The oil industry has been hit by a simultaneous demand and supply shock in March as the coronavirus pandemic cuts fuel consumption and top producer Saudi Arabia raises output to full capacity to fight a price war with rivals.
International crude oil prices have lost about 45% this month and fallen below the cost of much of the world’s production, causing energy companies worldwide to slash spending by tens of billions of dollars.
The collapse in demand and of energy diplomacy between Saudi Arabia, Russia and others have triggered unprecedented responses from governments and investors. Here are ten signs of an industry in distress.
SAUDI ARABIA GOES ALL-IN
Riyadh shocked the oil industry by going on the offensive after talks collapsed with Russia in early March on a deal to cut supply to compensate for how coronavirus was hitting demand.
Saudi Arabia slashed export prices and said it would pump at a record of 12.3 million barrels per day, pouring a flood of oil into a market that needed less. It lined up an armada of ships for export, targeting refiners that buy Russian crude, as well as the United States, wiping out profit margins for U.S. exports.
The moves were all the more shocking coming from a producer that for years has had a role akin to the industry’s central bank. The kingdom is the de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and for decades adjusted output more than any other oil producer to keep markets balanced.
TEXAS CONSIDERS CUTTING PRODUCTION?
Producers in top U.S. producing state Texas went to regulators — and asked them to intervene to cut production. Texas does not intervene that much. The last time was in 1973. To be sure, other Texas commissioners and oil industry groups have thrown cold water on the idea.
One of three Texas commissioners at the body that regulates the industry got a call from the secretary general of OPEC to discuss the market. Commissioner Ryan Sitton said on Friday that Texas could consider a 10% output cut, possibly in coordination with that group. Before now, U.S. shale oil producers dared not consider coordinated cuts for fear of violating U.S. anti-trust laws.
Three of the steepest declines in benchmark Brent crude have taken place in the last two weeks — March 9, March 16, and March 18
On March 9, Brent dropped 24%.
On March 16, Brent dropped 11%
On March 18, Brent dropped 13%.
On March 23, the U.S. gasoline market plummeted the most ever in one day, as futures lost 32% to hit a record low.
(GRAPHIC: Global Oil Slump — https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-OIL/0100B5LV472/index.html)
JET FUEL IN STORAGE
Jet fuel deteriorates quickly in storage, and then it cannot be used. Yet demand has fallen so fast as airlines ground aircraft around the world that firms including oil majors BP (L:BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (L:RDSa) both sought to lease ships just to store unneeded jet fuel.
REFINING GASOLINE COSTS MONEY
You want to make gasoline? It’ll cost you. On Monday, the margins to produce U.S. gasoline — the price for a barrel of oil minus a barrel of gasoline — closed at a negative price, which means refiners would lose money buying crude to make the fuel. Gasoline typically drives the energy complex, as fuel for vehicles accounts for most oil demand worldwide. The margin fell to minus $1.11 a barrel on Monday, its lowest since 2008.
RUSSIA DIGS IN, ROSNEFT CELEBRATES SHALE WOES
Rosneft (MM:ROSN) Chief Executive Igor Sechin was unwilling to give ground as the U.S. shale industry faced collapse. Oil prices could go back to $60 a barrel if «shale oil leaves markets,» he said on Friday. On Monday, his rival, Lukoil (MM:LKOH) co-owner Leonid Fedun, said «this will be a war until exhaustion.»
ETHANOL? NEVER MIND
Corn and sugar supplies look set to rise this year as fuel suppliers make less ethanol for blending into gasoline. Companies such as France’s Tereos are shifting ethanol production to industrial uses like hand sanitizer, while sugar producers in Brazil are aiming to make more of the sweetener rather than the fuel.
Volatility in oil markets has been exacerbated as oil companies stay out. That leaves speculators, and makes for rapid moves in prices around the close of trading. Thursday’s rally was so great that post-close trading had to stop; Friday was the reverse, with prices that dove by $4 at the end of trading.
«It’s a crazy market. I don’t know how to trade this,» one futures trader said.
REFINERS STAY SHUT
French major Total (PA:TOTF) shut its Grandpuits refinery, located outside of Paris, early in March for maintenance. When it was time to restart the 102,000 barrel-per-day facility, Total said…never mind. Demand weakened so quickly that it figured it would just keep it offline. While others have closed, major refiners outside Los Angeles, California, have curtailed production because of lackluster demand.
PETROL PUMPING BECOMES UNSAFE
One of the nations hit worst by the coronavirus pandemic, Italy, is simply shutting its petrol stations. They started to close on March 25 on the nation’s motorways, operators there said, because it was impossible to guarantee health safety standards and keep businesses going.
The dollar edged higher in early European trade Wednesday, with the safe haven currency in demand as a resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States cast doubt over the strength of the economic rebound.
At 3:050 AM ET (0705 GMT), the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six other currencies, was up 0.1% at 96.873.
There are almost 11.8 million COVID-19 cases globally as of July 8, according to Johns Hopkins University data, of which the U.S. has the highest known numbers of cases and deaths in the world.
A number of Federal Reserve officials expressed concern Tuesday that the surge in infections could adversely impact the economy just as some stimulus programmes are set to expire.
Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic warned that the spike in the number of cases has made business owners “nervous again” and that ‘there is a real sense this might go on longer than we have planned for.”
Still, the rise in cases is not simply a matter for America. The AUD/USD pair lost 0.2% to 0.6935, with the Australian dollar weakening after the country’s second-largest city Melbourne re-imposed lockdown measures to curb the outbreak.
Elsewhere, GBP/USD gained 0.2% to 1.2559 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the U.K. remains committed to working hard to find an agreement over trade with the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is due to announce details of the country’s latest fiscal stimulus package later Wednesday.
Sterling has gained around 0.6% this week against the dollar and 0.4% against the euro, but still remains one of the weakest G7 currencies as doubts still remain as to whether a trade deal will be signed by the end of the year.
Additionally, skepticism exists that a proposal by some of Donald Trump’s advisers to undermine Hong Kong’s currency peg would come to fruition, as such a move would be difficult to implement and risk hurting U.S. interests as much as it would punish China.
Oil retreats slightly on risk aversion
With one eye on the equity markets overnight, oil markets mirrored the response of currency markets, giving up some of their recent gains and slipping into range trading mode. Brent crude fell slightly by 0.70% to 42.90 a barrel. WTI eased by 0.70% to USD 40.50 a barrel.
Both contracts are unchanged this morning in Asia, with critical resistance on Brent crude at USD 44.00 a barrel, and on WTI at USD 42.00 a barrel. Only a fall below USD 40.00 a barrel for Brent crude, or USD 37.00 a barrel for WTI, would suggest that the rally in oil prices has run its course.
Oil prices continue to remain balanced between Covid-19 induced growth concerns, and recovery expectations in Asia and Europe. Oil’s downside is likely to be limited unless the US situation deteriorates dramatically. OPEC+ discipline is high, and the grouping will no doubt find the willingness to extend the headline cuts if the situation calls for it.
Excitement builds for gold longs as USD 1800.00 approaches
Anticipation is building in the gold fraternity, with Covid-19 concerns giving a haven boost to prices overnight. Gold rose 0.60% to USD 1795.00 an ounce, having tested USD 1797.00 an ounce earlier in the session. Gold’s grind higher is remorseless and pleasingly, appears to have detached itself from negative equity price action for now.
The USD 1800.00 an ounce region will be a tough nut to crack though. It capped gold’s advance multiple times from 2011 to 2012. I do not doubt that there will be substantial option related offers ahead of it to defend USD 1800.00 strikes. Nevertheless, gold is girding itself for the long-awaited assault on this critical resistance level. Gold had support at USD 1775.00 an ounce. Only a daily close below here would delay proceedings. Should USD 1800.00 an ounce give way, gold is likely to move quickly to the USD 1820-1830 zone, driven by stop loss and algorithmic buying.
Gold is unchanged in Asia today in yet another moribund session. It will probably be left to the New York market to get the job done.
Oil prices fell on Tuesday, erasing earlier gains, on concerns that the surge in coronavirus cases in the United States, the world’s biggest oil user, will limit a recovery in fuel demand.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude (CLc1) futures fell 17 cents, or 0.4%, to $40.46 a barrel at 0340 GMT, after earlier rising to as high as $40.79.
Brent crude (LCOc1) futures declined by 19 cents, or 0.4%, to $42.91, after hitting an intraday high of $43.19.
With 16 U.S. states reporting record increases in new COVID-19 case in the first five days of July, according to a Reuters tally, there is mounting concern that public health measures to limit the virus spread will curb fuel demand.
Florida is re-introducing some limits on economic reopenings to grapple with rising cases. California and Texas, two of the most populous and economically crucial U.S. states, are also reporting high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week.
«The potential for demand destruction as lockdown re-instatement looks more likely are combining with concerns about OPEC+ discipline to weigh on oil prices,» said CMC Markets’s Chief Market Strategist Michael McCarthy in Sydney in an email.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, are lowering output by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a third month in July.
However, those cuts are set to taper to 7.7 million bpd starting next month, adding supply at the same time U.S. fuel demand, especially for gasoline, remains impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
«Summer driving demand in the U.S. is low, keeping gasoline demand subdued, and a reintroduction of lockdowns is a major headwind,» ANZ said in a note.
Data from the American Petroleum Institute industry group later on Tuesday and the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Wednesday are expected to show a 100,000 barrel rise in gasoline stockpiles, six analysts polled by Reuters estimated.
The U.S. crude market faces some uncertainties from a court decision on Monday ordering the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline, the biggest artery transporting crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin to Midwest and Gulf Coast regions, over environmental concerns.
Market sources in the Bakken said the closure of the 570,000-bpd pipeline, while a thorough environmental impact statement is completed, will likely divert some oil flows to transportation by rail.