David Fuller and Eoin Treacy's Comment of the Day
Category - Energy

    Oil Climbs to 10-Month High as U.S. Crude Stockpiles Decline

    This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Oil producers in Nigeria are facing a renewed wave of violence in the delta region that accounts for most of the country’s crude. Nigeria’s output dropped to the lowest in almost three decades as armed groups intensified attacks to rupture pipelines in recent months. Total volume of crude shut due to the attacks range from 700,000 to 800,000 barrels per day, according to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

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    Musings from the Oil Patch June 1st 2016

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks' energy report for PPHB. Here is a particularly interesting section on autonomous trucking: 

    The new topic being opened by efforts such as Otto and the platooning demonstration in Europe is the impact on fuel and labor costs within the trucking industry. In the United States, trucks drive 5.6% of all vehicle miles and are responsible for 9.5% of highway fatalities, according to Department of Transportation data. Because heavy-duty trucks have a significantly lower fuel-efficiency performance, they account for a larger share of diesel fuel consumption than diesel cars or other types of equipment. Because diesel fuel is included in distillates, we cannot determine the exact weekly volumes. However, we know that for the week ending May 20, distillate volumes of slightly over 4 million barrels a day represented 20% of total fuel supplied in the U.S. By examining the latest inventory data, distillates are broken down by the amount of sulfur in the fuel. Diesel fuel for vehicle use needs to be low sulfur – 15 parts per million or less. That fuel category accounted for 88% of all the distillate in storage, therefore we would think this is a reasonably close approximation of the highway quality diesel fuel being supplied to the U.S. market. If 62% is used by over-the-highway trucks, then the daily consumption is approximately 2.2 million barrels. Improved fuel savings from autonomous technology could eventually account for upwards of 200,000 barrels a day in savings. 

    Autonomous vehicle technology is being hailed as a way to reduce the number of accidents. The largest impact of the technology, however, may be on the employment of truck drivers. There are more than three million truck drivers in this country. According to the American Trucking Associations, the truck industry accounts for one of every 15 jobs in the United States. By eliminating the need for second drivers on many trucks due to the ability of the primary driver to fulfill his rest obligations while the truck drives itself, there will be a negative employment impact from autonomous technology. 

    Although perceived as a negative, autonomous technology might actually become a positive as the trucking industry deals with an aging workforce and a less-than-attractive employment career as long-haul driving can be tedious and keeps drivers away from home for extended time periods. While younger drivers enjoy the first and last miles of truck driving, they wish to avoid the boring portion, which autonomous technology would eliminate. In the U.S., according to consultant Oliver Wyman, by 2023 it is projected that there will be shortfall of 240,000 drivers, or approximately 8% of the estimated current number of truck drivers. 

    Canada has a similar employment outlook for its highway trucking industry. According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance there are about 300,000 long-haul truck drivers. Similarly, the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that the Canadian industry will have a shortfall of 48,000 drivers by 2024 — about 15 per cent of the total driving force – due to an aging workforce and a less-attractive employment career. 

    Another impact of autonomous technology for trucks is that vehicles can be kept on the highway for more hours per day. That could not only reduce the need for additional drivers, but it could also reduce the cost for transporting goods, further contributing to deflationary forces in the economy. 

    All of these considerations influenced our previous article’s conclusion that autonomous trucks were more likely to be on the roads before autonomous cars. That may be why Mr. Levandowski left Google. He said that his decision to leave was motivated by being eager to commercialize a self-driving vehicle as quickly as possible. At Google, he was responsible for drafting legislation to permit self-driving vehicles, which ultimately became law in Nevada. While certain states such as California have motor vehicle regulations that would prohibit the idea of trucks traveling on the freeway with only a sleeping driver in the cab, other states currently do allow it. “Right now, if you want to drive across Texas with nobody at the wheel, you’re 100 percent legal,” said Mr. Levandowski. Stay tuned for self-driving trucks on a freeway near you. 

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    Strategy and Timing

    Thanks very much to a subscriber for arranging an invitation to yesterday’s DoublieLine presentation by Jeff Gundlach which was something of a victory lap for the firm as they are now within striking distance of $100 billion under management. 

    Oil Erases Gains After Exceeding $50 for First Time This Year

    This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Brent for July settlement decreased 12 cents to $49.62 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe after. The contract earlier climbed as much as 1.6 percent to $50.51. The global benchmark crude was at a 15-cent premium to WTI.

    "We’re seeing a steady decline in U.S. production, which is going to continue, and outages around the world," said Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis, which oversees $4.3 billion. "This doesn’t mean we’re going to continue going higher; a lot may be priced in. It was a lot easier being bullish oil with sub-$40 prices than it is near $50."

    U.S. crude production dropped for an 11th week to 8.77 million barrels a day, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday. Crude inventories slid by 4.23 million barrels last week, exceeding an expected drop of 2 million. Stockpiles at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for WTI and the nation’s biggest oil-storage hub, fell by 649,000 barrels.


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    Bull Market Losing Big Ally as Buybacks Fall Most Since 2009

    This article by Lu Wang for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here are two sections:

    The first-quarter slowdown was mostly executives responding to the economic and credit stress earlier in the year, according to Joseph Amato, chief investment officer of equities at Neuberger Berman LLC in New York, where the firm oversees $243 billion. As the fear subsides, buybacks are likely to stay elevated, he said.

    “The scare in the first quarter was overblown,” Amato said. “The economy is growing on the global basis at a reasonable level. That, in our mind, would suggest that companies will come back and have a typical buyback program consistent with levels of the last few years.”


    Their role in keeping the bull market afloat is more pronounced this year. According to Bank of America Corp., the firm’s trading clients from hedge funds to wealthy individuals were net seller of stocks for 15 straight weeks through May 6, a record streak. The only buyer was corporations scooping up their own shares.

    “Companies have been a fairly consistent buyer that has supported the late stage of this bull market,” Channing Smith, a managing director at Capital Advisors Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said by phone. The firm oversees about $1.6 billion. Their potential retreat means “there is less firepower to counter any type of bout of selling,” he said.


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    Email of the day on intermarket correlations

    The January 2016 to April 2016 correlation between the CCI Index (especially oil component), and world equity markets, and the $US (inverse) has been widely noted. From late April the equities/dollar relationship has been maintained (both have mildly reversed) but unusually, the stronger dollar seems not to have had the same impact on commodity prices.

    That a stronger dollar has not hit oil or gold is a little surprising.  This is especially the case for oil, which also faces the prospect of increasing supply, but how can gold be expected to continue its advance?  


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    Oil Rises From Two-Week Low Amid Libya, Nigeria Supply Fears

    This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Oil rose from a two-week low on concern that supplies from Nigeria and Libya, holders of Africa’s largest crude reserves, will be disrupted.

    Futures advanced 2.8 percent in New York. Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Chevron Corp. are evacuating workers from the Niger Delta because of deteriorating security, a union official said.
    In Libya, some fields will be forced to halt output unless a port blockade is lifted, according to the National Oil Corp.

    Canada’s oil-sands companies curbed supply as wildfires ripped across Northern Alberta last week. Gains accelerated as global equities rose.

    "The market is getting support from the disruption in Canadian oil sands production and increased threats to output in the Niger Delta," said Gene McGillian, a senior analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

    "The underlying fundamentals remain weak. If not for supply disruptions and the decline in U.S. production, prices would be lower."

    Crude has rebounded from a 12-year low earlier this year on signs the global oversupply will ease as non-OPEC output declines and regional supply faces threats in Africa and Canada.


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    Lithium 101

    Thanks to a subscriber for this comprehensive heavyweight 170-page report on lithium. If you have questions on the lithium sector the chances are they will be answered by this report. Here is a section: 

    Global lithium S&D analysis highlights opportunity for high-quality assets
    The emergence of the Electric Vehicle and Energy Storage markets is being driven by a global desire to reduce carbon emissions and break away from traditional infrastructure networks. This shift in energy use is supported by the improving economics of lithium-ion batteries. Global battery consumption is set to increase 5x over the next 10 years, placing pressure on the battery supply chain & lithium market. We expect global lithium demand will increase from 181kt Lithium Carbonate Equivalent (LCE) in 2015 to 535kt LCE by 2025. In this Lithium 101 report, we analyse key demand drivers and identify the lithium players best-positioned to capitalise on the emerging battery thematic. 

    Global lithium demand to triple over the next 10 years
    The dramatic fall in lithium-ion costs over the last five years from US$900/kWh to US$225/kWh has improved the economics of Electric Vehicles and Energy Storage products as well as opening up new demand markets. Global battery consumption has increased 80% in two years to 70GWh in 2015, of which EV accounted for 35%. We expect global battery demand will reach 210GWh in 2018 across Electric Vehicles, Energy Storage & traditional markets. By 2025, global battery consumption should exceed 535GWh. This has major impacts on lithium. Global demand increased to 184kt LCE in 2015 (+18%), leading to a market deficit and rapid price increases. We expect lithium demand will reach 280kt LCE by 2018 (+18% 3-year CAGR) and 535kt LCE by 2025 (+11% CAGR). 

    Supply late to respond but wave of projects coming; prices are coming down 
    Global lithium production was 171kt LCE in 2015, with 83% of supply from four producers: Albemarle, SQM, FMC and Sichuan Tianqi. Supply has not responded fast enough to demand, and recent price hikes have incentivized new assets to enter the market. Orocobre (17.5ktpa), Mt. Marion (27ktpa), Mt. Cattlin (13ktpa), La Negra (20ktpa), Chinese restarts (17ktpa) and production creep should take supply to 280kt LCE by 2018, in line with demand. While the market will be in deficit in 2016, it should rebalance by mid-2017, which should see pricing normalize. Our lithium price forecasts are on page 9.


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    Gasoline Demand Is A Red Herring For The Oil Market

    Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Art Berman covering US gasoline demand. Here is a section:

    Meanwhile, net gasoline exports are at record high levels. Exports have increased 1,443 kbpd since June 2005.

    So, consumption has increased but remains far below pre-2012 levels. Production is again approaching earlier peak levels but most of the increased volume is being exported. The belief that U.S. consumption is approaching record highs is simply not true.

    Americans Are Driving More But Using A Lot Less Gasoline

    Americans are driving more than ever before. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reached an all-time high of 3.15 trillion miles in February 2016 (Figure 2).

    VMT have increased 97 billion miles per month (3%) since the beginning of 2015 and gasoline sales have increased 187 kbpd (2%). The rates of increase are not proportional.

    For example, VMT was fairly flat from mid-2011 until oil prices collapsed in September 2014 yet gasoline sales fell more than 1 million barrels per day during the same period. Americans traveled the same number of miles but used a lot less gasoline. Even with the VMT increase since 2015, sales are still 539 kbpd less than in January 2009.


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    Musings from the Oil Patch May 3rd 2016

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section: 

    This time around, the discussion seems to be heading in a slightly different direction. Mr. Kibsgaard believes that the downturn will result in a “medium for longer” pricing scenario in which the national oil companies of OPEC can still generate significant returns for their owners due to the low cost base of their conventional resources. With this cost advantage and a desire to play for market share in a world of minimal demand growth, cost issues for producers will become very important. In his view, the procurement-driven contracting model is the main obstacle to creating the performance improvement desired by the customers. The problem comes from producer procurement professionals who believe the service companies don’t bring much to the engineering aspect of projects thus the only way the companies can be compared is by price, which means comparing them on the basis of their more commodity-oriented products. 

    In Mr. Kibsgaard’s view, the procurement-driven model leads to suboptimal technical solutions and correspondingly poor project performance from both a design and executional standpoint. That also means financial returns will be negatively impacted. In light of this outlook, Schlumberger has been undertaking a revamping of how it competes based on collaboration and commercial alignment between the operators and the largest service companies. This preparation can be seen through their acquisition strategy during the past few years as Schlumberger has filled holes in its technology suite and extended its ability to do more of what was often contracted to others, which has become more important for retaining complete control of projects. 

    Schlumberger is close to putting five prototype drilling rigs into the field to test its new drilling system that will capitalize on its downhole instruments to help guide and evaluate the formations being drilled and render information to the drilling equipment and the people at the surface. By automating the drilling process based on the downhole intelligence, wells can be drilled faster, cheaper, safer and with a greater productivity outcome. It is possible fewer workers will be needed on the rigs further reducing the cost of drilling wells and potentially helping both the operator and service company improve returns.

    Competitors will be watching Schlumberger closely. Initial successes will pressure competitor management teams to consider broadening their product and service offerings followed by how to make them more integrated and profitable. Producers will be watching the experiment as they wrestle with how to increase their profit margins if oil prices remain in the $40-$55 per barrel range for a number of years. If producers cannot grow production because of low industry growth, they will need to strive to become more profitable in order to be rewarded by investors.

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