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Oil at $40 No Problem as U.S. Drillers Snub OPEC With Hedges

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  • Oil at $40 No Problem as U.S. Drillers Snub OPEC With Hedges

OPEC’s worst enemy isn’t U.S. shale drillers. It’s the hedges propping them up.

American oil explorers who survived the worst of the 2014-2016 market rout are shrugging off the 14 percent slide in prices this year from a high of $55.24 to less than $48 a barrel Tuesday. The price would have to drop to the $30s or lower to dent the bottom line of many drillers now working U.S. shale fields, said Katherine Richard, the CEO of Warwick Energy Investment Group, which own stakes in more than 5,000 oil and natural gas wells.

That’s because many producers have already locked in future returns with financial contracts that guarantee the price of their oil for most of the rest of the decade. Such resilience poses a dilemma for countries that agreed to an OPEC-led production cut aimed at tightening supplies to raise prices and relieve their distressed national economies.

“We’re in a boom again in Texas, despite what’s happening with prices lately,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the University of Texas’ Energy Institute in Austin. “The cowboy spirit is back. Hedging is playing a big role.”

Oil prices took another hit on Tuesday after Saudi Arabia dropped a bombshell on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries: the Saudis, heavyweight of the 13-nation cartel, raised its output last month to more than 10 million barrels a day, reversing about a third of the cuts it made the previous month.

Though Saudi Arabia is still meeting its commitment even with the increase, other members are lagging and the disclosure intensified concern that the group won’t be able to muster enough of the promised cuts to strengthen the market.

No Free Rides

Just last week, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih warned a Houston energy conference that the kingdom won’t indefinitely “bear the burden of free riders,” a veiled shot at Russia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, which have yet to deliver all the curbs they promised. At the same time, shale billionaire and Continental Resources Inc. founder Harold Hamm cautioned that unbridled drilling by shale explorers would crush prices and “kill” the oil market.

Prices are probably headed even lower in coming months, Warwick’s Richard said. Explorers that own drilling rights in the richest zones of the most profitable shale plays will continue making big returns, prompting them to boost output even more, while weaker companies on the fringes of the best zones will falter, she said.

Falling Prices

West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark for U.S. crude, settled at $47.72 Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier falling to as low as $47.09 a barrel, the lowest level since late November. The futures lost 9.7 percent of their value in the past week alone.

Hedging is how oil companies shield themselves from a potential market collapse. Risk management teams buy and sell derivatives such as options contracts that set a floor and ceiling on the price a company will receive for its oil. The banks on the other side of the trade get a fee and may record additional gains if the market moves in their favor. If the price drops, the oil company is protected.

Pioneer Natural Resources Co., one of the most prolific drillers in the Permian Basin beneath Texas and New Mexico, had 85 percent of its projected 2017 crude output hedged as of last month. Another 10 percent of estimated 2018 production also was protected, according to the Irving, Texas-based company. Pioneer’s founder and Chairman Scott Sheffield predicted last week that crude will drop to $40 if OPEC and its allies don’t extend their output cuts beyond June.

Well-Hedged

Parsley Energy Inc., an Austin, Texas-based explorer created by Sheffield’s son, Bryan, as of last month had locked in prices for barrels that won’t be pumped until 2019. Other well-hedged oil producers include Hamm’s Continental, RSP Permian Inc. and Diamondback Energy Inc.

The number of rigs searching for crude in U.S. fields has nearly doubled to 617 since hitting a multi-year low in May. And while crude prices are up more than 80 percent since touching a 12-year low of $26.05 in February last year, prices haven’t topped $55 since the first week of January.

The growth in the rig count is expected to taper off if oil prices don’t climb above $55 a barrel around the end of this month, Andrew Cosgrove, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a phone interview. It would take oil dropping below $50 for a few months to bring about an actual reduction in the rig count, he said. In recent weeks, even prices above $45 were enough to encourage explorers to rent more rigs, he said.

Risk Minimized

No hint of a coming drop off in the rig count has been seen yet, thanks to explorers’ hedging underpinned by two years of cost-cutting. A lot of the risk has been carved out of spending budgets, especially for U.S. drillers, James West, an analyst at Evercore ISI, wrote March 13 in a note to investors. So a 10% slide in the oil price in March won’t have a commensurate impact on activity, he said.

Oilfield service companies benefiting from the increased work are focused on not losing their traction during the recovery, West said.

“The downturn has strengthened the resolve of service companies, and they are unfazed by modest, temporary moves in commodity prices,” West wrote. “Balance sheets and cost structures have been completely overhauled to profit in a low commodity price environment.”

Nabors Industries Ltd., the world’s largest land-rig contractor, surveyed its customers working onshore in the U.S. just after the start of the year. Nearly 60 percent plan to add rigs between now and June 30, and none indicated a cutback, the company said late last month.

Some of the newest, most technologically advanced rigs available for rent from Nabors are commanding more than $20,000 a day, up from about $17,000 last year. In fact, rental prices for its rigs are moving up so strongly that Nabors is “actively trying not to contract too far in advance” so it can take the fullest advantage of rising prices, Anthony Petrello, chief executive officer at Nabors Industries Ltd, told analysts and investors Feb. 23 on a conference call.

Break Even

In the best areas of the Eagle Ford of South Texas, oil prices would have to fall considerably for exploration and production companies to lose money on their drilling. In LaSalle County, explorers break even when oil is $36 a barrel or higher, and in nearby Gonzales County, the price is $39, according to William Foiles, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

“Unless we see a full-scale collapse in prices, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of E&Ps totally abandon their production forecasts and their activity commitments,” Foiles said in a phone interview.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Gold

Gold Steadies After Initial Gains on Reports of Israel’s Strikes in Iran

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Gold, often viewed as a haven during times of geopolitical uncertainty, exhibited a characteristic surge in response to reports of Israel’s alleged strikes in Iran, only to stabilize later as tensions simmered.

The yellow metal’s initial rally came on the heels of escalating tensions in the Middle East, with concerns mounting over a potential wider conflict.

Spot gold soared as much as 1.6% in early trading as news circulated regarding Israel’s purported strikes on targets in Iran.

This surge, reaching a high of $2,400 a ton, reflected the nervousness pervading global markets amidst the saber-rattling between the two nations.

However, as the day progressed, media reports from both countries appeared to downplay the impact and severity of the alleged strikes, contributing to a moderation in gold’s gains.

Analysts noted that while the initial spike was fueled by fears of heightened conflict, subsequent assessments suggesting a less severe outcome helped calm investor nerves, leading to a stabilization in gold prices.

Traders had been bracing for a potential Israeli response following Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend, raising concerns about a retaliatory spiral between the two adversaries.

Reports of an explosion in Iran’s central city of Isfahan further added to the atmosphere of uncertainty, prompting flight suspensions and exacerbating market jitters.

In addition to geopolitical tensions, gold’s rally in recent months has been underpinned by other factors, including expectations of US interest rate cuts, sustained central bank buying, and robust consumer demand, particularly in China.

Despite the initial surge followed by stabilization, gold remains sensitive to developments in the Middle East and broader geopolitical dynamics.

Investors continue to monitor the situation closely for any signs of escalation or de-escalation, recognizing gold’s role as a traditional safe haven in times of uncertainty.

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Commodities

Global Cocoa Prices Surge to Record Levels, Processing Remains Steady

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Cocoa futures in New York have reached a historic pinnacle with the most-active contract hitting an all-time high of $11,578 a metric ton in early trading on Friday.

This surge comes amidst a backdrop of challenges in the cocoa industry, including supply chain disruptions, adverse weather conditions, and rising production costs.

Despite these hurdles, the pace of processing in chocolate factories has remained constant, providing a glimmer of hope for chocolate lovers worldwide.

Data released after market close on Thursday revealed that cocoa processing, known as “grinds,” was up in North America during the first quarter, appreciating by 4% compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, processing in Europe only saw a modest decline of about 2%, and Asia experienced a slight decrease.

These processing figures are particularly noteworthy given the current landscape of cocoa prices. Since the beginning of 2024, cocoa futures have more than doubled, reflecting the immense pressure on the cocoa market.

Yet, despite these soaring prices, chocolate manufacturers have managed to maintain their production levels, indicating resilience in the face of adversity.

The surge in cocoa prices can be attributed to a variety of factors, including supply shortages caused by adverse weather conditions in key cocoa-producing regions such as West Africa.

Also, rising demand for chocolate products, particularly premium and artisanal varieties, has contributed to the upward pressure on prices.

While the spike in cocoa prices presents challenges for chocolate manufacturers and consumers alike, industry experts remain cautiously optimistic about the resilience of the cocoa market.

Despite the record-breaking prices, the steady pace of cocoa processing suggests that chocolate lovers can still expect to indulge in their favorite treats, albeit at a higher cost.

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Crude Oil

Dangote Refinery Leverages Cheaper US Oil Imports to Boost Production

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Crude Oil

The Dangote Petroleum Refinery is capitalizing on the availability of cheaper oil imports from the United States.

Recent reports indicate that the refinery with a capacity of 650,000 barrels per day has begun leveraging US-grade oil to power its operations in Nigeria.

According to insights from industry analysts, the refinery has commenced shipping various products, including jet fuel, gasoil, and naphtha, as it gradually ramps up its production capacity.

The utilization of US oil imports, particularly the WTI Midland grade, has provided Dangote Refinery with a cost-effective solution for its feedstock requirements.

Experts anticipate that the refinery’s gasoline-focused units, expected to come online in the summer months will further bolster its influence in the Atlantic Basin gasoline markets.

Alan Gelder, Vice President of Refining, Chemicals, and Oil Markets at Wood Mackenzie, noted that Dangote’s entry into the gasoline market is poised to reshape the West African gasoline supply dynamics.

Despite operating at approximately half its nameplate capacity, Dangote Refinery’s impact on regional fuel markets is already being felt. The refinery’s recent announcement of a reduction in diesel prices from N1,200/litre to N1,000/litre has generated excitement within Nigeria’s downstream oil sector.

This move is expected to positively affect various sectors of the economy and contribute to reducing the country’s high inflation rate.

Furthermore, the refinery’s utilization of US oil imports shows its commitment to exploring cost-effective solutions while striving to meet Nigeria’s domestic fuel demand. As the refinery continues to optimize its production processes, it is poised to play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s energy landscape and contribute to the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in refined petroleum products.

Moreover, the Nigerian government’s recent directive to compel oil producers to prioritize domestic refineries for crude supply aligns with Dangote Refinery’s objectives of reducing reliance on imported refined products.

With the flexibility to purchase crude using either the local currency or the US dollar, the refinery is well-positioned to capitalize on these policy reforms and further enhance its operational efficiency.

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