 percent, or 17,577 futures and options, to 100,997 in the week ended Jan. 6, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the most since Jan. 10, 2012.
Hedge funds and other large speculators raised bullish bets by 7 to 199,395 contracts.
“You have this tension and lack of consensus among money managers of what to do with a price under $50,” Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said by phone Jan. 9. “People tend to think of money managers as a black box where they all use same strategy and march in lockstep, but this highlights that it’s not really the case.”
Bullish bets on Brent crude rose to the highest level in more than five months, according to ICE Futures Europe exchange.
Net-long positions gained by 24,598 contracts, or 21 percent, to 140,169 lots in the week to Jan. 6, the data show. That’s the highest since July 15.
In other markets, bearish wagers on U.S. ultra-low sulfur diesel decreased 12 percent to 23,789 contracts as the fuel sank 7.6 percent to $1.7262 a gallon.
Net short wagers on U.S. natural gas fell 15 percent to 10,323 contracts. The measure includes an index of four contracts adjusted to futures equivalents: Nymex natural gas futures, Nymex Henry Hub Swap Futures, Nymex ClearPort Henry Hub Penultimate Swaps and the ICE Futures U.S. Henry Hub contract. Nymex natural gas dropped 5 percent to $2.938 per million British thermal units.
Bullish bets on gasoline declined 0.4 percent to 44,050. Futures slumped 6.8 percent to $1.3543 a gallon on Nymex in the reporting period.
Regular gasoline slid 1.3 cents to an average of $2.139 on Jan. 10, the lowest since May 5, 2009, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the country’s largest motoring group.
The global crude oversupply is 2 million barrels a day, or 6.7 percent of OPEC output, Qatar estimates. Only 1.6 percent of supply would be unprofitable with prices at $40 a barrel, according to Wood Mackenzie.
“If you’re a producer and your cost is below the price in the market, if you hedge it even at depressed prices you can still make money,” Tom Finlon, Jupiter, Florida-based director of Energy Analytics Group LLC, said by phone Jan. 9. “Somebody’s locking in profits even at these low prices.”
Goldman Sees Need for $40 Oil as OPEC Cut Forecast Abandoned
Goldman Sachs said U.S. oil prices need to trade near $40 a barrel in the first half of this year to curb shale investments as it gave up on OPEC cutting output to balance the market.
The bank reduced its forecasts for global benchmark crude prices, predicting inventories will increase over the first half of this year, according to an e-mailed report. Excess storage and tanker capacity suggests the market can run a surplus far longer than it has in the past, said Goldman analysts including Jeffrey Currie in New York.
The U.S. is pumping oil at the fastest pace in more than three decades, helped by a shale boom that’s unlocked supplies from formations including the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota. Prices slumped almost 50 percent last year as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted output cuts even amid a global surplus that Qatar estimates at 2 million barrels a day.
“To keep all capital sidelined and curtail investment in shale until the market has re-balanced, we believe prices need to stay lower for longer,” Goldman said in the report. “The search for a new equilibrium in oil markets continues.”
West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. marker crude, will trade at $41 a barrel and global benchmark Brent at $42 in three months, the bank said. It had previously forecast WTI at $70 and Brent at $80 for the first quarter.
Goldman reduced its six and 12-month WTI predictions to $39 a barrel and $65, from $75 and $80, respectively, while its estimate for Brent for the period were cut to $43 and $70, from $85 and $90, according to the report.
“We forecast that the one-year-ahead WTI swap needs to remain below this $65 a barrel marginal cost, near $55 a barrel for the next year to sideline capital and keep investment low enough to create a physical re-balancing of the market,” the bank said.
Goldman estimates there’s sufficient capacity to store a surplus of 1 million barrels a day of crude for almost a year. It expects the spread between WTI and Brent to widen in the next quarter as discounted U.S. crude prices and “strong margins lead U.S. refineries to export the glut to the other side of the Atlantic.”
The Brent-WTI spread will average $5 a barrel in 2016, according to the bank. The gap was at $1.50 today.
Oil Falls to 5 1/2-Year Low as Russia, Iraq Boost Output
Oil dropped to the lowest since May 2009 amid growing supply from Russia and Iraq and signs of manufacturing weakness in Europe and China.
Futures headed for a sixth weekly loss in New York and London. Oil output in Russia and Iraq surged to the highest level in decades in December, according to data from both countries’ governments. Euro-area factory output expanded less than initially estimated in December. A manufacturing gauge in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, fell to the weakest level in 18 months, government data showed yesterday.
Prices slumped 46 percent in New York in 2014, the steepest drop in six years and second-worst since trading began in 1983, as U.S. producers and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ceded no ground in their battle for market share. OPEC pumped above its quota for a seventh month in December even as U.S. output expanded to the highest in more than three decades, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“We’re seeing more of the same,” John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy, said by phone. “The Chinese and European PMI figures signal weaker demand, while there’s ever-increasing supply. Nobody is cutting back on output and now the Russians are posting post-Soviet production highs.”
Brent for February settlement fell 53 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $56.80 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange at 11:31 a.m. It declined to $55.48, the lowest since May 7, 2009. Volume for all futures traded was 30 percent below the 100-day average. The European benchmark slumped 48 percent last year, the second-biggest annual loss on record behind a 51 percent tumble in the 2008 financial crisis. Brent traded at of $3.24 premium to WTI.
West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rose 32 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $53.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after dropping to $52.03, the least since May 1, 2009. Volume for all futures traded was 34 percent below the 100-day average. Prices are down 3.2 percent this week.
The surge in oil supplies in Iraq and Russia signaled no respite in early 2015 from the glut that’s pushed crude prices lower. The two countries provided 15 percent of world oil supply in November, according to the International Energy Agency.
Russian oil output rose 0.3 percent in December to a post-Soviet record of 10.667 million barrels a day, according to preliminary data e-mailed today by CDU-TEK, part of the Energy Ministry. Iraq exported 2.94 million barrels a day in December, the most since the 1980s, Oil Ministry spokesmanAsim Jihad said.
The final two burning crude-storage tanks were extinguished at Es Sider, Libya’s biggest oil port, National Oil Corp. spokesman Mohammed Elharari said by phone from Tripoli. The fires started Dec. 25, when Islamist militants shot rockets at the port in a second attempt to capture it.
OPEC’s production slid by 122,000 barrels a day from November to 30.24 million last month, led by losses in Saudi Arabia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates, a Bloomberg survey of companies, producers and analysts shows. The 12-member group has a collective target of 30 million a day.
U.S. oil production averaged 9.12 million barrels a day in the week ended Dec. 26, according to the Energy Information Administration. Output increased to 9.14 million a day through Dec. 12, the most in weekly data that started in January 1983.
Inventories of gasoline surged in the week ended Dec. 26 as production climbed to a record, EIA data showed.
Gasoline futures declined 3.14 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $1.4407 a gallon in New York. Diesel decreased 3.18 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $1.8018.
Regular gasoline at U.S. pumps fell to the lowest level since May 2010. The average retail price slipped 0.9 cent to $2.231 a gallon yesterday, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring group.
Sector will respond to the lower commodity price but their share price will decline – example;
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Linn Energy LLC LINE, +15.20% said Friday it has approved a 2015 budget that cuts oil and natural gas capital spending to $730 million from about $1.55 billion in 2014, the latest company to respond to the recent slide in crude oil prices. “After careful consideration, LINN’s senior management proposed and the Board of Directors approved a 2015 budget that contemplates a significantly lower current crude oil price than in 2014,” Chief Executive Mark Ellis said in a statement. The budget assumes an unhedged NYMEX price of $60 a barrel. The company is cutting its annual dividend to $1.25 a share from $2.90, he said. Linn Energy has signed a non-binding letter of intent with GSO Capital Partners LP, the credit arm of The Blackstone Group LP BX, +0.56% to fund oil and gas development. GSO has agreed to commit up to $500 million to fund drilling programs. Shares were down 6.2% in premarket trade.
Blackstone’s $70 billion credit arm, GSO Capital Partners, committed as much as $500 million to fund oil and natural gas development for Linn Energy LLC (LINE), according to a statement today. The Houston-based energy producer rose as much as 18 percent after the announcement, after losing almost 70 percent of its value in six months as crude prices plummeted.
Private equity firms, while taking steps to shore up energy companies in their portfolios, are hunting for investments in oil and gas producers after Brent tumbled more than 50 percent since June. Energy presents the best opportunity for Blackstone in many years, especially for the New York-based firm’s credit unit, Schwarzman said at a Dec. 11 conference.
“There are a lot of people who borrowed a lot of money based on higher price levels, and they’re going to need more capital,” he said at the conference in New York. “There are going to be restructurings to do. There’s going to be a fallout. It’s going to be one of the best opportunities we’ve had in many, many years.”
Under the five-year agreement with Linn, Blackstone would fund drilling programs at locations selected by Linn for an 85 percent working interest in the wells, according to the statement. If the projects produce a 15 percent annualized return for Blackstone, its stake will drop to 5 percent.
The plunge in oil may usher in a new era for investing in distressed debt, according to Howard Marks, the billionaire co-founder of Oaktree Capital Group LLC. In a letter to clients last month, Marks said his Los Angeles-based firm is becoming more aggressive as companies that borrowed heavily in the low-interest rate environment now come under pressure.
“We knew great buying opportunities wouldn’t arrive until a negative ‘igniter’ caused the tide to go out, exposing the debt’s weaknesses,” Marks wrote. “The current oil crisis is an example of something with the potential to grow into that role.”
Linn, a master-limited partnership, is the latest producer to cut spending on expectations of lower oil and gas prices. The company said today it expects oil to average $60 a barrel in 2015, although it has hedged about 70 percent of its expected output at higher prices. Brent fell 1.9 percent to $56.23 a barrel at 2:38 p.m. in New York.
The agreement with Blackstone, which is non-binding, is “designed to allow Linn to be an active developer of assets with growth capital,” Mark Ellis, Linn’s chief executive officer, said in the statement. “This agreement creates a dynamic alliance.”
The company’s shares rose 13 percent to $11.44 at 2:47 p.m. in New York.
Please see our recent articles published this week on 2015 Energy Sector Forecasts ( archived)
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All amounts in US$ unless otherwise noted.
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Getty ImagesAn engineer walks in the Barjisiya oil fields in Iraq. Bank of America says the OPEC cartel is dead and free markets now control the global cost of oil.
The OPEC oil cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense and crude prices will slump to $50 a barrel over coming months as market forces shake out the weakest producers, Bank of America has warned.
Revolutionary changes sweeping the world’s energy industry will drive down the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), creating a “multi-year” glut and a much cheaper source for Europe’s gas needs.
Francisco Blanch, the bank’s commodity chief, said OPEC is “effectively dissolved” after it failed to stabilize prices at its last meeting. “The consequences are profound and long-lasting,” he added.
The free market will now set the global cost of oil, leading to a new era of wild price swings and disorderly trading that benefits only Middle East petro-states with the deepest pockets, such as Saudi Arabia.
BoA said in its year-end report that at least 15 per cent of US shale producers are losing money at current prices, and more than half will be under water if US crude falls below $55. The high-cost producers in the Permian basin will be the first to “feel the pain” and may have to cut back on production soon.
The claims pit BoA against its arch-rival Citigroup, which claims the US shale industry is far more resilient than widely supposed, with marginal costs for existing rigs nearer $40, and much of its output hedged on the futures markets.
BoA said the current slump will choke off shale projects in Argentina and Mexico, and force retrenchment in Canadian oil sands and some of Russia’s remote fields. The major oil companies will have to cut back on projects with a break-even cost below $80 for Brent crude.
It will take six months or so to whittle away the 1 million barrels a day of excess oil on the market — with Brent falling below $60 and US crude reaching $50 — given that supply and demand are both “inelastic” in the short-run. That will create the start of the next shortage.
“We expect a pretty sharp rebound to the high $80s or even $90 in the second half of next year,” said Sabine Schels, the bank’s energy expert.
We expect a pretty sharp rebound to the high $80s or even $90 in the second half of next year
Ms. Schels said the global market for LNG will “change drastically” in 2015, going into a “bear market” lasting years as a surge of supply from Australia compounds the global effects of the US gas saga.
If the forecast is correct, the LNG flood could have powerful political effects, giving Europe a source of mass supply that can undercut pipeline gas from Russia. The EU already has enough LNG terminals to cover most of its gas needs but has not been able to use this asset as a geostrategic bargaining chip with the Kremlin because LNG has been in scarce supply, mostly diverted to Japan and Korea. Much of Europe may not need Russian gas within a couple of years.
BoA said the oil price crash is worth $1-trillion of stimulus for the global economy, equal to a $730-billion “tax cut” in 2015. Yet the effects are complex, with winners and losers and diminishing benefits the further it falls. Academic studies suggest that oil crashes can turn negative if they trigger systemic financial crises in commodity states.
Barnaby Martin, BoA’s European credit chief, said world asset markets may face a rough patch as the U.S. Federal Reserve starts to tighten afters year of largesse.
He flagged warnings by William Dudley, head of the New York Fed, that US authorities tightened too gently in 2004 and might do better to adopt the strategy of 1994, when they raised rates fast and hard, sending tremors through global bond markets.
BoA said quantitative easing in Europe and Japan will cover just 35 per cent of the global stimulus lost as the Fed pulls back, creating a treacherous hiatus for markets. It warned that the full effect of Fed tapering had yet to be felt. From now on the markets cannot be expected to be rescued every time there is a squall.
What is clear is that the world has become addicted to central bank stimulus. BoA said 56 per cent of global GDP is supported by zero interest rates, and so are 83 per cent of the free-floating equities on global bourses. Half of all government bonds in the world yield less than 1 per cent. Roughly 1.4 billion people are experiencing negative rates in one form or another.
These are astonishing figures, evidence of a 1930s-style depression, albeit one that is still contained. Nobody knows what will happen as the Fed tries break out of the stimulus trap, including Fed officials themselves.