- OPEC’s Worst Cheater Will Get Harder to Ignore as Curbs Falter
OPEC’s second biggest producer is also its biggest cheater.
And if past is prologue, that lengthens the odds the group will be able to squeeze too many more price gains out of its output cuts.
Iraq pumped about 80,000 more barrels of oil a day than permitted by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries curbs during the first quarter. If that deal gets extended to 2018, the nation will have even less incentive to comply because capacity at key southern fields is expanding and three years of fighting Islamic state has left it drowning in debt.
“Leaving that productive capacity idle will come with an opportunity cost that Iraq may prove reluctant to bear,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, the London-based head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA. He’s nonetheless optimistic that global inventories will fall by year-end as members like Saudi Arabia pick up the slack for Iraq’s transgressions.
A risk, though, emerges if Iraqi compliance worsens to such an extent that other countries in the 13-member group start cutting corners too, exacerbating a global surplus that’s already erased much of the gains that unfolded after the deal was struck in November.
Brent crude tumbled below $50 a barrel this month as data showed U.S. shale producers were alive and kicking, confounding OPEC’s efforts to control the supply glut. While oil recovered losses after Saudi Arabia and Russia threw their weight behind extending the six-month output reductions, it’s still 7 percent off post-deal highs.
“A lot of market participants have been a bit underwhelmed by the impact of the cut,” Martijn Rats, an oil analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in an interview in Dubai. He says OPEC members are most likely to respect curbs if Brent trades in the $50-$60 range, with prices on either side increasing the risk of non-compliance.
Under the November deal, OPEC envisioned curbing 1.2 million barrels per day of output, with Iraq trimming 210,000 barrels a day to 4.351 million barrels a day. In the first quarter, Iraq met only 61 percent of its targeted cut, though compliance improved to 90 percent in April, according to OPEC data. It’s not the only straggler. The United Arab Emirates achieved just 57 percent of its cut in the first quarter, though the U.A.E. exceeded its target in April, and many non-OPEC producers including Russia also missed their goals.
“I doubt Iraq will cut any more in the second half than it has already,” said Robin Mills, the Dubai-based chief executive officer of consultant Qamar Energy. It may instead produce more as it completes maintenance at several fields, new ones start production and seasonal domestic consumption rises, he said. There are some signs this has already started.
Iraq’s peers are tolerating its breaches mostly because Saudi Arabia has slashed 35 percent, or 171,000 barrels a day, more than it needs to, according to OPEC data. As a result, the group met 96 percent of its target cut in the first quarter, an exceptional result given compliance with previous curbs has never before exceeded 80 percent, the International Energy Agency reported.
The stakes are a lot higher for OPEC than they used to be. Its leverage over the global market has receded just as member states like Saudi Arabia fund deficits with more and more borrowed money. That’s why producers would rather turn a blind eye to Iraq’s infractions than jeopardize a deal that both Tchilinguirian and Rats expect will eventually curtail inventories.
It’s not unusual for Iraq to get special treatment. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, it was exempt from quotas to help it rebuild capacity devastated by war and sanctions. It only reluctantly signed the current deal, initially seeking a waiver because, in the words of Oil Minister Jabbar Al-Luaibi, it’s battling militants “on behalf of the world.”
What’s more, Iraq doesn’t have control or even knowledge of its whole oil industry. At the time of last year’s agreement, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country was producing one in every eight of Iraq’s barrels. The Kurds have not reported output figures since October.
Still, Al-Luaibi insists Iraq has followed through on its pledge to pump less. He says the market should gauge its compliance using government figures because OPEC data, drawn from six secondary sources including Platts and Argus Media, underestimated the output level used as the baseline for its production target.
The November deal put Iraq’s output at 4.561 million barrels a day, about 200,000 barrels less than its own estimates. Since then, Al-Luaibi has at times suggested the nation is assessing compliance based on exports not production, further muddying the waters on its acquiescence to the curbs.
With skeptics questioning whether OPEC cuts are deep enough to balance global supply, quota dodging risks becoming more dangerous to condone. If it really wants to confront the glut, the group should double output cuts as a “bare minimum,” Naeem Aslam, the chief market analyst at brokerage Think Markets U.K. in London, said in a May 15 note.
“This is OPEC’s problem: There is no punishment mechanism,” independent oil analyst Anas Alhajji said by phone from Houston. “A deal is one thing, implementation is another.”
African Energy Developments Demand Sustained Investment With New Projects in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Senegal
In the past twelve months, the African energy sector has seen several encouraging developments – in the form of both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and strategic partnerships – that have advanced the sustainable development of its natural resources. In fact, despite a global downturn in investment in 2020, FDI flows to developing economies accounted for 72% of global FDI, the highest share to date. Given the magnitude of Africa’s oil and gas reserves – not to mention its abundant renewable resource wealth – the continent remains a highly attractive market for inbound investment, which is vital for its growth.
Take Uganda, for instance, which is home to one of the largest onshore discoveries in sub-Saharan Africa. Following multiple petroleum discoveries in Uganda’s Albertine Graben – estimated to contain 6.5 billion barrels of oil, of which 1.4 billion are considered recoverable – foreign investments into the country are expected to reach nearly $20 billion. Last April, Total E&P Uganda B.V. signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement with Tullow Oil PC, through which Total will acquire Tullow’s entire 33.34% interests in Uganda’s Lake Albert development project and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). Five months later, the Ugandan Government and Total signed a host government agreement for EACOP, representing a significant step toward reaching a final investment decision. The deal pushes along an extended development process – slowed by infrastructure issues, tax complications, then COVID-19 – that not only promises to bring first oil by 2022, but also provides a pathway to monetization via associated transport infrastructure.
In addition to developments at Lake Albert, the Ugandan Government has proven its commitment to attracting FDI to its hydrocarbon sector through its second licensing round held last year, as well as its invitation to local and foreign entities to forge joint-venture partnerships with the Government. By prioritizing the establishment of mutually beneficial partnerships, the emerging East African producer aims to facilitate the successful transfer of skills, knowledge and technology, initiating an influx of technical expertise and working capital into the country.
“Those who have been locked out from access to opportunity want the same from the energy sector that the energy sectors want from governments. We must not forget local content, local jobs, local opportunities especially for young people and women” Stated NJ Ayuk Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber.
Meanwhile, in West Africa, Senegal has been reaping the rewards of a long-standing partnership with Germany, which has resulted in more than one billion Euros in funding, including significant support for small-scale power plants and renewable energy projects. Holding sizeable potential for solar and wind energy development, Senegal serves as a regional leader in renewable deployment as a means of rural electrification. Indeed, energy is a central component of poverty alleviation across Africa, with electricity access enabling greater independence, clean cooking and potable water, as well as dramatically improving the well-being of individuals, businesses and communities alike. Rural populations are cognizant of the challenges posed by a lack of stable electricity supply – increased urban migration, lack of access to basic services, low economic competitiveness, to name a few – and distributed renewables can represent the fastest and least expensive path to electrification.
European interest in Senegal has shed light on and served as a model for co-operation opportunities between renewable-rich African countries and developed partners, which offer cutting-edge technologies and technical expertise to transform raw resources into viable off-grid and mini-grid solutions.
Furthermore, while the cost of deploying renewable technology has never been lower, the availability of renewable-focused capital has never been higher. Investment in commercial and industrial solar has demonstrated resilience against the pandemic, continuing to be seen as a safe investment in light of rising utility costs and increasing distribution of both solar and financial technologies. Yet resource potential and low costs of equipment are not enough; Senegal and other resource-rich African nations require active investor interest and strong government support to unlock diversified energy mixes. In turn, a lack of investment represents a pointed threat to the achievement of long-term energy security.
“Young people and women have shown their great resilience, and it is our hope we close these deals in the renewable energy sector, Africans can have a sense of some hope that they will be included in the industry contracts and opportunities. It is no longer correct for the African to be the last hired and the first fired” Concluded Ayuk.
Moreover, without sustained levels of FDI continuing to move the needle on oil, gas and renewable developments, energy export revenues run the risk of being stranded and resources left undeveloped. For emerging producers like Uganda – as well as Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, among several others – this would mean foregoing critical government revenues that could aid in a much-needed, post-COVID-19 economic recovery. FDI is vital to Africa’s growth, and while it may be challenging to procure capital in a tepid global economy, it is even more difficult not to. Yes, COVID-19 has put emerging producers in a tough spot: new exploration is seen as risky, and new producers lack existing assets or low-cost development of marginal fields on which to fall back. However, it is not an option to slow or postpone time-sensitive developments that promise to harness natural resource wealth and make sustainable improvements in standards of living across the continent. Africa requires a sustained flow of investment and has proven time and again that it offers the scope of projects and magnitude of resources that are worthy of foreign capital.
Saudi Aramco’s Profit Halved in Two Years, Market Cap $210B Below Apple’s
Even before the pandemic, the oil and gas industry was faced with slumping prices. However, with a record collapse in oil demand amid the lockdowns, the COVID-19 crisis has further shaken the market, causing massive revenue and market cap drops for even the largest oil companies.
According to data presented by Finaria.it, the net income of the world’s biggest oil producer and one of the largest publicly listed companies, Saudi Aramco, dropped to $49bn in 2020, a 55% plunge in two years.
The COVID-19 Crisis and Oil Price War Cut Profits by Almost $40B in a Year
In preparation for its IPO, which took place in December 2019, Saudi Aramco had published 2018 profits. With a net income of $111.1bn, Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil giant ranked as the most profitable publicly listed company in the world.
Global macroeconomic concerns like the US-China trade war and the oil overproduction set significant price drops even before the coronavirus outbreak. In 2019, the company reported a profit of $88.2bn, a 20% drop year-over-year.
However, a standoff between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the first months of 2020 sent prices even lower and caused a massive hit for Saudi Aramco’s profits.
After global oil demand plunged in March, Saudi Arabia proposed a cut in oil production, but Russia refused to cooperate. Saudi Arabia responded by increasing production and cutting prices. Shortly Russia followed by doing the same, causing an over 60% drop in crude oil prices at the beginning of 2020. Although OPEC and Russia agreed to cut oil production levels to stabilize prices a few weeks later, the COVID-19 crisis already hit.
In March, Saudi Aramco announced full-year figures for the second time since going public, and the results revealed huge financial losses. In 2020, Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company reported a net income of $49bn, almost a $40bn drop in a year.
While Saudi Aramco was the most profitable publicly listed company globally in 2019, the current result puts the company behind Apple, which reported a net income of $57.4bn in 2020.
Saudi Aramco’s Market Cap $210B Below Apple’s
In December 2019, Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil giant completed its long-awaited IPO and hit a staggering $2 trillion valuation on the second day of trading, nearly one trillion higher than the world’s next-largest publicly listed companies Microsoft and Apple. The initial public offering was an essential part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program to transform the Saudi economy.
However, Saudi Aramco’s stocks were outperformed by Apple in 2020. After plunging to $1.61trn in March last year, the market cap of the Dhahran-based company jumped to $2.15trn in September. By the end of the year, this figure slipped to $2.05trn. Statistics show that Saudi Aramco’s market cap floated around this value for the last three months and then dropped to $1.87trn in April after the company revealed the full-year results.
Although valued one trillion less than Saudi Aramco at the time of its IPO, the world’s largest tech company, Apple’s, has seen its market cap surge last year. In January 2020, the combined value of shares of the US tech giant stood close to $1.4trn. After plunging to $1.1trn in March, Apple’s market cap soared to over $2.3trn in December. Although this figure slipped to $2.08trn last week, it still represents almost a 90% increase in a year.
Oil Inches Higher But Rangebound as COVID-19 Cases Soar
Oil prices edged higher in rangebound trade on Monday on optimism about a rebound in the U.S. economy as vaccinations accelerate, but rising COVID-19 cases in other parts of the world kept a lid on prices.
The prices have remained rangebound in the last three weeks, with Brent between $60 and $65 per barrel and WTI at $57 to $62.
“Oil prices are entering a consolidation phase after swinging wildly last month,” Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.
“While there are still plenty of reasons to be bullish, market players have become more cautious as infections have surged in Europe, India and some emerging markets, while vaccine rollouts have proved slower than anticipated,” he added.
India now accounts for one in every six daily infections worldwide, and other parts of Asia are seeing infection rates rise.
Asian oil demand remained weak and some buyers asked for lower volumes in May partly because of refinery maintenance and higher prices.
The United States has fully vaccinated more than 70 million people but U.S. gasoline demand has not picked up as much as expected.
The U.S. economy is at an “inflection point” amid expectations that growth and hiring will accelerate in the months ahead, but faces the risk of reopening too quickly and sparking a resurgence in coronavirus cases, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
“There really are risks out there. And the principal one just is that we will reopen too quickly, people will too quickly return to their old practices, and we’ll see another spike in cases,” Powell said in a CBS interview, recorded on Wednesday.
On the production side, no new oil drilling rigs were started in the United States in the most recent week, a report published by Baker Hughes showed.
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