Iran – Oil sanctions to be lifted in late 2015 or early 2016 – Adding 2 Million Barrels A Day

Iran has said it will offer about 50 energy projects to investors and plans to boost output by about 2 million barrels a day once the deal is in place.

Sanctions against Iran probably will be lifted within the first three months of 2016, after the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed the nation has curtailed its nuclear work, diplomats said last month. Once the restrictions are removed, relief is expected to fuel economic growth by lowering barriers to Iran’s oil exports and ending the isolation of its banks.

Iranian Oil

Iran has said it will offer about 50 energy projects to investors and plans to boost output by about 2 million barrels a day once the deal is in place. The Persian Gulf nation, with the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, pumped 2.8 million barrels a day last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

One nation, Japan, plans to triple its imports of Iranian crude once sanctions are lifted, the Iranian Oil Ministry’s Shana news agency said on Saturday, citing Seyed Mohsen Ghamsari, director of international affairs at National Iranian Oil Co. Japan will increase purchases to 350,000 barrels a day from 110,000 barrels, the agency said.

The U.S. waivers will result in the lifting of sanctions that now restrict or penalize non-U.S. companies for engaging in various economic activities, including buying Iranian oil and dealing with many Iranian banks, the U.S. officials said.

Narrow Categories

But for U.S. companies, sanctions will be eased only for certain narrow categories, the officials said. They said these include the export of civilian passenger aircraft, the import of spare aircraft parts and handicrafts from Iran, and some activities that subsidiaries of U.S. companies can conduct overseas.

In addition, Obama told reporters on Friday that sanctions “related to ballistic missiles, human-rights violations, terrorism — those, we will continue to enforce.”

In another sign of progress, IAEA monitors last week ended their 12-year investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear past. Inspectors now have until Dec. 15 to draft and present a final assessment of their inquiry.

Iran’s nuclear work has been the focus of international scrutiny since February 2003, when Iranian officials told inspectors visiting Tehran of their plans to begin enriching uranium on an industrial scale. Subsequent discoveries that Iran had secretly procured nuclear materials and technologies led to years of mistrust. In May 2008 and again inNovember 2011, the IAEA publicly disclosed its suspicions about Iran’s activities.

Iran has consistently denied ever seeking a nuclear weapon.

Timeline to lifting sanctions:

  • Sunday — “Adoption Day” for July accord signed with world powers. Parties to the agreement begin meeting their commitments.
  • Nov. 30 — Iran prepares to end testing of advanced centrifuge cascades and store machines under IAEA seal.
  • Dec. 15 — IAEA to present its assessment of Iran’s past nuclear activities, which board will use “with a view to closing the issue.”
  • Late 2015-early 2016 — Oil sanctions to be lifted on “Implementation Day.” U.S. officials have suggested it will take at least two months from “Adoption Day” to reach this point.

    Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is storing record amounts of crude in its quest to maintain market share as it cut shipments.

    Commercial crude stockpiles in August rose to 326.6 million barrels, the highest since at least 2002, from 320.2 million barrels in July, according to data posted on the website of the Riyadh-based Joint Organisations Data Initiative. Exports dropped to 7 million barrels a day from 7.28 million.

    “The fall in Saudi crude exports reflects the market reality,” Mohammed Ramady, an independent London-based analyst, said Sunday by phone. “It’s normal to see this fall knowing that the market is becoming highly competitive, with many countries in OPEC selling at discounts and under-pricing the Saudi crude.”

    Crude inventories have been at record highs since May, a month before Saudi Arabia’s production hit an all-time high of 10.56 million barrels a day. The nation has led the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in boosting production to defend market share, abandoning its previous role of cutting output to boost prices.

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Ratings cut on Chesapeake Energy, other oil and gas producers :Outlooks Cut to Negative by S&P in Oil Slump


Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. were among several U.S. oil and natural gas producers that had their outlooks or ratings cut by Standard & Poor’s as the industry suffers from weak crude prices, hurting their cash flow and liquidity.

S&P cut ratings for Chesapeake Energy Corp., Denbury Resources and Whiting Petroleum Corp., while giving Exxon and Chevron “negative” outlooks, the ratings agency said Friday in a statement. Exxon “has substantially more debt than during the last cyclical commodity price trough in 2009, while upstream production and costs are at similar levels,” S&P analysts Thomas Watters and Carin Dehne-Kiley said.

Oil prices have fallen 58 percent from last year’s peak, threatening $1.5 trillion in North America energy investments, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd.  Oil has been stuck near $45 a barrel as U.S. crude stockpiles stay about 100 million barrels above the five-year seasonal average and OPEC pumps at near-record levels.

Exxon is one of only three U.S. industrial issuers to have a triple-A bond rating, along with Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft Corp. The oil company has held that grade from S&P since at least 1985, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The last U.S. company to lose the triple-A designation from S&P, as well as Moody’s Investors Service, was Automatic Data Processing Inc., which was stripped of the ratings after spinning off its auto-dealer services unit in April 2014.

Chevron has been rated AA by S&P since at least July 1987, Bloomberg data show.

“Most rating actions reflect lower credit-protection measures, negative cash flow, and uncertainty about liquidity over the next 12 months,” S&P said in the statement.

El Niño Could Turn Into Worst Nightmare For U.S Natural Gas Producers ( 10 % less demand this winter)

We have now tumbled into fall, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the weather forecast. As NOAA’s 8-14 day outlook illustrates, we are set for above-normal conditions for the first week of October across, ooh, basically the entire US. This morning’s natural gas storage report is expected to yield an injection well above the 5-year average of 83 Bcf, and weather forecasts point to further solid injections in the weeks to come.

Last week we took a look at what an El Niño meant for the coming winter as WSI issued its winter weather outlook. WSI is predicting the strongest El Niño in 65 years, which ‘should drive warmer-than-normal temperatures across much of the northern U.S., as the polar jet stream weakens and lifts northward‘. Accordingly, WSI projects natural gas demand this winter to be 10% lower than the previous one.

With this in mind, and with storage levels already 16% higher than last year, and 4% higher than the five-year average, it provides some color as to why the January contract (aka the bleak mid-winter) is currently at a 16-year low.


(Click to enlarge)

There is a somewhat more frosty reception being felt across financial markets today, with Japanese equities opening for the first day this week, and promptly getting walloped. This baton of risk aversion is being passed from continent to continent, as Europe sells off and the US looks down.

Crude prices were finding some solace in a rising euro earlier in the day, with the European Central Bank downplaying the need for further stimulus. But as the outlook gets bleaker for broader markets, risk aversion is dragging crude lower. On the economic data front, we had a weaker-than-expected manufacturing print from Japan (which further greased the wheels for an equity sell-off).

Onto Europe, and German business confidence was the opposite of its compatriot indicator, the ZEW, by showing a weak current assessment but improving expectations (the ZEW was the other way round). Onto the US, and durable goods were relatively in line across the board, while weekly jobless claims came in a little better than expected at 267,000, but slightly higher than last week.

Fears are escalating in the oil patch about an impending credit crunch amid falling investment. Oil producers are set to see credit lines cut by an average of nearly 40%, as the majority of companies see their credit lines shrink due to the revaluation of assets (a twice-yearly phenomenon). This comes at a time when upstream investment is also shrinking in response to lower oil prices. The below chart from EIA highlights that investment levels in the coming years will be significantly lowerthan the 10-year annual average, due to the drop in prices (the crude oil first purchase price is adjusted for inflation).

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(Click to enlarge)

Finally, we discussed a couple of days ago how Singapore is seeing record stockpiles of fuel oil finding its way onto tankers amid exceptionally strong refining runs. We are seeing a similar tale emerge for diesel exports from China, as refiners keep on refining amid slower demand. According to the General Administration of Customs, diesel exports have risen 77% year-on-year to reach a record 175,000 barrels per day in August. Strong refining runs are endorsed by what we see in our#ClipperData, with Chinese oil imports year-to-date 14% higher than last year, rising to meet this ongoing demand.

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Natural Gas Drillers Can’t Catch a Break : Bloomberg News

Natural gas drillers who flocked to liquids-rich basins in search of better profits just can’t seem to catch a break.

Seven years ago, as shale output surged and gas futures tumbled more than 60 percent, producers abandoned reservoirs that only yielded gas and moved rigs to wells that also contained ethane, propane and other so-called natural gas liquids, or NGLs. These NGL prices were tied to oil futures, which climbed in 2009 as the economy recovered. It was a strategy that worked well — for a while.

Drillers fled natural gas for oil and liquids as commodities collapsed.
Drillers fled natural gas for oil and liquids as commodities collapsed.

Those days are over. Oil has plunged 56 percent from a year ago, and propane at the Mont Belvieu hub in Texas has tumbled 64 percent. The spread between NGL prices and natural gas shrank 9.2 percent last week to $7.02 a barrel, the lowest in at least two years, squeezing producers’ profits.

The spread between natural gas liquids and natural gas prices has narrowed, squeezing producers' profits.
The spread between natural gas liquids and natural gas prices has narrowed, squeezing producers’ profits.

The culprit is a repeat offender: shale production. This time, the boom in oil output from reservoirs like the Bakken in North Dakota has created a glut of NGLs, and the market is poised to remain well supplied. To survive, gas producers will have to focus on the lowest-cost wells.

Production of natural gas liquids has surged, creating a glut as drillers flee dry gas.
Production of natural gas liquids has surged, creating a glut as drillers flee dry gas.

“Drillers are going to have to retreat to where the sweet spots are,” said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York. “At these price levels, the rig count isn’t going to move higher.”


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Trading Alert : Oil Sector Is Not Yet At The Bottom


“This is the beginning, not the end, of the write-down process,” Paul Sankey, an energy analyst at Wolfe Research LLC, said on Bloomberg TV on Friday. “The biggest concern is that we’ll see weaker demand over the second half of the year.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., the biggest U.S. energy producers, hunkered down for a prolonged stretch of weak prices after posting their worst quarterly performances in several years.

Exxon reported its lowest profit since 2009 as crude prices fell twice as fast as the world’s largest crude producer by market value could slash expenses. Chevron recorded its lowest profit in more than 12 years after the market rout forced $2.6 billion in asset writedowns and related charges.

Stung by the worst market collapse since the financial crisis of 2008, oil explorers are slashing jobs, scaling back drilling, canceling rig contracts and reducing or halting share buybacks to conserve cash. Chevron said the slump convinced it to lower its long-term outlook for crude prices.

“This is the beginning, not the end, of the write-down process,” Paul Sankey, an energy analyst at Wolfe Research LLC, said on Bloomberg TV on Friday. “The biggest concern is that we’ll see weaker demand over the second half of the year.”

Exxon cut share repurchases for the current quarter in half to $500 million after net income fell to $4.19 billion, or $1 a share, from $8.78 billion, or $2.05, a year earlier, the Irving, Texas-based company said in a statement on Friday. The per-share result was 11 cents lower than the average estimate of 20 analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

For Exxon, refinery profits fattened by lower costs for crude were more than offset by weaker results in the company’s primary business, oil and natural gas production, Exxon said. The company’s U.S. wells posted a $47 million loss.

Spending Cuts

Exxon reduced spending on major projects like floating crude platforms and gas-export terminals by 20 percent to $6.746 billion during the quarter, according to the statement. International crude prices fell 42 percent from the previous year to an average of $63.50 a barrel.

Chevron’s profit dropped to $571 million, or 30 cents a share, from $5.67 billion, or $2.98, a year earlier, the San Ramon, California-based company said in a statement. The per-share result was well below the $1.16 average estimate.

Chevron’s biggest business unit — oil and gas production – – posted a loss as the second-largest U.S. energy company recorded a $1.96 billion writedown on assets and another $670 million charge for taxes and projects suspended because they no longer make economic sense.

“The write-downs will get worse into the end of the year as companies complete their end-of-the-year SEC filings,” Sankey said. “The market still looks very over-supplied with oil and we’re in peak demand season globally.”

Pessimistic Outlook

Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson was among the first oil-industry bosses to shrink spending as the crude rout began taking shape more than a year ago. After cutting the budget by 9.3 percent in 2014, this year’s reduction may exceed the original 12 percent target, the company disclosed during an April 30 conference call with analysts.

Tillerson, an Exxon lifer whose 10th year as CEO began in January, has been pessimistic about the prospects for an imminent oil-market rebound. On April 21, he told a Houston energy conference that the supply glut and low prices will persist “for the next couple of years” at least.

Those remarks proved prophetic: international crude prices that rose 45 percent between Jan. 13 and May 6 have since tumbled 21 percent, inaugurating the second oil bear market in 14 months.

“Chevron was a disaster; Exxon was a disappointment,” Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. In New York who rates the shares of both the equivalent of a hold and owns each. “A rising tide lifts all ships, but when the tide goes down, all ships go down.”

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Linn Energy : Motley Fool Review

LINN Energy LLC’s Earnings Are Full of Surprises
LINN Energy LLC and LinnCo LLC both ax their monthly distribution to conserve cash.

Linn Energy Llc Permian Tall

With the price of crude taking a second leg down over the past few weeks, it’s forcing oil companies to take a hard look at their future plans. Hard choices are also being made with LINN Energy LLC (NASDAQ:LINE) and affiliate LinnCo LLC (NASDAQ:LNCO) now making the difficult choice to suspend monthly cash distributions as a means to conserve cash as the downturn persists. But that was just one of the many surprises LINN Energy and LinnCo unveiled to investors in their second-quarter report.

Surprise! We’re axing the distribution
After first halving the payout earlier this year, LINN Energy and LinnCo are now suspending it indefinitely. In commenting on the move in the earnings release, CEO Mark Ellis had this to say:

After careful consideration, management has decided to recommend to the Board of Directors that it suspend payment of LINN’s distribution and LinnCo’s dividend at the end of the third quarter 2015 and reserve approximately $450 million in cash from annualized distributions. The Board and management believe this suspension to be in the best long-term interest of all company stakeholders.

As Ellis points out, the move is being made to preserve cash as LINN will save $450 million over the next year by not paying distributions. It’s money the company can use to fix its balance sheet, which has come under a lot of pressure due to persistently weak oil and gas prices. While this is a very unpleasant surprise, in all honesty it’s a prudent move given how worried investors have grown over its debt-laden balance sheet.

Surprise! We’ve buying our bonds hand over fist
The second surprise is actually directly related to that balance sheet as the company announced it was taking advantage of investor fears to buy back a huge slug of its debt at a hefty discount. Over the past month, the company has repurchased $599 million of its outstanding senior notes for a total of $392 million, or a 35% discount to par value. This is actually a really great use of capital as LINN is basically earning a 50% return on its investment in buying back these bonds at such a discount.

With those repurchases, LINN has now reduced its debt by $783 million year to date, which will save it $54 million in annual interest payments. That’s a meaningful reduction in debt for the company and this isn’t likely the last of the debt repurchases as CFO Kolja Rockov hinted in the press release of “potential future repurchases.”

Surprise! We had better cash flow and production during the quarter
Another positive surprise was the company’s operational results for the quarter, which trounced its guidance. The company had expected to produce 1,100-1,220 MMcfe/d during the quarter but actually produced 1,219 MMcfe/d, which was 1.5% higher than the second quarter of last year. Further, as a result of production right at the high end of its guidance range, the company is now able to boost its full-year production guidance by 4% given what it sees on the horizon.

In addition to this, LINN Energy produced $71 million in excess cash flow for the quarter, which was a surprising bounty given that the company was expected to have a shortfall of $20 million for the quarter. The biggest driver here, aside from the higher than expected production, was a vast improvement in expenses. Overall, the company was able to reduce its lease operating expenses by 18% year over year.

The company expects these cost reductions to continue as LINN is reducing its full-year operating expense outlook by 6%, which will drive further improvement in cash flow. Overall, the company is expecting to pull a total of $225 million out of its overall cost structure as a result of interest savings and expense reductions.

Investor takeaway
There’s no way to sugarcoat things: The distribution and dividend cuts from LINN Energy and LinnCo sting. But given the persistent weakness in oil and gas prices it’s really the right move for the company to make until there’s a bit more clarity on prices. On a more positive note, the company did make significant progress on debt reduction and its operational results were actually quite good. That being said, LINN Energy and LinnCo have a lot of work to do considering the abundance of debt and no distributions to give investors a reason to keep holding.

For investors looking to limit risk, here’s a list of U.S. shale-oil producers with market values of at least $50 million and share prices above a dollar as of Friday’s close with the highest ratios of debt to equity:

Company Ticker Debt – most recent quarter-end ($mil) Total equity ($mil) Debt/ equity Total return – November Total return – YTD
Ultra Petroleum Corp. UPL,-6.55% $3,426.000 $5.198 65,910% -13% -8%
Midstates Petroleum Co. MPO,-0.38% 1,669.150 $334.277 499% -23% -65%
Memorial Resource Development Corp. MRD,-0.32% $2,111.800 $436.278 484% -20% N/A
Isramco Inc. ISRL,-2.55% $112.712 $26.740 422% 7% 10%
Jones Energy Inc. Class A JONE,-5.25% $770.000 $182.937 421% -18% -30%
Exco Resources Inc. XCO,-9.85% $1,549.439 $427.042 363% -4% -43%
PetroQuest Energy Inc. PQ,-2.80% $422.500 $130.059 325% -21% -14%
Goodrich Petroleum Corp. GDP,-5.20% $609.464 $214.587 284% -27% -64%
Linn Energy LLC LINE,-25.93% $12,310.146 $4,932.133 250% -26% -35%
Halcon Resources Corp. HK,-2.91% $3,533.852 $1,517.866 233% -27% -41%
Total returns assume dividends are reinvested. Source: FactSet

Memorial Resource Development Corp. completed its initial offering in June, priced at $19 a share, for a total return of 14% through Friday’s close at $21.60.

Morgan Stanley Oil Warning: The Crash / Glut Continues

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

Source: Morgan Stanley Research, Bloomberg

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.

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