Negative oil prices, ships dawdling at sea with unwanted cargoes, and traders getting creative about where to stash oil. The next chapter in the oil crisis is now inevitable: great swathes of the petroleum industry are about to start shutting down.
The economic impact of the coronavirus has ripped through the oil industry in dramatic phases. First it destroyed demand as lockdowns shut factories and kept drivers at home. Then storage started filling up and traders resorted to ocean-going tankers to store crude in the hope of better prices ahead.
Now shipping prices are surging to stratospheric levels as the industry runs out of tankers — a sign of just how distorted the market has become.
The specter of production shutdowns — and the impact they will have on jobs, companies, their banks, and local economies — was one of the reasons that spurred world leaders to join forces to cut production in an orderly way. But as the scale of the crisis dwarfed their efforts, failing to stop prices diving below zero last week, shut-downs are now a reality. It’s the worst-case scenario for producers and refiners.
“We are moving into the end-game,” Torbjorn Tornqvist, head of commodity trading giant Gunvor Group Ltd., said in an interview. “Early-to-mid May could be the peak. We are weeks, not months, away from it.”
In theory, the first oil output cuts should have come from the OPEC+ alliance, which earlier this month agreed to reduce production from May 1. Yet after the catastrophic price plunge on Monday, when West Texas Intermediate fell to -US$40 a barrel, it’s the U.S. shale patch that is leading.
The best indicator of how the U.S. industry is reacting is the rapid drop in the number of oil rigs in operation, which last week fell to a four-year low. Before the coronavirus crisis hit, oil companies ran about 650 rigs in the U.S. By Friday, more than 40 per cent of them had stopped working, with only 378 left.
“Monday really focused people’s minds that production needs to slow down,” Ben Luckock, co-head of oil trading at commodity merchant Trafigura Group, said. “It’s the smack in the face the market needed to realize this is serious.”
Trafigura, one of the largest exporters of U.S. crude from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, believes that output in Texas, New Mexico, North Dakota and other states will now fall much faster than expected as companies react to negative prices, which have persisted for several days last week in the physical market.
Until prices collapsed on Monday, the consensus was that output would drop by about 1.5m barrels a day by December. Now market watchers now see that loss by late June. “The severity of the price pressure is likely to act as a catalyst for the immediate turndown in activity and shut-ins,” said Roger Diwan, oil analyst at consultant IHS Markit Ltd.
The price shock has been particularly intense in the physical market: producers of crude streams such as South Texas Sour and Eastern Kansas Common had to pay more than US$50 a barrel to offload their output last week. ConocoPhillips and shale producer Continental Resources Inc. have all announced plans to shut in output. Regulators in Oklahoma voted to allow oil drillers to shut wells without losing leases; New Mexico made a similar decision.
North Dakota, which for years was synonymous with the U.S. shale revolution, is witnessing a rapid retrenchment. Oil producers have already closed more than 6,000 wells, curtailing about 405,000 barrels a day in production, or about 30 per cent of the state’s total.
The output cuts won’t be limited to the U.S. From Chad, a poor and landlocked country in Africa, to Vietnam and Brazil, producers are now either reducing output or making plans to do so.
“I wouldn’t want to get sensational about it but yes, clearly there must be a risk of shut-ins,” Mitch Flegg, the head of North Sea oil company Serica Energy, said in an interview. “In certain parts of the world it is a real and present risk.”
In emergency board meetings last week, oil companies small and large discussed an outlook that’s the most somber any oil executive has ever witnessed. For the small firms, the next few weeks will be all about staying afloat. But even for the bigger ones, like Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP Plc, it’s a challenge. Big Oil will offer an insight into the crisis when companies report earnings this week.
Saudi Arabia, Russia and the rest of the OPEC+ alliance will join the output cuts on Friday, slashing their output by more than 20 per cent, or 9.7 million barrels a day. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned company, is already trimming to reach the target. And Russian oil companies have announced exports of their flagship Urals crude would drop in May to a 10-year low.
Even so, it may not be enough. Every week, 50 million barrels of crude are going into storage, enough to fuel Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. combined. At that rate, the world will run out of storage by June. What’s not stored onshore, is stashed in tankers. The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday said there were so many tankers at anchor off California that it was keeping an eye on the situation.
Before the crisis hit, the world was consuming about 100 million barrels a day. Demand now, however, is somewhere between 65 and 70 million barrels. So, in a worst-case scenario, about a third of global output needs to be shut.
The reality is likely to be less severe as storage would continue to bridge the gap between supply and demand. Plus, oil traders say consumption has probably hit a bottom, and will start a very gentle recovery.
But before that takes hold, the great shutdown will spread through oil refining too.
Over the past week, Marathon Petroleum Corp., one of the biggest U.S. refiners, announced it would stop production at a plant near San Francisco. Royal Dutch Shell Plc has idled several units in three U.S. refineries in Alabama and Louisiana. And across Europe and Asia, many refineries are running at half rate. U.S. oil refiners processed just 12.45 million barrels a day on the week to April 17, the lowest amount in at least 30 years, except for hurricane-related closures.
More refinery shutdowns are coming, oil traders and consultants said, particularly in the U.S. where lockdowns started later than in Europe and demand is still contracting. Steve Sawyer, director of refining at Facts Global Energy, said that global refineries could halt as much as 25 per cent of total capacity in May.
“No one is going to be able to dodge this bullet.”
OPEC and allies reportedly agree to extend record production cut – CNBC
An OPEC sign hangs outside the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 29, 2017.
Akos Stiller | Bloomberg | Getty Images
OPEC and its oil-producing allies reportedly agreed to extend the historic 9.7 million barrels per day production cut that was set to expire at the end of June, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The cut will be extended through the end of July, and the group is expected to confirm the agreement at its meeting on Saturday, which kicked off a little before 8:30 a.m. ET.
The closely watched meeting was initially scheduled for June 9-10, but was pulled forward after Iraq agreed to comply with its quota.
On Friday West Texas Intermediate jumped 5.72% to settle at $39.55, while international benchmark Brent crude gained 5.78% to settle at $42.30. It was each contract’s sixth straight week of gains, and the highest settle since March 6.
“OPEC+ looks set to formally announce a one-month deal extension at [Saturday’s] ministerial meeting,” said Helima Croft, RBC’s global head of commodities strategy. “Nevertheless, there could be some last minute theatrics at the virtual gathering and we suspect that some individual producer performance will still be less than perfect on a go-forward basis.”
Under the current agreement, which was set during an extraordinary multi-day meeting in April, the 23-member group cut production by 9.7 million bpd beginning May 1 and through the end of June. The cuts would then begin to taper. From July through the end of 2020, 7.7 million bpd would be taken offline, followed by 5.8 million bpd from January 2021 through April 2022.
The cut — the largest in history — came as oil demand fell off a cliff due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Energy Agency estimates that about one quarter of demand was sapped in April as billions of people around the world stayed home in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. The hit to demand came as producers continued to pump oil, which sent WTI tumbling into negative territory for the first time on record, while Brent fell to a 20-year low.
Since then, prices have steadily climbed higher as economies begin to reopen and as producers further rein in output. In the U.S., production has fallen from a record 13.1 million bpd in March to 11.2 million bpd, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. WTI is still about 40% below its January high of $65.65, however.
“Although small in scale, this cut is however important in squaring the group’s strategy, which has this year alone swung from price focused cuts, to market-share recapture, to internal price war to finally a record large cut,” Goldman Sachs’ Damien Courvalin wrote in a note to clients Friday.
– CNBC’s Brian Sullivan and Michael Bloom contributed reporting.
Unemployment rate increases in Alberta despite more jobs: StatCan – CTV News
Alberta gained 28,000 jobs in the month of May, according to the latest Labour Force Survey released Friday morning from Statistics Canada.
The increase in employment follows a cumulative decline of 361,000 jobs from February to April.
Alberta’s job increases were entirely driven by the services-producing sector after the province allowed some businesses such as restaurants and non-essential shops to reopen as of May 14.
The unemployment rate in the province increased by 2.1 percentage points to 15.5 per cent, which is now the second highest in the country behind Newfoundland and Labrador at 16.3 per cent.
Nationwide, the average rate of unemployment is now 13.7 per cent, topping the previous high of 13.1 per cent set back in December 1982.
Canada added a total of 290,000 jobs across the country. According to Statistics Canada data, the total number of hours worked is increasing at a faster pace than employment.
Total hours worked across all industries grew by 6.3 per cent in May, compared with an increase of 1.8 per cent (290,000 jobs) in employment.
Alberta Economic Recovery Plan
In response to one of the most dramatic economic downturns in Alberta’s history, the provincial government will start rolling out an economic recovery plan later this month focused on cultivating key industries.
Premier Jason Kenney said last week that Alberta’s strategy will take a “pedal to the metal” approach to diversification after a steep decline in the price of oil.
On Monday, Finance Minister Travis Toews announced that his financial blueprint will be centred on growing sectors such as energy, agriculture, technology and petrochemical manufacturing.
A recent study from the Conference Board of Canada projects Alberta will see its economy shrink by 6.8 per cent this year.
Toews called that report realistic and noted the downturn will be measured in months not weeks.
Canadian government pushes 3500MHz spectrum auction to June 15, 2021 – MobileSyrup
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced that it has postponed the 3500MHz spectrum auction by six months.
The new date for the auction is now June 15th, 2021. Several of the other key dates associated with the auction are listed on the government’s site since they’ve also been pushed back by six months.
“Canada’s telecommunications service providers are doing their part in this difficult time, providing essential services to keep Canadians connected as we face the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic together. A number of providers have raised concerns, and the Government is implementing measures to address them,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.
“The Government will continue to reach out to telecommunications service providers—and to the private sector more broadly—to understand their challenges and support them to ensure that Canadians have access to high-quality networks and broad coverage at low prices.”
The government’s press release from June 5th, 2020 states that this is in line with what other countries are doing. It will help the telecommunication companies focus on providing robust service to Canadians as many of us are still self-isolating at home.
Beyond this, a consultation on the 3800MHz spectrum is set to begin in August to get the ball rolling on that slice of 5G spectrum as well. Notably, both the 3500MHz and 3800MHz are considered key due to their ability to transport data at 5G speeds at a reasonable range.
In a statement to MobileSyrup, Chethan Lakshman, the vice president of external affairs at Shaw, stated, “given the pandemic’s impact on Canadian society and overall business operations, we support the decision to provide additional time for industry and the government to prepare for this auction. A well-run auction process will ensure that Canadians and the Canadian economy will benefit from strong competition in wireless and 5G for years to come.”
“Our networks are the backbone of so much of our economy and as we continue to rollout Canada’s first 5G network, driving innovation and productivity, we look forward to accessing 3500 Mhz spectrum as soon as it is available,” Rogers said in a statement to MobileSyrup.
Telus, meanwhile, sent MobileSyrup the following statement:
“While we would like to see the auction proceed as soon as possible, we appreciate the government’s recognition of facilities-based carriers for keeping Canadians connected at all times, even during the pandemic. Because of our continued investment in building out communications infrastructure, TELUS’ 4G LTE network speeds are among the fastest in the world; faster even than South Korea’s 5G network speeds, according to Opensignal. We have long been ready to make the crucial investment in 3500 MHz spectrum and network infrastructure required to realize the full promise of 5G so that Canadian entrepreneurs, businesses, and innovators can leverage the next generation of connectivity that promises to benefit us all. In the interim, we will continue to provide our customers with access to the fastest and most reliable networks possible and focus our efforts on supporting Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 in whatever ways we can.”
Update 05/06/20 4:19pm ET: Updated with statements from Rogers and Telus.
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