Having failed to “rebalance” the oil market in the first six months following the implementation of the Vienna production cut agreement, with crude inventories in the US hitting all time highs in the interim…



… OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers found themselves in the unpleasant position of scrambling for solutions at this weekend’s Kuwait meeting – in which Saudi Arabia was conspicuously missing – where just two things were discussed: deal compliance, which OPEC paradoxically claims is more than satisfactory despite the relentless climb in inventories, and whether to extend the production cuts by another six month.

And as the Kuwait meeting in which OPEC and rival N-OPEC producing countries met to review progress with their pact to cut supplies drew to a close, a joint committee of ministers from OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers recommended extending by six months the global deal to reduce oil output by 1.8 million barrels, a draft press release from their meeting on Sunday showed.

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The oil ministerial committee “expressed its satisfaction with the progress made toward full conformity with the voluntary production adjustments and encouraged all participating countries to press on toward 100 percent conformity,” said the draft, seen by Reuters.

The December accord, aimed at supporting the oil market, has lifted crude LCOc1 to more than $50 a barrel. But the price gain has encouraged U.S. shale oil producers, which are not part of the pact, to boost output.

In its statement, the committee said that “certain factors, such as low seasonal demand, refinery maintenance, and rising non-OPEC supply, have led to a further increase in crude oil stocks. At the same time, the liquidation of positions by financial players in the market was also observed.”  In other words, the committee blamed everything, including “evil selling speculators” except non-compliance with the deal, of course as that would crush what little credibility OPEC had.

Oil inventories are high because of low U.S. demand and higher supply, and the market should re-balance in the second half of the year, OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo told reporters in Kuwait. Inventories in countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are currently 282 million barrels higher than their five-year average, he said at the meeting on Sunday.

It also left on a positive note: “However, the end of the refinery maintenance season and noticeable slowdown in U.S. stock build as well as the reduction in floating storage will support the positive efforts undertaken to achieve stability in the market,” it said.

“Oddly”, there was no mention of US shale production, which has soared in recent months, happy to grab market share from OPEC which has allegedly cut production by nearly 2 million barrels daily, and whose output continues to ramp higher in line with the resurgence in US oil rigs.

Before the meeting, Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi told reporters there were some encouraging elements that suggested the oil market was improving, and that if all OPEC members agreed measures to help price stability, Iraq would support such steps. “Any decisions taken unanimously by members of OPEC … Iraq will be part of the decision and will not be deviating from this,” Luaibi said quoted by Reuters.

Iraq’s oil production is running at 4.312 million bpd this month, Luaibi said, adding that his country had cut its oil exports by 187,000 bpd so far and would reach 210,000 bpd in a few days. Compliance with the supply-cut deal was 94 percent in February among OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers combined, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.

Russia is committed to cuts of 300,000 bpd by the end of April, Novak said, adding that a deal extension could be discussed on Sunday. “For today, obviously, this is within the sphere of our questions,” Novak said and added that he expects global oil stockpiles to decrease in the second quarter of this year. “The dynamics are positive here, I believe,” Novak said, adding that inventories in the United States and other industrialized countries had risen by less than in the past.

OPEC’s compliance rate was 106% in February, and non-OPEC nations, including Russia, have reached compliance of 64 percent, Kuwait’s Almarzooq said Sunday. The combined compliance rate of both was 94 percent, he said.

Kuwaiti Oil Minister Essam al-Marzouq said the oil market may return to balance by the third quarter of this year if producers comply fully with their production targets.

“More has to be done. We need to see conformity across the board. We assured ourselves and the world that we would reach our adjustment to 100 percent conformity,” Marzouq said.

The biggest question, however, how OPEC plans to deal with the rising shale threat, which as Goldman noted last week has become the global oil price setter, was unanswered.


This is how Goldman explained the dramatic change in the global oil cost curve over the past three years:

Shale’s short time to market and ongoing productivity improvements have provided an efficient answer to the industry’s decade-long search for incremental hydrocarbon resources in technically challenging, high cost areas and has kicked off a competition amongst oil producing countries to offer attractive enough contracts and tax terms to attract incremental capital. This is instigating a structural deflationary change in the oil cost curve, as shown in Exhibit 2. This shift has driven low cost OPEC producers to respond by focusing on market share, ramping up production where possible, using their own domestic resources or incentivizing higher activity from the international oil companies through more attractive contract structures and tax regimes. In the rest of the world, projects and countries have to compete for capital, trying to drive costs down to become competitive through deflation, FX and potentially lower tax rates.

The implications of this curve shift are major, all of which are very adverse to the Saudis, who have been relegated from the post of long-term price setter to inventory manager, and thus the loss of leverage. Here are some further thoughts from Goldman:

  • OPEC role: from price setter to inventory manager In the New Oil Order, we believe OPEC’s role has structurally changed from long-term price setter to inventory manager. In the past, large-scale developments required seven years+ from FID to peak production, giving OPEC long-term control over oil prices. US shale oil currently offers large-scale development opportunities with 6-9 months to peak production. This short-cycle opportunity has structurally changed the cost dynamics, eliminating the need for high cost frontier developments and instigating a competition for capital amongst oil producing countries that is lowering and flattening the cost curve through improved contract terms and taxes.
  • OPEC’s November decision had unintended consequences: OPEC’s decision to cut production was rational and fit into the inventory management role. Inventory builds led to an extreme contango in the Brent forward curve, with 2-year fwd Brent trading at a US$5.5/bl (11%) premium to spot. As OPEC countries sell spot, but US E&Ps sell 30%+ of their production forward, this was giving the E&Ps a competitive advantage. Within one month of the OPEC announcement, the contango declined to US$1.1/bl (2%), achieving the cartel’s purpose. However, the unintended consequence was to underwrite shale activity through the credit market.
  • Stability and credit fuel overconfidence and strong activity: A period of stability (1% Brent Coefficient of Variation ytd vs. 6% 3-year average) has allowed E&Ps to hedge (35% of 2017 oil production vs. 21% in November) and access the credit market, with high yield reopen after a 10- month closure (largest issuance in 4Q16 since 3Q14). Successful cost repositioning and abundant funding are boosting a short-cycle revival, with c.85% of oil companies under our coverage increasing capex in 2017.

Finally, with Saudi Arabia absent, the Kuwait meeting was largely moot. Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister said in a Bloomberg Television interview on March 17 that the deal will be maintained if oil stockpiles are still above their five-year average.

In summary: It’s too early to decide on an extension of the output cuts, and OPEC will take up the issue in May, Barkindo said at Sunday’s meeting, during which ministers will monitor compliance with the targeted reductions.



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