Tag Archives: WTI

Crude Oil Market Structure Looks Weak, But It Is Only One Part Of A Complicated Puzzle

Summary

  • Term structure – contango says too much oil around.
  • Brent-WTI says Iran will flood the market.
  • Crack spreads could crack the recent lows for crude.
  • OPEC meeting is the next big event – signals are that these guys cannot agree on anything.
  • Crude oil and a turbulent world.
 

The price of crude oil has not looked this bad since March, when it made lows of $42.03, or on August 24, when it fell to $37.75. On Friday, November 20, active month January NYMEX crude oil settled at $41.90 per barrel. The expiring December contract traded down to lows of $38.99 on the session. There are very few positive things to say about the future prospects for the price of crude oil at this time. The fundamental structural state of the oil market is bearish for price.

Term Structure – contango says too much oil around

Two weeks ago, the IEA told us that the world is awash in crude oil. The international agency told us that worldwide inventories have swelled to 3 billion barrels.

When crude oil was trading over $100 per barrel on the active month NYMEX futures contract during the summer of 2014, the market was in backwardation. Deferred futures prices were lower than nearby prices. This condition tells us that a market is tight, or there is a supply deficit. As the price of oil began to fall, term structure moved from backwardation to contango. This told us that the market moved from deficit to a condition of oversupply. This past week, the contango on the nearby versus one-year oil spread once again validated the glut condition in crude oil.

(click to enlarge)The December 2015 versus December 2016 NYMEX crude oil spread closed last week at over $8.00 per barrel. The contango has increased to 20.46%, the highest level yet for this spread. The January 2016 versus January 2017 NYMEX spread also made a new high and traded above the $7 level.

Brent crude oil futures have rolled from December to January. The January 2016 versus January 2017 Brent crude oil spread was trading around the $7.62 or 17% level last Friday. Market structure is telling us that huge inventories of crude oil will weigh on the price in the weeks ahead. At their current levels, a new low below the current support at $37.75 seems likely. Meanwhile, a location/quality spread in crude oil is also telling us that prospects for the oil price are currently bleak.

Brent-WTI says Iran will flood the market

The benchmark for pricing North American crude is the NYMEX West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price. When it comes to European, African and Middle Eastern crudes, Brent is the benchmark pricing mechanism. For many years, Brent crude traded at a small discount to WTI. That is because WTI is sweeter crude; it has lower sulfur content. This makes WTI more efficient when it comes to processing the oil into the most ubiquitously consumed oil product, gasoline.

That changed in 2010. The Arab Spring caused uncertainty in the Middle East to rise. As the majority of the world’s oil reserves are located in this region, the price of Brent crude rose relative to the price of WTI. Brent crude included a political premium. Additionally, increasing production from the United States, due to the extraction of oil from shale, exacerbated the price differential between the two crudes. In 2011, the price of Brent traded at over a $25 premium to the price of WTI. Recently, the spread between these two crudes has been converging. While the spread on January futures was trading at a premium of $2.40 for the Brent futures as of last Friday, it had moved much lower during the week.

The premium of Brent over WTI has evaporated over the course of 2015. The reason is two-fold. First, the number of operating oil rigs in the United States has fallen dramatically over the past year, indicating that production of the energy commodity will fall. Last Friday, Baker Hughes reported that the total number of oil rigs in operation as of November 20 stands at 564 down from 1,574 at this time last year. While lower U.S. production is one reason for a decline in the spread, increased production of Iranian crude oil has had a more powerful effect on the spread.

The nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Iran means that sanctions will ease and Iran will pump and export more crude oil in the weeks and months ahead. Iran has stated that their production will initially rise by 500,000 barrels per day and it will eventually rise to over one million. These two factors have caused the Brent-WTI spread to converge. The price trend in this spread is a negative for the price of crude at this time.

Crack spreads could crack the recent lows for crude

Recently, we have seen divergence emerging in crude oil processing spreads. Gasoline cracks have been outperforming crude oil, while heating oil crack spreads continue to trade at the weakest level in years.

Last Friday, the NYMEX gasoline crack spread closed at just over $14 per barrel.

The monthly chart of the gasoline crack highlights the recent strong action in this spread. Gasoline is a seasonal product; it tends to trade at the lows during this time of year. In 2014, the high in the gasoline crack at this time of year was $12.36. Therefore, compared to last year, gasoline prices are strong relative to the price of raw crude oil. This could be due to the current low level of gasoline futures – the December NYMEX gasoline futures contract closed last Friday at $1.2866 and the January futures closed at $1.2670 per gallon. The current low level of gasoline prices has increased demand from drivers as refineries work to process heating oil as the winter is only a few weeks ahead. In September U.S. drivers set a record for miles traveled by automobile.

The heating oil processing spread is a very different story. While the gasoline crack is relatively strong, the heating oil crack is very weak.

(click to enlarge)Last Friday, the January heating oil processing spread closed at around the $17.50 per barrel level. Last year at this time, the low in this spread was $22.73. In 2013, the low was $24.53 and in 2012, the low was $37.75 per barrel. The current level of the heating oil crack spread is seasonally the lowest since November 2010 when it traded down to $12.35 per barrel. In November 2010, crude oil was trading above $84 per barrel.

One of the many reasons that the crude oil price is weak these days is that demand for seasonal products, heating oil and diesel fuel, is low and inventories of distillates are high. As you can see, there are very few bullish signs in the fundamental structure for the crude oil market these days. In two weeks, the oil cartel will sit down to decide what to do now that the commodity they seek to “control” is awash in a sea of bearishness.

OPEC meeting is the next big event – Signals are that these guys cannot agree on anything

When OPEC met in November 2014, the price of crude was around the $75 per barrel level. When they met late last spring, the price had recovered to around $60. In both cases, the cartel left production levels unchanged. The stated production ceiling for the members of OPEC is 30 million barrels per day. The member nations are currently producing over 31.5 million barrels per day and increasing Iranian production means that OPEC output will likely rise. As the price of oil falls, the members need to sell more to try to recoup revenue. For the weaker members, the oil revenue is an imperative. Even the stronger members are under pressure. Saudi Arabia recently began selling bonds; they are borrowing money from the markets to replace lost income due to the lower crude oil price.

Meanwhile, OPEC’s current strategy is to continue to produce to flush high cost producers out of the market and build market share for the cartel members. However, OPEC did not count on a global economic slowdown, particularly in China. At the December 4 meeting of oil ministers in Vienna, it is likely that demand for crude oil will be an important consideration.

Dominant members of the cartel remain at odds. Saudi Arabia and Iran are on opposite sides and are involved in a proxy war in Yemen. The weaker members of OPEC want the stronger members to shoulder the burden of production cuts, and that is not likely to happen any time soon. In a hint of the discord between the member nations, on November 17, OPEC’s board of governors was unable to agree on the cartel’s long-term strategy plan and they tabled the issue until 2016. The issues revolve around ceiling output, setting production quotas and methods of maximizing member profits.

This tells us that unless the cartel is planning a giant spoof on the market, there is probably going to be no change in production policy. The current level of cheating or daily sales above the production ceiling may even increase. At this point, I doubt whether OPEC members could agree on whether it is sunny or cloudy outside given vast political, economic and cultural divergences among member nations. This means that selling will continue and even increase over the months ahead.

Crude oil and a turbulent world

All of the news, fundamentals and technicals for crude oil point to new lows and a challenge of the December 2008 lows of $32.48 per barrel. Last week, Goldman Sachs came out with a prediction that oil could fall to $20 per barrel. This is not such a bold call given the current state of the oil market, the strength of the dollar and the overall bear market for raw material prices. Last week, copper put in another multi-year low, iron ore fell to new lows and the Baltic Shipping Index fell to the lowest level since 1985.

However, all of the bad news for crude oil is currently in the price. We have seen this before. In March when crude oil traded to lows, there were calls for crude oil to fall – Dennis Gartman, the respected commodity analyst, went on CNBC and said that crude oil could fall to $10 per barrel as the energy commodity could go the way of “whale oil.” In late August, when oil fell to recent lows at $37.75, there were multiple calls for oil to fall to the low $30s and $20s. In both cases, powerful recovery rallies followed these bearish market calls. Following the March 2015 lows, oil rallied for over two months and gained 48.9%. In August of this year, a seven-week rally took oil 35% higher. The bearish prediction by Goldman Sachs last week could just turn out to be a contrarian’s dream.

There are a number of issues, big issues, going on in the world that can turn crude oil on a dime. First, Brent has fallen relative to WTI and the political premium for oil has evaporated. In 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the price of crude oil doubled in a matter of minutes. While the Middle East has always been a turbulent and dangerous part of the world, I would argue that today, it is far more turbulent and far more violent. The odds of attacks against oil fields and refineries in the Middle East have increased exponentially particularly given the recent ISIS attacks in France and around the world. At the same time, all of the bearish fundamental news about crude oil has decreased the political premium, and it is politics and war that could turn out to outweigh all of the current fundamentals.

Moreover, a surprise from outside of the Middle East could foster an increase in the price of oil. The world is now almost counting on Chinese economic weakness. Last week, Jamie Dimon, the Chairman of JPMorgan Chase, said that he is bullish on Chinese growth. If China does begin to show signs of growth, this could turn out to be supportive of crude oil and commodities in general, which remain mired in a bear market. Right now, the price of crude oil looks awful and fundamentals support a new low. However, all of that bearish data is in the price, and any surprise, in a world that always seems be full of surprises, could ignite the price once again. We saw this in March and again in August. As oil makes new lows, keep in mind that crude oil is a complicated puzzle. It is the unknown that will likely dictate the next big price move in oil. I am watching crude oil now and wondering whether Goldman Sachs called the turn in the market with their bearish forecast.

As a bonus, I have prepared a video on my website Commodix that provides a more in-depth and detailed analysis of the current state of the oil market to illustrate the real value implications and opportunities.

By Andrew Hecht in Seeking Alpha

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The Biggest Threat To Oil Prices: 2-Mile Long Stretch Of Iraq Oil Tankers Headed For The U.S.

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After some initial excitement, November has seen crude oil prices collapse back towards cycle lows amid demand doubts (e.g. slumping China oil imports, overflowing Chinese oil capacity, plunging China Industrial Production) and supply concerns (e.g. inventories soaring). However, an even bigger problem looms that few are talking about. As Iraq – the fastest-growing member of OPEC – has unleashed a two-mile long, 3 million metric ton barrage of 19 million barrel excess supply directly to US ports in November.

Crude prices are already falling:


But OPEC has another trick up its sleeve to crush US Shale oil producers. As Bloomberg reports,

Iraq, the fastest-growing producer within the 12-nation group, loaded as many as 10 tankers in the past several weeks to deliver crude to U.S. ports in November, ship-tracking and charters compiled by Bloomberg show.


Assuming they arrive as scheduled, the 19 million barrels being hauled would mark the biggest monthly influx from Iraq since June 2012, according to Energy Information Administration figures.

The cargoes show how competition for sales among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is spilling out into global markets, intensifying competition with U.S. producers whose own output has retreated since summer. For tanker owners, it means rates for their ships are headed for the best quarter in seven years, fueled partly by the surge in one of the industry’s longest trade routes.

Worst still, they are slashing prices…

Iraq, pumping the most since at least 1962 amid competition among OPEC nations to find buyers, is discounting prices to woo customers.

The Middle East country sells its crude at premiums or discounts to global benchmarks, competing for buyers with suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter. Iraq sold its Heavy grade at a discount of $5.85 a barrel to the appropriate benchmark for November, the biggest discount since it split the grade from Iraqi Light in May. Saudi Arabia sold at $1.25 below benchmark for November, cutting by a further 20 cents in December.

“It’s being priced much more aggressively,” said Dominic Haywood, an oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “It’s being discounted so U.S. Gulf Coast refiners are more incentivized to take it.”

So when does The Obama Administration ban crude imports?

And now, we get more news from Iraq:

  • *IRAQ CUTS DECEMBER CRUDE OIL OSPS TO EUROPE: TRADERS

So taking on the Russians?

*  *  *

Finally, as we noted previously, it appears Iraq (and Russia) are more than happy to compete on price.. and have been successful – for now – at gaining significant market share…

Even as both Iran and Saudi Arabia are losing Asian market share to Russia and Iraq, Tehran is closely allied with Baghdad and Moscow while Riyadh is not. That certainly seems to suggest that in the long run, the Saudis are going to end up with the short end of the stick.

Once again, it’s the intersection of geopolitics and energy, and you’re reminded that at the end of the day, that’s what it usually comes down to.

Source: Zero Hedge


WTI Tumbles To $43 Handle After API Confirms Huge Inventory Build

API reported a huge 6.3 million barrel inventory build (notably larger than expected) extending the series of build to seven weeks. Even more worrying was the massive 2.5 million barrel build at Cushing, even as gasoline inventories fell 3.2mm. WTI immediately dropped 35c, breaking back to a $43 handle after-hours.

A huge build…


But for Cushing it was massive…

The reaction was quick and on heavy volume…

Source: Zero Hedge


Four US Firms With $4.8 Billion In Debt Warned This Week They May Default Any Minute

The last 3 days have seen the biggest surge in US energy credit risk since December 2014, blasting back above 1000bps. This should not be a total surprise since underlying oil prices continue to languish in “not cash-flow positive” territory for many shale producers, but, as Bloomberg reports, the industry is bracing for a wave of failures as investors that were stung by bets on an improving market earlier this year try to stay away from the sector. “It’s been eerily silent,” in energy credit markets, warns one bond manager, “no one is putting up new capital here.”

The market is starting to reprice dramatically for a surge in defaults...

Eleven months of depressed oil prices are threatening to topple more companies in the energy industry. As Bloomberg details,

Four firms owing a combined $4.8 billion warned this week that they may be at the brink, with Penn Virginia Corp., Paragon Offshore Plc, Magnum Hunter Resources Corp. and Emerald Oil Inc. saying their auditors have expressed doubts that they can continue as going concerns. Falling oil prices are squeezing access to credit, they said. And everyone from Morgan Stanley to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is predicting that energy prices won’t rebound anytime soon.

The industry is bracing for a wave of failures as investors that were stung by bets on an improving market earlier this year try to stay away from the sector. Barclays Plc analysts say that will cause the default rate among speculative-grade companies to double in the next year. Marathon Asset Management is predicting default rates among high-yield energy companies will balloon to as high as 25 percent cumulatively in the next two to three years if oil remains below $60 a barrel.


“No one is putting up new capital here,”
said Bruce Richards, co-founder of Marathon, which manages $12.5 billion of assets. “It’s been eerily silent in the whole high-yield energy sector, including oil, gas, services and coal.”

That’s partly because investors who plowed about $14 billion into high-yield energy bonds sold in the past six months are sitting on about $2 billion of losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

And the energy sector accounts for more than a quarter of high-yield bonds that are trading at distressed levels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Barclays said in a Nov. 6 research note that the market is anticipating “a near-term wave of defaults” among energy companies. Those can’t be avoided unless commodity prices make “a very large” and “unexpected” resurgence.

“Everybody’s liquidity is worse than it was at this time last year,” said Jason Mudrick, founder of Mudrick Capital Management. “It’s a much more dire situation than it was 12 months ago.”

Source: Zero Hedge


Something Very Strange Is Taking Place Off The Coast Of Galveston, TX

Having exposed the world yesterday to the 2-mile long line of tankers-full’o’crude heading from Iraq to the US, several weeks after reporting that China has run out of oil storage space we can now confirm that the global crude “in transit” glut is becoming gargantuan and is starting to have adverse consequences on the price of oil.

While the crude oil tanker backlog in Houston reaches an almost unprecedented 39 (with combined capacity of 28.4 million barrels), as The FT reports that from China to the Gulf of Mexico, the growing flotilla of stationary supertankers is evidence that the oil price crash may still have further to run, as more than 100m barrels of crude oil and heavy fuels are being held on ships at sea (as the year-long supply glut fills up available storage on land). The storage problems are so severe in fact, that traders asking ships to go slow, and that is where we see something very strange occurring off the coast near Galveston, TX.


FT reports that “
the amount of oil at sea is at least double the levels of earlier this year and is equivalent to more than a day of global oil supply. The numbers of vessels has been compiled by the Financial Times from satellite tracking data and industry sources.”

The storage glut is unprecedented:
 
 
Off Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Asia’s main oil hub, around 35m barrels of crude and shipping fuel are being stored on 14 VLCCs.
 
“A lot of the storage off Singapore is fuel oil as the contango is stronger,” said Petromatrix analyst Olivier Jakob. Fuel oil is mainly used in shipping and power generation.
 
Off China, which is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest crude importer, five heavily laden VLCCs — each capable of carrying more than 2m barrels of oil — are parked near the ports of Qingdao, Dalian and Tianjin.
 
In Europe, a number of smaller tankers are facing short-term delays at Rotterdam and in the North Sea, where output is near a two-year high. In the Mediterranean a VLCC has been parked off Malta since September.
 
On the US Gulf Coast, tankers carrying around 20m barrels of oil are waiting to unload, Reuters reported. Crude inventories on the US Gulf Coast are at record levels.
 
A further 8m barrels of oil are being held off the UAE, while Iran — awaiting the end of sanctions to ramp up exports — has almost 40m barrels of fuel on its fleet of supertankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Much of this is believed to be condensate, a type of ultralight oil.
And unlike the last oil price collapse during the financial crisis only half of the oil held on the water has been put there specifically by traders looking to cash in by storing the fuel until prices recover. Instead, sky-high supertanker rates have prevented them from putting more oil into so-called floating storage, shutting off one of the safety valves that could prevent oil prices from falling further.
 
 
A widening oil market structure known as contango — where future prices are higher than spot prices — could make floating storage possible.
 
 
 
The difference between Brent for delivery in six months’ time and now rose to $4.50 last week, up from $1.50 in May. Traders estimate it may need to reach $6 to make sea storage viable.
JBC Energy, a consultancy, said in many regions onshore oil storage is approaching capacity, arguing oil prices may have to fall to allow more to be stored profitably at sea.
 
 
“Onshore storage is not quite full but it is at historically high levels globally,” said David Wech, managing director of JBC Energy.
 
“As we move closer to capacity that is creating more infrastructure hiccups and delays in the oil market, leading to more oil being backed out on to the water.”
 
Patrick Rodgers, the chief executive of Euronav, one of the world’s biggest listed tanker companies, said oil glut was so severe traders were asking ships to go slow to help them manage storage levels.
 
“We are being kept at relatively low speeds. The owners of the oil are not in a hurry to get their cargoes. They are managing their storage capacity by keeping ships at a certain speed.”
As a result of all this, something very unusual going on off the coast of Galveston, where more than 39 crude tankers w/ combined cargo capacity of 28.4 million bbls wait near Galveston (Galveston is area where tankers can anchor before taking cargoes to refineries at Houston and other nearby plants), vessel tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show, which compares w/ 30 vessels, 21 million bbls of capacity in May. Vessels wait avg of 5 days, compared w/ 3 days May.

As AP puts it,a traffic jam of oil tankers is the latest sign of an unyielding global supply glut.”

More than 50 commercial vessels were anchored outside ports in the Houston area at the end of last week, of which 41 were tankers, according to Houston Pilots, an organization that assists in navigation of larger vessels. Normally, there are 30 to 40 vessels, of which two-thirds are tankers, according to the group.
 
Although the channel has been shut intermittently in recent weeks because of fog or flooding, oil traders pointed to everything from capacity constraints to a lack of buyers.
 
“It appears that the glut of supply in the global market is only getting worse,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData. Several traders said some ships might have arrived without a buyer, which can be hard to find as ample supply and end-of-year taxes push refiners to draw down inventories.
And here, courtesy of MarineTraffic is the interactive snapshot (readers can recreate it here):

All of which explains why this is happening:


Crude Jumps After API Reports Modest Inventory Draw (First In 8 Weeks) Despite Another Big Build At Cushing

11/17/2015: After seven straight weeks of significant inventory builds, API reported a modest 482k draw. That was all the algos needed and WTI immediately ramped back above $41.00. However, what they likely missed was the 2nd weekly (huge) build in Cushing (1.5mm barrels) as we warned earlier on land storage starting to really fill…

Cushing saw another big build…

And crude reacted…

As we noted earlier,

In short: “The US is the last place with significant onshore crude storage space left.”

Which leads directly to Citi’s conclusion: “‘Sell the rally’ near-term as fundamentals remain very sloppy and inventory constraints are becoming increasingly more binding.”

Source: Zero Hedge

GUNDLACH: If oil goes to $40 a barrel something is ‘very, very wrong with the world’

Jeffrey Gundlach

Jeff Gundlach – bond trader

West Texas Intermediate crude oil is at a 6-year low of $43 a barrel. 

And back in December 2014, “Bond King” Jeff Gundlach had a serious warning for the world if oil prices got to $40 a barrel.

“I hope it does not go to $40,” Gundlach said in a presentation, “because then something is very, very wrong with the world, not just the economy. The geopolitical consequences could be — to put it bluntly — terrifying.”

Writing in The Telegraph last week, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard noted that with Brent crude oil prices — the international benchmark — below $50 a barrel, only Norway’s government is bringing in enough revenue to balance their budget this year. 

And so in addition to the potential global instability created by low oil prices, Gundlach added that, “If oil falls to around $40 a barrel then I think the yield on ten year Treasury note is going to 1%.” The 10-year note, for its part, closed near 2.14% on Tuesday. 

On December 9, 2014, WTI was trading near $65 a barrel and Gundlach said oil looked like it was going lower, quipping that oil would find a bottom when it starts going up. 

WTI eventually bottomed at $43 in mid-March and spend most all of the spring and early summer trading near $60. 

On Tuesday, WTI hit a fresh 6-year low, plunging more than 4% and trading below $43 a barrel. 

WTI

In the last month, crude and the entire commodity complex have rolled over again as the market battles oversupply and a Chinese economy that is slowing.

And all this as the Federal Reserve makes noise about raising interest rates, having some in the market asking if these external factors — what the Fed would call “exogenous” factors — will stop the Fed from changing its interest rate policy for the first time in over almost 7 years. 

In an afternoon email, Russ Certo, a rate strategist at Brean Capital, highlighted Gundlach’s comments and said that the linkages between the run-up, and now collapse, in commodity prices since the financial crisis have made, quite simply, for an extremely complex market environment right now. 

“There is a global de-leveraging occurring in front of our eyes,” Certo wrote. “And, I suppose, the smart folks will determine the exact causes and translate what that means for FUTURE investment thesis. Today it may not matter other than accurately anticipating a myriad of global price movements in relation to each other.”

CRB commodity price index

Is $50 “Hard Floor” Oil Price Already In?

Volte-Face Investments believes that it is …

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The Last Two Oil Crashes Show Peak Oil Is Real

Summary

  • Recent oil crashes show you the hard floor for gauging value oil company equities.
  • Properly understood, the crashes lend an insight into the concept of Peak Oil.
  • All oil equity investors should understand the overarching upward trend on display here.
 

Note: ALL prices used in this article are using current 2015 dollars, inflation adjusted using the
US BLS inflation calculator.

Generally, when I invest, I try to keep my thesis very simple. Find good companies, with good balance sheets and some kind of specific catalytic event on the horizon. But when one starts to concentrate their holdings in a sector, as I have recently in energy (see my recent articles on RMP Energy (OTCPK:OEXFF) and DeeThree Energy (OTCQX:DTHRF), you need to also get a good handle on the particular tail or headwinds that are affecting it. Sometimes a sector like oil (NYSEARCA:USO) can be subjected to such forces, like the recent oil price crash, where almost no company specific data mattered.

One of the biggest arguments, normally used by proponents of owning oil stocks as core holdings, in the energy sector is “Peak Oil.” For the unfamiliar, it is a theory forwarded first by M. King Hubbert in the 1950s regarding U.S. oil production. Essentially, the theory stated that the U.S. would reach a point where the oil reserves would become so depleted that it would be impossible to increase oil production further, or even maintain it at a given level, regardless of effort. This would inevitably lead to oil price rises of extreme magnitudes.

Since those early beginnings, the details have been argued over in an ever-evolving fashion. The argument has shifted with global events, technological developments, and grown to encompass nearly every basin in the world (even best-selling books have been written about peak oil like Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy by Matt Simmons about a decade ago) consuming endless bytes of the Internet in every kind of investment forum and medium of exchange.

In general, I believe that the term “peak oil” is a highly flawed one. Some picture peak oil in a Mad Max fashion, with oil supplies running out like a science fiction disaster movie. Others simply dismiss peak oil as having failed to predict these so-called peaks repeatedly (the world is producing a record amount of oil right now, so all previous absolute “Peak Oil” calls below these amounts are obviously wrong). But what people should be stating when they use these terms is a Peak Oil Price.

Using my own thinking and phrasing, I believe civilization has probably passed $25 Peak Oil. This means that if you set the oil price to $25 a barrel, there is no method available to humanity to provide enough oil to meet demand over any period of time that’s really relevant. I also believe we are in the middle of proving that we have also passed $50 Peak Oil. My final conjecture here is that we will prove in the near-term future to have reached $75 Peak Oil. I don’t believe we are quite at $100 Peak Oil.

Notice that in my formulation the term Peak Oil is always stated as a peak price. Oil is not consumed in a vacuum. The price affects the demand the world has for the product and simultaneously changes the ability of all sorts of entities (businesses and governments) to retrieve deposits of it. This is what I hope to prove in this article.

So what data could I bring to this crowded table?

Well we have one thing we now have that previous entrants into the Peak Oil melee didn’t, which is the recent price crash in oil. Peak oil is often falsely portrayed as a failed idea since it hasn’t resulted in a super squeeze to ultra high prices. These spike prices are viewed as the really critical element by energy investors since they are trying to find the best case. After all, who doesn’t want to own an oil producer if they can identify a spot in which oil prices will rise to some enormous number.

But that is the wrong way to go about it for your oil investments over the long haul. Because what $50 Peak Oil really provides is a floor. In a world where we have passed $25 Peak Oil, it should be impossible, without exogenous events of enormous magnitude (world war, etc.), to press the price of the product below that price. If you could do so, you would immediately disprove the thesis. You would then know the floor provided by whichever peak oil price level you selected was wrong. The same idea seems to hold true for $50 Peak Oil now.

To prove this “floor” we need to choose times of extreme stress in the oil markets, and look at those oil prices and see what the bottoms were. For these examples, let’s select WTI oil, whose weekly average prices are reported all the way back to 1986 by the EIA.

Let’s take the three big crashes in the oil markets. I will use a full year’s average to try to smooth out the various difficulties presented by weather, seasonal effects, or various one-off events (outages, etc.). The first crash I will use as a benchmark is The 1986 Oil Crash. The 1986 breakdown was a supply crash, caused by supply swamping demand. How big a disaster was it for the oil industry?

In 1986, the Saudis opened the spigot and sparked a four-month, 67 percent plunge that left oil just above $10 a barrel. The U.S. industry collapsed, triggering almost a quarter-century of production declines, and the Saudis regained their leading role in the world’s oil market.

This was quite a crash obviously. Triggering a 25 year decline? Not going to find a lot worse than this. So in inflation adjusted dollars what was WTI oil at for the year of 1986? It sold for around $32 a barrel. Now let’s note that at this time WTI crude was actually at a higher price vs. Brent and other world prices. On a Brent basis, crude would have been just around $25 for the year. This will prove to be an important point in a short while.

The next crash we will use to benchmark was the 2008 Financial Crisis. On this website, I should hope that this world crisis will need no introduction and little explanation. This crash in oil prices (and just about every other thing priced by human beings) was a demand crash. The financial disintegration across the world led to massive drops in demand, as jobs were lost across the world by the millions. So with this demand crash what was the average price of WTI crude in the year 2009? It sold in that year for a little over $60.

The last crash I will add is the current drop, starting sometime around October by my reckoning. I would find it hard to imagine any reader of this article is unfamiliar with the current situation in North America or the world regarding oil, at least in a headline sense. This seems to be a supply crash again, where North American-led tight oil drillers have caused an increase in production that the world’s demand couldn’t handle at the $100 price level. Since then, prices have dropped down to a level that suppresses the production of oil and enhances demand.

In the first four months of 2015, the North American oil rig count has already dropped by more than 50% as compared to last year and the demand for oil has begun to increase according to EIA statistics. The current price of WTI oil has been just over $49 as an average for the year 2015. However, let us note that WTI oil now sells for a large discount to world prices, and during the previous two crashes, WTI sold for a premium.

Now we have three data points. Each one is a fairly long period of time, not just a single week. We know that the world in 1986 nearly ended for the oil industry, yet in current dollars, WTI oil was unable to trade for a year below $30 a barrel. Then we had in 2008 and 2009 an economic crisis which was widely described as being the most dire financial disaster since WWII. In 2009, WTI oil still ended up trading well over the 1986 low. In fact it was nearly double that price. This shows just how hard it can be using almost any technique to push oil prices below a true peak number.

Now we have another supply led crunch. One that is widely described as the worst oil crash since 1986, a nearly 30 year time gap. We are attacking the oil price from the supply side instead of 2008’s demand side. Yet thus far, in 2015, oil is still trading more than 50% higher than the 1986 year average, inflation adjusted. In fact, WTI, when adjusted for its current discount to world prices, is trading close to its 2009 average price. Again, nearly double the price of the 1986 crash.

What does this all mean for investing? It means to me that $25 Peak Oil is behind us. You couldn’t really hit and maintain that number in the 1986 crash when many more virgin conventional reservoirs of oil were available. Despite the last three oil crises, not one of them could get WTI oil to $25 and keep it there. Now, using much more expensive oil resources (shale fracing, deep water drilling, arctic development, etc.), it doesn’t seem like the last two disasters have been able to press WTI oil much below $50 for a material length of time. In this recent crash, the $50 floor was able to be reached only with several years of hyper-investment made possible by the twin forces of sustained high prices and access to ultra-cheap capital. Both of these forces are no longer present in the oil markets.

Therefore, I think using a $50 Peak Oil number is a very reasonable hard floor to use when stress testing your oil stocks. It means that when I am choosing a stock that produces oil, it can survive both from supply and the demand led crashes using the worst the world can throw at it.

Some will say this reasoning is simplistic. One could claim any number of variables in the future (technology, peace in the Middle East, etc.) could change all the points I am relying on here. But we have thrown everything at the oil complex between 2008 and now; both from the supply side and the demand sides; breakdowns of the whole world economy, wars, sanctions, natural disasters, hugely stupid governmental policies, OPEC’s seeming fade to irrelevance, biofuels, periods of ultra-high prices, technological progress, electric cars, etc. Yet, here we stand with these numbers staring us in the face.

In conclusion, I feel these price points prove the reality of $50 Peak Oil (WTI). If WTI oil averages more than $50 in 2015 (which I strongly feel the data shows will happen), then it will confirm my thesis that no matter what happens in the world, human beings cannot seem to produce the amount of oil they require for less than that number. Therefore, one will know what the hard floor for petroleum is provided by the hugely complex interplay of geology, politics, economics, and technology by simply measuring those effects on one easy-to-measure point of data, namely price. This version of peak oil also means I have a minimum to test my selections on. I can buy companies that can at least deal with that floor, then make large profits as the prices rise from that hard floor. All oil fields deplete, and for the past twenty years, the solution has universally been to add more expensive technological solutions, exploit smaller or more physically difficult deposits, or use more expensive alternatives. The oil market does not have the same options available to it like it did 1986. Large, cheap conventional oil deposits are no longer available in sufficient supply, which is likely what the oil price is telling us by having higher Peak Floors during crashes. Without the magic of sustained ultra high prices, the investment levels that made this run at the $50 Peak Oil level will not exist going into the future. This means that the Peak Oil floor price should be creeping higher as a sector tailwind, giving a patient and selective investor a tremendous advantage for themselves.

Read more: Volte-Face Investments: The Last Two Oil Crashes Show Peak Oil Is Real

US Oil Rig Count Decline Quickened This Week

Idle rigs in Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.'s yard in Ector County, Texas. North Dakota has also been hit hard, forcing gains in technology.

Source: Rigzone

The fall in U.S. rigs drilling for oil quickened a bit this week, data showed on Friday, suggesting a recent slowdown in the decline in drilling was temporary, after slumping oil prices caused energy companies to idle half the country’s rigs since October.

Drillers idled 31 oil rigs this week, leaving 703 rigs active, after taking 26 and 42 rigs out of service in the previous two weeks, oil services firm Baker Hughes Inc said in its closely watched report.

With the oil rig decline this week, the number of active rigs has fallen for a record 20 weeks in a row to the lowest since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987.
Since the number of oil rigs peaked at 1,609 in October, energy producers have responded quickly to the steep 60 percent drop in oil prices since last summer by cutting spending, eliminating jobs and idling rigs.

After its precipitous drop since October, the U.S. oil rig count is nearing a pivotal level that experts say could dent production, bolster prices and even coax oil companies back to the well pad in the coming months.

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Pioneer Natural Resources Co, a top oil producer in the Permian Basin of West Texas, said this week it will start adding rigs in June as long as market conditions are favorable. U.S. crude futures this week climbed to over $58 a barrel, the highest level this year, as a Saudi-led coalition continued bombings in Yemen.

That was up 38 percent from a six-year low near $42 set in mid March on oversupply concerns and lackluster demand, in part on expectations the lower rig count will start reducing U.S. oil output.

After rising mostly steadily since 2009, U.S. oil production has stalled near 9.4 million barrels a day since early March, the highest level since the early 1970s, according to government data.

The Permian Basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing shale oil basin, lost the most oil rigs, down 13 to 242, the lowest on record, according to data going back to 2011.

Texas was the state with the biggest rig decline, down 19 to 392, the least since 2009.
In Canada, active oil rigs fell by four to 16, the lowest since 2009. U.S. natural gas rigs, meanwhile, climbed by eight to 225, the same as two weeks ago.

Here’s What Could Point To More Upside For Oil

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Crude oil has already bounced back by 30 percent over the past month. But according to Richard Ross of Evercore ISI, currency market moves are predicting more upside for the battered commodity.

Over the past week, oil-exposed currencies such as the Canadian dollar, the Norwegian krone and the Australian dollar have surged in value against the U.S. dollar. And since these currencies tend to be correlated with crude, Ross extrapolates that oil has more upside.

Crude-exposed currencies “are really firming here, and they have been firming over the past month or so along with crude oil itself, and I think that holds bullish implications,” Ross said.

Looking at the Canadian currency in particular, Ross predicts that “the Canadian dollar continues to firm against the U.S. dollar, and this should be supportive of crude.”

Even the crumbling Russian ruble has had a great run over the past month, Ross points out.

“Earlier this year, the ruble was staring into the abyss,” he said in a Thursday “Trading Nation” segment. “Strength in the Russian ruble, once again, has a positive read-through for crude oil.”

However, not everyone buys the thesis.

Referring to the commodity currencies, Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management said that “they’re kind of reactive. It’s hard to make that case completely.”

In other words, crude is driving currencies like the Canadian dollar, and not the other way around.

Cheaper Foreign Oil Caps US Drilling Outlook

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By Chris Tomlinson | Houston Chronicle | MRT.com

The shale oil revolutionaries are retreating in disarray, and cheap foreign oil may banish them to the margins of the market.

As oil and natural gas move into a period of low prices, new data shows that North American drillers may not have the wherewithal to keep producing shale wells, which make up 90 percent of new drilling. In fact, if prices remain low for years to come, which is a real possibility, then investors may never see a return on the money spent to drill shale wells in the first place.

The full cost of producing oil and natural gas at a representative sample of U.S. companies, including capital spent to build the company and buy assets, is about $80 per barrel of oil equivalent, according to a study from the Bureau of Economic Geology’s Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas.

The analysis of 2014 corporate financial data from 15 of the top publicly traded producers, which I got an exclusive look at before it’s published this week, determined that companies will have a hard time recovering the capital spent that year and maintaining production unless prices rise above $80 a barrel.

The price for West Texas Intermediate has spent most of the year below $50 a barrel.

Low prices, though, won’t mean that producers will shut in existing wells. Many of these same companies can keep pumping to keep cash coming into the company, and they can still collect a 10 percent return above the well’s operating costs at $50 a barrel of oil. They just won’t make enough money to invest in new wells or recover the capital already spent.

This harsh reality of what it will take to keep the shale revolution going shows how vulnerable it is to competition from cheap overseas oil.

“Everyone walks around thinking that they know how much this stuff costs because they see published information on what people spend to just drill wells,” explained Michelle Foss, who leads the Houston-based research center. “That is not what it takes for a company to build these businesses, to recover your capital and to make money.” The bureau was founded in 1909 and functions as the state geological agency.

Low oil prices will also exacerbate the economic impact of low natural gas prices. For years natural gas has kept flowing despite prices below $4 for a million British thermal units because about 50 percent of wells produced both gas and liquids, such as crude oil and condensate.

True natural gas costs

High oil prices have helped companies subsidize natural gas wells, but lower oil prices mean natural gas wells that don’t produce liquids will need to stand on their own economics.

The center’s analysis found that among the sample companies focused primarily on gas, prices will need to top $6 a million BTUs just to cover full costs and rise above $12 a million BTUs to recover the capital expended to develop the wells.

“We have important resources, but people have to be realistic about the challenges of developing them,” Foss told me. “There will have to be higher prices.”

Everyone predicts prices will rise again. The only questions are how quickly and to what price. Some experts predict WTI prices will reach $70 a barrel by the end of 2015, while others see $60. The soonest most expect to see $80 a barrel oil is in 2017. Saudi Arabian officials have said they believe the price has stabilized and don’t see oil returning to $100 a barrel for the next five years.

High prices and shale

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The Saudi opinion is particularly important because that nation can produce oil cheaper than any other country and can produce more oil than any other country. As the informal leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia kept the price of oil inside a band between $80 and $100 a barrel for years. Now, the Saudis appear ready to keep the price low.

That’s because high prices inspired the shale revolution, where American companies figured out how to economically drill horizontally into tight rocks and then hydraulically fracture them to release oil and natural gas. Since OPEC countries rely on high oil prices to finance their governments, everyone assumed OPEC would cut production and keep revenues high.

Arab leaders, though, were more concerned about holding on to market share and allowed prices to fall below levels that make most shale wells economic. Foss, who recently returned from meetings in the United Arab Emirates, said OPEC is unlikely to change course because developing countries are seeking alternatives to oil and reducing demand.

“The Saudis and their partners see pressures on oil use everywhere they look, and what they want is their production, in particular their share of the global supply pie, to be as competitive as it can be to ensure they’ve got revenue coming into the kingdom for future generations,” she said.

OPEC is afraid rich countries like the U.S. are losing their addiction to oil, and by lowering prices hope to keep us hooked. And OPEC has plenty of product.

“There’s 9 million barrels a day in current and potential production capacity in Iraq and Iran that is tied up by political conflicts, and if you sort that out enough, that’s a flood of cheap oil onto the market,” Foss said.

On the losing end

If prices remain low, the big losers will be the bond holders and shareholders of indebted, small and medium-size companies that drill primarily in North America. Since these companies are not getting high enough prices to pay off capital expenditures through higher share prices or interest payments , they are in serious trouble.

The inability of Denver-based Whiting Petroleum to sell itself is an example. The board of the North Dakota-focused company was forced to issue new shares, reducing the company’s value by 20 percent, and take on more expensive debt. Quicksilver Resources, based in Fort Worth, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 17 because it couldn’t make the interest payments on its debt and no one was willing to invest more capital.

Until one of these companies is bought, we won’t know the true value of the shale producers at the current oil and natural gas prices.

But as more data reaches the market, there is a real danger that these companies are worth even less than investors fear, even though they may have high-quality assets.