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December 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Chinese-Korean group to build $2 billion lithium batteries plant in Chile

This article by Cecilia Jamasmie for mining.com may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Lithium, frequently referred to as "white petroleum," drives much of the modern world, as it has become an irreplaceable component of rechargeable batteries used in high tech devices.

The market, while still relatively small — worth about $1bn a year — is expected to triple in size by 2015, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs

That should be great news for Chile, as the country contains half of the world’s most “economically extractable” reserves of the metal, according to the US Geographical Survey (USGS). It is also the world’s lowest-cost producer, thanks to an efficient process that makes the most of the country’s climate.

Chile is essentially “the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to Marcelo A. Awad, executive director of the Chilean brand of Wealth Minerals, Canadian company that also has interests in Mexico and Peru.

The country, he noted in a recent interview, is perfectly positioned, with ports across the Pacific from the world’s largest car market, China, which is expected to increase electric vehicles production in years to come. There, lithium is also used to manufacture rechargeable ­batteries that power hundreds of millions of smartphones, digital cameras and laptops.

The challenge for foreign investors, particularly the Asian conglomerate, is to persuade Chilean authorities of making the leap from exporting the white metal to producing lithium batteries at the point of extraction.

Estimates from the group’s advisors believe opening the proposed plant would make the value of the product 35 times higher than what it could be obtained by just selling it as lithium carbonate

Eoin Treacy's view -

Elon Musk might be one of the world’s great promotors but there is no denying that he has upended the automotive sector with just about every major auto manufacturer planning to release a range of electric vehicles within the next few years. 



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December 05 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

New efficiency record for large perovskite solar cell

This article by Eric Mack for Gizmag may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

"Perovskites came out of nowhere in 2009, with an efficiency rating of 3.8 percent, and have since grown in leaps and bounds," said Anita Ho-Baillie, a Senior Research Fellow at the UNSW's Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics. "I think we can get to 24 percent within a year or so."

The solar cells are made from crystals grown into a particular structure called perovskite. Smooth layers of perovskite with large crystal grain sizes allow the cells to absorb more light. The technology has been advancing fast and attracting plenty of attention thanks to its ease of production and low cost compared to silicon cells.

"The diversity of chemical compositions also allows cells be transparent, or made of different colors," said Ho-Baillie. "Imagine being able to cover every surface of buildings, devices and cars with solar cells."

Perovskite cells do have downsides like much less durability, something Ho-Baillie and her team say they're confident they can improve, while also shooting for higher levels of efficiency.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Perovskite is a development stage technology that is likely to play an important role in the future of solar cells but it could be a decade before it reaches commercial utility. The primary argument supporting perovskite is the relative cost of producing the crystals versus the panels used today. That enhances the technology’s competitiveness so that cells do not need to be as efficient because they are so much cheaper. However what do need to be overcome are the issues described above regarding durability which are non-trivial.



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December 01 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

OPEC Meeting Review

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from DNB which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

OPEC has just decided a headline cut of 1.2 million b/d

We calculate that compared with October secondary sources in the OPEC report, the net OPEC cut from the 11 participating countries in the deal is 0.982 million b/d

Angola was allowed to use September output as the base instead of October

The cartel will use secondary sources to monitor output reductions
Indonesia, Libya and Nigeria is not part of the deal

Since the cartel has distributed quotas to the different countries, have organized a monitoring committee and are using secondary sources, the deal is very bullish to the oil price

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subcsriber's Area.

Brent crude oil hit a new recovery high today and upside follow through tomorrow would confirm a return to demand dominance beyond what has been an impressive two-day rally. Considering the fact that the price has been rangebound for the last six months the potential for a breakout that is outsized relative to the amplitude of the congestion area cannot be discounted. 



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November 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Collision Course

Thanks to subscriber for this report from RBC which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

While energy market watchers have highlighted President-Elect Trump’s nod towards drilling and fracking, we believe that a Trump administration will have a larger impact on the US demand side of the ledger. The two key regulations which, if repealed, could drive US gasoline demand materially higher are the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards (CAFE) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The potential impact of a Trump presidency on US gasoline demand is not one that should be underestimated. After all, US gasoline demand comprises of nearly 10% of total global oil demand and has been the sole bright spot in the OECD region, which has otherwise been trending lower on a structural basis since the recession. The potential repeal of aforementioned regulations is unlikely to make a difference in his first 90 days in office, but it is a rather bullish potential catalyst in the quarters and years to come.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

An additional bullish potential outcome for gasoline prices is that the millennial generation is increasingly turning towards car ownership after a delayed start which should at least put a partial floor under demand. 



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November 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch November 15th 2016

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

Another issue that has yet to be addressed is a proposed ban on oil tankers operating off British Columbia’s coastline that would effectively shut down the development of an oil export terminal at Kitimat and thus kill the proposed Enbridge (ENB-NYSE) Northern Gateway oil export pipeline. If the tanker ban is put in place, it will force the development of the Trans Mountain pipeline as the primary West Coast oil export pipeline. That would leave the Trudeau government to deal with TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP-NYSE) Energy East oil pipeline project to move Western Canadian oil to the East Coast where it could be exported to the U.S. East Coast or Europe. Despite being the “environmental” prime minister, Mr. Trudeau is recognizing that without more oil and gas export opportunities, his nation’s economy, which depends on a healthy energy economy, will suffer with many social and financial repercussions.

The Canadian federal government’s decision about Trans Mountain on December 19th will be an important milestone for the nation’s energy business. There are still numerous other policy decisions that must be addressed before Canada develops a full-scale oil and gas export expansion regime, but the first steps appear to have been taken last week.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Anyone who has ever been to Vancouver will understand how important pristine maritime conditions are when they sit down to taste some of the city’s delectable seafood. Whether it is salmon, sushi or Cantonese style seafood all are on par with what is on offer anywhere else in the world. However despite a deep interest in preserving the province’s wonderful maritime resources there are bigger questions that need to be addressed. 



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November 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Is the EV finally coming of age?

This article by Scott Collie for Gizmag may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

One important breakthrough will be increasing the energy density of the battery through being able to cram more cells into the same volume of battery packs. The battery density doubled between 2009 and 2016, and this is definitely not the end. Just like with the technological development of the personal computer, there is something similar to a 'Moore's Law' in the battery development: currently, we recognize an annual improvement rate of 14 percent, which is quite immense."

Although 14 percent is significant, it's only just a start when it comes to battery technology. At the moment, electric cars make use of lithium-ion batteries, the type pioneered by the Tesla Roadster back in the mid-2000s. Schenk says there's plenty of improvement to come in lithium-ion tech, but greater leaps forward are in the pipe.

"New technologies, and especially those aimed at material-related improvements, plus ever-increasing production volumes leading to further price decreases, will determine the development stages of the next few years," Schenk says. "Within the next decade a major technological leap is expected with lithium-sulphur systems, and these are set to revolutionize costs and operating range as extraordinarily relevant buying criteria for electric vehicles."

Already, improvements to battery chemistry are starting to pay off, and people are starting to buy electric vehicles in greater numbers. Renault, one of the largest players in the European electric game, sold 23,087 electric cars in 2015 - a 49 percent increase on its 2014 numbers.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Advances in battery technology have been slower to manifest than in microprocessors because of limitations in chemistry but perhaps more importantly because there has just not been enough incentive for companies to spend money on innovation. 



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November 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch November 1st 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks' ever interesting report for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

It appears to us that everyone in the energy industry is fixated on whether the OPEC oil ministers meeting in Vienna, Austria on November 30th will produce an agreement to limit the group’s output, and how that production volume will be shared among the group’s 12 members. Also, it will be important to see who among the 12 OPEC members will be exempted from a monthly production quota and what those countries near-term output goals are. Lastly, we need to see some support from Russia for OPEC’s production cap to have much strength. While all these details are important to the outcome of the OPEC meeting and how the energy world reacts to whatever is agreed to, the lack of executive thinking about what happens to energy demand if the U.S. enters a recession could be the pothole everyone steps in. The duration and depth on any recession will determine how much oil demand might be lost due to weaker economic activity. We suggest you should pay attention to this hidden elephant in the OPEC meeting room. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

While Allen Brooks is not predicting a recession more than a few analysts have floated the idea. It’s an important consideration that would of course have a significant impact on the energy markets but also on just about every other asset class. Perhaps it would be timely to review some of the leading indicators for recessions to see where we are in the cycle. 



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October 27 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

OPEC May Need Help to End the Global Glut of Oil

This article by Grant Smith for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here Is a section:  

If OPEC reduces output to 32.5 million barrels a day -- a cut of 900,000 a day from September levels -- it would be pumping slightly less than the amount needed to meet demand in 2017, the group’s monthly report from Oct. 12 shows. Inventories would contract as a result, but only by 36.5 million barrels over the course of the year, a negligible impact on a stockpile surplus the group estimated at 322 million barrels above the five-year average in August.

If OPEC doesn’t act to reduce stockpiles next year, Societe Generale’s price forecasts would probably have to be revised lower, Mike Wittner, head of oil-market research, said in an e-mailed note. Over the first three quarters of 2017, the bank currently sees Brent averaging $55 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate at $53.50.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

If oil prices are to be massaged higher Saudi Arabia and Russia will have to come to an agreement to curtail supply and by more than has already been agreed. Such an agreement would require major sacrifices on both their counts since Saudi Arabia is engaged in a rationalisation of generous handouts its citizens have been accustomed to for decades. Meanwhile Russia is actively engaged militarily in both Ukraine and Syria as well as having expensive plans to revitalise its nuclear arsenal. These decisions would also have to be taken in the knowledge that any additional rally in oil prices will encourage even more US unconventional supply back into the market. 



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October 14 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Is the Deepwater Dead?

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Marky Mark-ing to market cost and efficiency gains: More competitive than you think
Contrary to popular belief, the US onshore isn’t the only sector seeing meaningful cost deflation and/or efficiency gains. While the ~60% reduction in DW rig rates has grabbed headlines, broad improvements, including drill-days (-30%-40%), steel costs (-30%), and various SURF/topsides costs (-10%-30%) have reduced total project costs by 30%-40%, in our view. And given the lag in response time, excess capacity and a moderate pick-up in activity, we expect cost and efficiency gains to be more durable than in the US onshore.

But not all barrels are created equal. Only high quality resource can compete While all deepwater tends to get lumped together, the range of economics across projects is diverse (sub $30/bbl-$80+/bbl breakevens), with only high quality resource set to compete. We examine various drivers of project economics, many poorly understood, including fiscal terms, resource size, resource density, and proximity to infrastructure, and potential impact. We see high quality, pre-FID deepwater projects breaking even at roughly $40-$50/bbl.

Meaningful challenges remain
Though more competitive than the market believes, meaningful challenges will continue to drive an increasing share of discretionary capital to US shale, including: geologic risk, project execution risk, geopolitical risk, and capital inflexibility. Adjustments to development strategies and scope can mitigate some risk, and large, diverse IOC budgets will invest across the spectrum, but failure to revolve would demand a higher rate of return, with an increase to 15% required IRR (vs. 10%) increasing average breakevens by $7.5/bbl.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Drilling for oil offshore is quite a bit more expensive and carries with more risk that drilling onshore. Nevertheless, before the evolution of unconventional onshore oil and gas wells in the USA, oil companies had little choice but to explore the world’s oceans. The question is not whether the oil is in place offshore but rather what is the cost of extraction and transportation to shore?



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October 05 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

All eyes on the spending cap

Thanks to a subscriber for this note from Deutsche Bank focusing on the Brazilian market. Here is a section:

Speaking at the Senate Economic Committee on Tuesday, BCB President Ilan Goldfajn. Goldfajn repeated several statements that had already been published in the central bank’s Inflation Report last week, reaffirming the intention of making inflation converge to the 4.5% target in 2017. Goldfajn also repeated the remarks published in the Inflation Report about the three conditions for the authorities to initiate an easing cycle (namely limited persistence of food price shock, disinflation of IPCA components, and lower uncertainty about the fiscal adjustment implementation). The Goldfajn, however, added that the BCB “does not have a pre-established timetable for monetary easing,” as the COPOM decision will depend on several factors, including inflation expectations and forecasts. This comment suggests that the BCB has not yet made a final decision to cut rates, perhaps because market inflation expectations for 2017 have not converged to the 4.1% target yet. Despite Goldfajn’s cautious remarks, we still expect the COPOM to cut the SELIC rate by 25bps at the next meeting later this month.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Brazil has a number of challenges facing the economy not least corruption and the low standards of governance in its state institutions which have contributed to low approval ratings for the government regardless of who is in power. Controlling inflation will be one of the key tests from an international perspective because of the impact that would have on the currency. 



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October 03 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Adobe Expertly Balances Growth and Profitability

This article from MorningStar following Adobe’s results on September 20th may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Third-quarter revenue rose 26% year over year to $1.46 billion, driven by 51% growth in the firm’s subscription revenue base. Creative Cloud continues to serve as the company’s key revenue driver, as both greenfield customers and cloud migrators are providing a consistent lift in the annual recurring revenue base. We believe ample growth opportunities remain across both Creative Cloud and Digital Marketing, particularly as consumer users migrate and enterprise customers consolidate digital content creation and marketing spend around suites of applications versus point solutions.

The company is beginning to show the two main benefits of renewal billings in its subscriber base, which are higher prices and substantially lower customer acquisition costs. As a result, GAAP operating margin exceeded our forecast by more than 300 basis points at 25%, the firm’s best quarterly mark since the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012. While we suspect the firm will need to maintain aggressive investment in sales and marketing, particularly as competition for digital marketing wins remains intense, we think the increasing renewal mix of Creative Cloud billings will smooth this effect, yielding mid-30s operating margins in the long run.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I’m reminded of an old adage that “you can sheer a sheep every year, but only send him for slaughter once” when looking at the success of Adobe’s subscription pricing model. A significant number of companies are now adopting the same policy, opting for the relative security of payments over the long-term versus relying on “lumpy” sales of new software. 
 

 



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October 03 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Shale Oil Firms Hedge 2017 Prices in 'Droves' After OPEC

This article by Alex Longley and Javier Blas for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity research at BNP Paribas SA in London, said on Friday that OPEC had thrown a “lifeline” to U.S. shale firms, prompting them to hedge “in droves.” The bank has “seen many queries coming through” from producers, he said.

The West Texas Intermediate 2017 calendar strip -- an average of future prices next year that’s often used as a reference for hedging activity -- rose above $50 a barrel to its highest since August on Monday. “When calendar 2017 pricing rises into the low-to-mid $50s, as it is doing now, producer hedging rises materially,” Longson said.

U.S. shale producers used a similar rally to hedge their prices in May, when the WTI 2017 calendar strip also rose above $50 a barrel. The current activity comes after industry executives told investors in July and August they planned to use any window of higher prices to lock-in cash flows for next year.

"We would like to be a little bit further hedged than we are today," Pioneer Natural Resources Co. Chief Executive Officer Tim Dove said back in July, noting his company has locked in prices for up to 55 percent of its 2017 exposure. “I’d like to see us get that number up as we go towards at the end of this year.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

US unconventional onshore supply represents an important marginal producer that functions independently of the OPEC/Russia cartel. The level at which US producers are willing to hedge supply into next year tells us more about at what level they deem to be economic for their operations than probably any other factor. It is now possible to hedge December 2017 supply at over $53 so we can reasonably conclude that level represents where the incentive to drill and produce even more really becomes inviting. 



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September 29 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Beyond Algiers

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Goldman Sachs which was issued on the 27th, ahead of the OPEC meeting. Here is a section: 

Nonetheless, our 4Q16 oil supply-demand balance is weaker than previously expected given upside surprises to 3Q production and greater clarity on new project delivery into year-end. This leaves us expecting a global surplus of 400 kb/d in 4Q16 vs. a 300 kb/d draw previously. Importantly, this forecast only assumes a limited additional increase in Libya/Nigeria production of 90 kb/d vs. current estimated output. As a result, we are lowering our 4Q16 forecast to $43/bbl from $50/bbl previously. While a potential deal could support prices in the short term, we find that the potential for less disruptions and still relatively high net long speculative positioning leave risks skewed to the downside into year-end. Importantly, given the uncertainty on forward supply-demand balances, we reiterate our view that oil prices need to reflect near-term fundamentals – which are weaker – with a lower emphasis on the more uncertain longer-term fundamentals.

Despite a weaker 4Q16, our 2017 outlook is unchanged with demand and supply projected to remain in balance. We expect demand growth to remain resilient while greater than previously expected production declines in US/Mexico/Venezuela/ Brazil/China are offset by greater visibility in the large 2017 new project ramp up in Canada/Russia/Kazakhstan/North Sea. While our price forecast remains unchanged at $52/bbl on average for next year with a 1H17 expected trading range of $45- $50/bbl, we continue to view low cost and disrupted supply as determining the path of an eventual price recovery with our forecasts conservative on both. As we wait for headlines from Algiers, it is worth pointing out that Iran, Iraq and Venezuela have each guided over the past month to a 250 kb/d rise in production next year.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Saudi Arabia’s commitment to support a production cut by OPEC of 750.000 barrels made headlines and has influenced the oil market by disrupting the perception, described above, of a balanced market overall. What appears to have made fewer headlines is that Iran will be omitted from the agreement and is therefore free to continue to increase supply in order to regain the market share it lost due to sanctions. Therefore the most likely result is a limited supply cut overall while any boost to prices will encourage unconventional drilling suggesting a cut may be short lived. 



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September 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Tesla Wins Massive Contract to Help Power the California Grid

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

Tesla Motors Inc. will supply 20 megawatts (80 megawatt-hours) of energy storage to Southern California Edison as part of a wider effort to prevent blackouts by replacing fossil-fuel electricity generation with lithium-ion batteries. Tesla's contribution is enough to power about 2,500 homes for a full day, the company said in a blog post on Thursday. But the real significance of the deal is the speed with which lithium-ion battery packs are being deployed. 

"The storage is being procured in a record time frame," months instead of years, said Yayoi Sekine, a battery analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "It highlights the maturity of advanced technologies like energy storage to be contracted as a reliable resource in an emergency situation."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Tesla is essentially a battery company which also happens to produce electric cars. It has been my argument for quite some time that the only way solar can achieve grid parity is if it is used in conjunction with batteries. As long as solar power is subject to intermittency which forces utilities to maintain excess capacity it will not be taken seriously as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. 



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September 19 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

SunEdison's TerraForm Units Both Say They're Seeking Buyers

This article by Tiffany Kary and Christopher Martin for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Multiple companies have expressed interest in TerraForm Power. Golden Concord Holdings Ltd., a Chinese clean-energy group, is planning to bid for SunEdison’s controlling stake in the company, people familiar with the plans said in August. That would challenge a joint offer from Canada’s biggest alternative- asset manager, Brookfield Asset Management Inc., and billionaire David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management LP hedge fund.

TerraForm Power said in August that it was considering plans to set up an auction to sell itself, according to people familiar with the matter. SunEdison, which has been selling off assets in Chapter 11, said earlier this month that it had reached an agreement with the two non-bankrupt yieldcos over when and how they would bring claims as part of the bankruptcy.

The process may not lead to a deal, according to Swami Venkataraman, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

If the bids “highly undervalue” TerraForm Power and its assets, “they may choose to operate as an independent company for some time,” Venkataraman said in an e-mail Monday.

The case is SunEdison Inc., 16-10992, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)  

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

SunEdison’s financial engineering resulted in the company’s bankruptcy with the yieldcos into which it poured all of its productive assets are now the subject of investor interest. For companies seeking to pick up clean energy assets at a discount in order to benefit from the cash flows they throw off and/or to bolster their green credentials Terraform Power and Terraform Global represent potentially attractive targets. 



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September 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Enbridge May Have Just Touched Off a 'Supermajor' Race for Pipes

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

With Enbridge Inc. planning a $28 billion takeover of Spectra Energy Corp., some investors say the industry’s in store for more deals as pressure mounts on the likes of Enterprise Products Partners LP and Kinder Morgan Inc. to follow suit. The biggest pipeline deal of the year foreshadows a feeding frenzy as those companies that survived the collapse in oil and natural gas prices step up the hunt for bargains. TransCanada Corp. got the ball rolling with the $10.2 billion purchase of Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. earlier in the year.

“We’ve just come through a very tumultuous period,” said Libby Toudouze, a partner and portfolio manager at Cushing Asset Management in Dallas. “Being able to survive the trough in the energy cycle, especially one like this last one that was so long, means you have to be bigger, faster, stronger.”

Enbridge’s deal would vault the Calgary-based company into North America’s largest energy pipeline and storage player. It could also mark the beginning of the "supermajor" era for the industry, according to Rebecca Followill, head of research at U.S. Capital Advisors, since it might “light a fire in the bellies” of the larger pipeline players, setting off a wave of consolidation that could accelerate through the end of 2016.

“Enterprise Products Partners is the other big 800-pound gorilla out there,” Toudouze said. “This puts a little more pressure on them to try to do something in the space.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The MLP sector, which is heavily weighted by pipelines, crashed lower with oil prices. The high leverage employed in the business models of pipeline companies was a major contributing factor in this underperformance. However with increased evidence that oil prices have hit medium-term lows, the relative resilience of North American economic growth and continued low interest rates, it is a natural time for companies to think about acquisitions. 



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September 06 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Brent Oil Declines as Saudi-Russia Deal Falls Short of a Freeze

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

"The failure of Russia and Saudi Arabia to take any steps to support the market is sending us lower," said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc. in New York. "The Saudi oil minister actually talked the market lower, which is going to cost his country billions." 

Brent rose the most in three weeks on Friday after President Vladimir Putin said he’d like OPEC and Russia to agree to an output freeze, speaking before he traveled to China to meet Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Oil had rallied in August on speculation that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers would agree to cap output when they meet informally in Algiers later this month. A similar proposal was derailed in April over Saudi Arabia’s insistence that Iran participate. 

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Russia, more than most countries, must want to see oil trading at higher prices. It’s by far their most important export and is responsible for funding not only public services but the country’s adventurism in Eastern Europe and The Levant. Saudi Arabia on the other hand has deliberately used oil as a policy tool in its attempt to deprive Iran, against whom it is engaged in open conflict in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, from deriving any advantage from the loosening of sanctions. If Saudi Arabia were to agree to Russia’s terms without a commensurate move from Iran it would be an admittance of failure which would be hard to countenance at this stage. 



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August 25 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch August 24th 2016

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

The Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their Phase II fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions regulations for heavy-duty trucks. This group includes the largest pickup trucks sold as well as the traditional 18-wheelers on the highways. The standards are to be phased in between the 2021 and 2027 model years. The existing standards, which were designed for the 2014 through 2018 model years, will remain in place until the new standards take effect.

The heavy-duty truck standards come as the government has just begun negotiations with auto manufacturers over the final fuel efficiency ratings for light-duty vehicles where the industry is lagging behind the targets in the standards. Heavy-duty trucks are the second largest and fastest growing segment of the U.S. transportation system measured by their emissions and energy use. They currently account for about 20% of carbon emissions, yet only account for about 5% of the vehicle population. 

Carbon emissions from transportation is now the largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions. Three charts showing annualized sector shares of total emissions confirm this conclusion. It should be noted that the country’s total carbon emissions peaked in January 2008 and have declined steadily since. On an absolute basis, over the past 8 1/3 years there are 1,410.1 million metric tons of less carbon emissions, or a decline of 16.2%. The transportation sector contributed about 9.1% of that decline. The significance is that transportation’s emissions dropped 6.4% over that time span while overall emissions declined 16.2%. The overall figure reflects the sharp decline from coal’s use due to the shale revolution and low natural gas prices along with static electricity consumption. At the same time, the decline and then flat trend in vehicle miles driven coupled with more fuel-efficient autos also helped reduce the transportation sector’s emissions. One can see these trends at work by looking at the sector shares in 1973, 2008 and 2016.

The United States has done well in reducing its carbon emissions by 16.2% since the start of 2008. The weak economy and energy revolution have been primarily responsible. Going forward, the energy policies targeting the transportation sector, coupled with technological improvements in overall energy use, will become more important in driving down carbon emissions. Thus, the reason for the heavy-duty truck standards. They have support from the industry and truck manufacturers who see economic opportunities from more efficient engines. The Independent Truck Owners Association estimates the new standards will add $12,000-$14,000 to the cost of new tractors, which often cost upwards of a quarter of a million dollars, but they hope to recover those higher costs through improved fuel efficiency.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The surge in supply of natural gas coupled with the fact it is both cleaner than other fossil fuels and domestically available is supporting a revolution in developing new sources of demand. Toyota is now marketing is hydrogen fuelled Mirai automobile in the USA where the hydrogen will be sourced from natural gas. Improving the efficiency of the heavy vehicle fleet is a laudable goal and will also improve the environment so it can be viewed as a win win which is dependent on natural gas prices staying competitive. 



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August 16 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Gas Glut Upends Global Trade Flows as Buyers Find Leverage

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

Historically, LNG has been sold on long-term contracts that guaranteed buyers supply and helped producers finance liquefaction plants at a time when less of the product was shipped. Now, a gas glut is causing LNG importing countries to support renegotiating existing deals that can run 20 years or more while suppliers offer more flexible terms to lock up customers spoiled for choice.

India already is encouraging importers to rework long-term accords to better align costs with spot market prices. Japan, the world’s largest LNG importer, may soon join them. That country’s Fair Trade Commission is in the process of probing resale restrictions in longer deals in an effort that could mean the renegotiation of more than $600 billion in contracts and boost the number of shorter-term agreements.

“There will be 40 million to 50 million tons of homeless LNG by 2020, which can go anywhere or doesn’t have any fixed customers,” said Hiroki Sato, a senior executive vice president with Jera Co., a fuel buyer that plans to increase spot and short-term LNG deals. “Homeless LNG will provide a great opportunity to improve liquidity in Asian and global markets.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The evolution of a global transportation network for natural gas is creating the impetus to divorce pricing from long-term oil contracts. While Russia floated the idea of creating a natural gas equivalent of OPEC a few years back, as a way of preserving it pricing power, it was unable to reach critical mass. 

The reality today is that a substantial number of new entrants to the market, not least Australia, the USA and developing east Africa, all have a vested interest in capturing market share. Meanwhile major consumers like Japan, India and China would understandably like to avail of lower prices. The expansion of the Panama Canal also boosts the viability of US exports to Asia. 

 



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August 12 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Theresa May may become one of the most radical western leaders of the century

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Lawrence Solomon for the Financial Post which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Under May’s approach, shale gas royalties that would ordinarily go to governments and quasi-governmental agencies will instead be directed to the residents in the communities hosting the developments. The BBC estimates individual households will be receiving as much as £10,000 ($16,800) under May’s plan; other estimates arrive at higher sums – as much as £65,000 per household lucky enough to be near large shale gas deposits. May’s plan is now expected to wash away local opposition to fracking and unleash the development of Britain’s massive shale gas resources, estimated by the British Geological Survey at 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, equivalent to a 500-year supply at current gas consumption levels.

This torrent of energy will benefit more than the local residents who until now saw only drawbacks to shale gas development in their community. The abundant supply of gas will lower energy costs throughout the country, relieving residential and business consumers alike and convincing British industries – which have been leaving Britain due to its high energy costs – to not only stay but also to expand their operations in the U.K.

The May approach isn’t limited to shale –  it will apply to developments of all kinds, whether other resource developments, industrial complexes or airport expansions. Through what she calls her blueprint for development projects, May will be converting the development delayer known worldwide as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) into PIMBY (Please In My Back Yard), a development accelerator. Residents will effectively become pro-development lobbyists whenever they determine a development personally benefits more than discomforts them.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

By voting for change the UK has an unparalleled chance to literally throw out the rule book and adopt policies that would have been anathema to the Brussels bureaucracy. Royalties for landowners close to extractive industries has been a major enabler for the growth of the US energy sector and could have a transformative effect on the UK economy, not least because a great deal of its shale is in the north of the country which was particularly hard hit by the closing of collieries. 



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August 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch August 9th 2016

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

Many of the nuclear power plants that were built in the 1960s and 1970s are now approaching the end of their commercial lives. The challenge is that nuclear power plants have the potential for very long operating lives, often on the order of 80 years, meaning that those older plants might have an additional 20 or 30 years of operating life remaining. The issue is that over their very long lives, these nuclear plants require extensive and costly periodic upgrades and repairs. In order to finance these modifications, the plants must generate significant profits during their operating lives. Low coal and now low natural gas prices have undercut the price of nuclear power, often making these plants the highest cost fossil fuel plants in utility company portfolios. These economic challenges ignore the fact that nuclear power plants have the highest operating ratios of all power plants, meaning that they produce power when people need it and that the power output is carbon-free. 

And

Low natural gas prices have seriously undercut the power prices for the nuclear power plants upstate, to the point that the owners – Exelon (EXC-NYSE) and Entergy – have threatened to shut down the plants. If that were to happen, New York State’s plan to have half its power coming from clean energy sources by 2030 would be doomed. In fact, the state has determined that if the nuclear power plants were shut, local utilities would have to rely on power from power plants fueled by dirty gas and coal. That would detract from the governor’s clean energy goal. That goal is why Gov. Cuomo has fought the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state to tap greater supplies of locally produced natural gas. Natural gas, although cheaper than the governor’s favored three sources of clean energy, would have released more greenhouse gases, but it is likely that the cost to consumers would have been less than what will happen in the future. Gov. Cuomo has championed a plan that was embraced by New York’s Public Service Commission and will force utility customers in the state to pay nearly $500 million a year in subsidies designed to keep the three upstate nuclear power plants operating. The Indian Point plant will not receive any subsidy funds because downstate power prices are sufficiently high that the plant can earn a profit.

According to the Public Service Commission, starting in 2017, the subsidies will cost utility ratepayers in New York State $962 million over two years. However, the overall cost of the clean energy program to utility customers would be less than $2 a month, according to the Public Service Commission. The chairman of the commission said that state officials had calculated the social and economic benefits of the program, including the reduction of carbon emissions, lower prices for electricity and more jobs in the electricity generation business, and that these benefits would be greater than the cost of the subsidies. Environmental groups are fighting back, claiming that while they supported the governor’s plan to mandate the purchase of renewable energy by utilities, they viewed the magnitude of the subsidies that could amount to several billion dollars over the 12 years to 2030 as a mistake. Exelon, the owner of two of the three up-state nuclear power plants applauded the Public Service Commission announcement and pledged to invest $200 million in the plants next year if the plan is approved.

Environmentalists who are serious about clean energy should pay attention to the comments of Michael Shellenberger, the president of nonprofit research and policy organization Environmental Progress. He said that nuclear power plants produce so much more energy than other forms that they can be more environmentally friendly than even renewables when all the mining, development and land disturbances are taken into account. As Mr. Shellenberger put it, “from the whole life-cycle analysis, it’s just better.” Of course, on the other side of the issue is someone such as Abraham Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocate group, who said, “We should be building the 21st century energy system and not continuing to subsidize the energy system of the past.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The above paragraphs highlight just how much of an influence low natural gas prices have had on the utility sector and the broader energy mix. Closing down nuclear plants because the cost of upgrades and repairs cannot be justified when competition with natural gas is so intense suggests demand for the commodity is going to intensify in coming years if nuclear is not subsidized. 



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August 01 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Saudi Arabia Cuts Oil Price to Asia as Iran Battle Heats Up

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

Iran has boosted crude production 25 percent this year and aims to reach an eight-year high for daily output of 4 million barrels by the end of the year. Customers in Asia account for the largest share of Iran’s new sales, according to shipping data. The nation dropped to fourth-biggest OPEC producer after international sanctions that restricted its supplies in 2012. It has since returned to third place after the sanctions were eased in January. Saudi Arabia has responded by boosting its crude and refined products exports.

“The market share battle between them and Iran is back on in a big way,” John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York, said by phone on Sunday. “This is a throwdown challenge that I’m sure the Iranians will match.”

Asian demand for crude is stalling as refineries from Singapore to China and South Korea are cutting operating rates amid a slump in margins and rising supply from state-owned giants, which can draw on large crude inventories that have built up over the past two years of low prices.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

With most Western headlines focusing on the ramifications of the refugee crisis on EU, it might be easy to forget that the war in Syria is a venue for Saudi Arabia and its allies to fight Iran and its allies. Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach, but funding is just as important as supply lines and the protagonists in this conflagration are heavily dependent on oil. By engaging in a price war Saudi Arabia is taking direct aim at Iran and other producers might be considered collateral, or perhaps convenient, damage.  



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July 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

US to create nationwide network of EV charging stations

This article by John Anderson for Gizmag may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The US government has announced "an unprecedented set of actions" to pump up the country's plug-in electric vehicle market, including US$4.5 billion in loan guarantees to create a nationwide network of commercial scale and fast charging stations. The initiative to push for greater electric car adoption calls for a collaboration between federal and state agencies, utilities, major automakers and other groups.

The initiative will identify zero emission and alternative fuel corridors across the country, to determine the best locations to put in fast charging stations, as part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

As part of a partnership between the US departments of energy and transportation, a 2020 vision for a national fast charging network will be developed, with potential longer-term innovations that include up to 350 kW of direct current fast charging. According to the administration, a 350 kW DC system could charge a 200-mile-range battery in less than 10 minutes. For comparison, Tesla just boosted some of its Superchargers' power capacity to 145 kW, which is claimed the fastest currently available.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Governments are getting behind the need for a jump in the efficiency of batteries. If electric vehicle range anxiety is truly to be overcome batteries that can power a car all day, with the air conditioning on, while charging my phone and iPad as I listen to the radio are required. Many people feel they need a workhorse that can fulfil just about any task rather than just commuting. Continued high demand for light trucks is testament to that which is probably why Elon Musk gave a nod to heavier vehicles when announcing his latest growth plan last week. 



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July 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fracklog in the Biggest U.S. Oil Field May All But Disappear

This article by Ryan Collins and Meenal Vamburkar for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Crude in the $40- to $50-a-barrel range may wipe out most of the fracklog in Texas’s Permian Basin and as much as 70 percent of the inventory in its Eagle Ford play by the end of 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Cosgrove. While bringing them online is the cheapest way of taking advantage of higher prices, the wave of new supply also threatens to kill the fragile recovery that oil and gas markets have seen so far this year.

“We think that by the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, the bullish catalyst of falling U.S. production will be all but gone,” Cosgrove said in an interview Thursday. “You’ll start to see U.S. production flat lining.”

Drillers that expanded operations in U.S. shale fields found that sidelining wells was the easiest way to cut costs when oil and gas prices plunged. Since then, these wells have been “just sitting around, basically waiting for a better price to come along,” said Het Shah, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

U.S. oil producers extended the biggest shale drilling revival since last summer as rigs targeting oil and gas in the U.S. rose by 7 to 447 last week, according to Baker Hughes Inc. Dave Lesar, chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., the world’s largest provider of hydraulic-fracturing work, said Wednesday that the market in North America has turned and that he expects a “modest uptick” in drilling in the second half of the year.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Unconventional wells are much more expensive than conventional wells but come with some interesting advantages that protect producers from volatility. They have very prolific early production rates which helps to quickly pay off the multi-million dollar cost of setting them up. They then enter a period of time when production falls precipitously. If prices are not high enough to invest in boosting production through fresh drilling then it drillers have the luxury of time as they wait for prices to recover, after all the oil isn’t going anywhere. 



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July 21 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Started from the Bottom Now We're Here

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Clarus Securities. Here is a section: 

POSITIONING FOR BETTER PRICES: We are of the opinion that we have seen the worst of both the crude oil and natural gas markets and that prices should further improve as we enter 2017. We are currently forecasting ~US$50/bbl WTI for H2/16, which is a level where most producers fail to grow on a per share basis. In our updated growth tracker, we now expect average production per share to decline by 8% (-12% growth on a median basis); this compares to our estimates of -3% (median -8%) and 5% (median -3%) during Q2/16 and Q1/16, respectively. The decline in per share growth has been a result of dispositions to reduce debt, equity financings without concurrent M&A, or some combination thereof. Ultimately, only a few select companies are able to generate consistent per share growth. Most are natural gas operators but some oil-weighted names, chiefly RRX and SPE, continue to grow on a per share basis. 

IMPLIED OIL PRICES: Despite the ~US$5/bbl pullback in WTI prices, there has not been panic selling of the equities. This benign response is attributed to the belief that the worst is behind us and that any weakness in oil prices will be short lived. However, with equities not pulling back, it is important to estimate the implied oil price by name. We looked at each company’s historical multiple relative to its current trading level in order to back out the oil price needed. Based on our analysis, very few names are pricing in US$50/bbl oil, with most between US$55/bbl and US$65/bbl. Companies with cheaper implied pricing generally possessed higher than average debt, which weighed on valuation. 

IMPLIED GAS PRICES: Using the same methodology with the gas weighted names results in implied prices mostly ranging between $2.25/mcf to $3.50/mcf. The valuation for the gas names is generally a bit more difficult to assess because some producers are promising very high rates of growth which may be difficult to achieve (versus oil producers, where growth profiles are much lower and more manageable). Regardless, we see some opportunities for investors who are bullish on natural gas going into H2/16.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Optimism about a recovery in oil prices has improved following an almost 100% rally since January. This is despite the fact higher prices ensure a great deal of marginal production is now approaching economic viability. At the lows it was difficult to impress upon anyone that a rally was possible. Now that marginal supply can once more be produced economically many analysts anticipate additional upside. 



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July 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

TerraForm Global Rises amid Talks with SunEdison to Sell Stake

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

TerraForm Global and SunEdison are in talks regarding “a jointly managed sales process and accompanying protocol for managing the marketing process,” according to a presentation posted on TerraForm Global’s website Tuesday. SunEdison is currently involved in the biggest ever sale of clean energy assets after filing for bankruptcy protection in April with $16.1 billion in liabilities. It has not announced a process for selling its controlling stake in TerraForm Global or its sister yieldco TerraForm Power Inc.

TerraForm Global, a yield company formed by SunEdison to buy clean power plants built by SunEdison outside of the U.S., owns 917 megawatts of solar and wind energy plants, mostly in southeast Asia and South America. The company had revenue of as much as $52 million in the first quarter, according to the presentation.

It also reported preliminary losses of as much as $350 million for the second half of last year, and a preliminary loss of as much as $8 million for the first quarter of this year.

TerraForm Global has not filed results since the third quarter because it relies on SunEdison for some accounting systems, and the parent company’s results are also delinquent.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Financial engineering contributed to SunEdison’s demise because it divested itself of income producing assets while holding onto liabilities. That worked fine while oil prices were high, demand for solar plants was surging and credit was easy to come by. The decline in oil, natural gas and particularly coal prices questioned the profitability of solar plants and the share collapsed. 



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July 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

US shale is lowest cost oil prospect

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Ed Crooks from the Financial Times which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

US shale regions that two years ago were in the middle of the cost curve for future oil supplies are now down towards the lower end.

Investments in the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas on average need a Brent crude price of $48 a barrel to break even, on Wood Mackenzie’s calculations, while projects in the Wolfcamp formation in the Permian Basin in west Texas need $39.

“There are more opportunities to invest in the US, and that’s where the investment will take place,” said Mr Flowers.

“If your investment options are in deep water, you’ve got quite a task on your hands. You might be asking: ‘Should we be getting into tight [shale] oil?’”

Brent was trading at $47.59 per barrel on Wednesday.

US companies that have shale oil reserves, including Chevron and ExxonMobil, have stressed the flexibility of those assets, which are developed with many wells costing a few million dollars each, rather than the multibillion dollar projects often required for offshore production.

On Wood Mackenzie’s calculations, Brazil’s deepwater oilfields are so large that some will be commercially viable, but higher cost regions could struggle to attract investment.

The number of large projects being given the go ahead by oil and gas companies averaged 40 a year between 2007 and 2013 but dropped to just eight last year, according to Angus Rodger, also of Wood Mackenzie. 

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full article is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Anyone who has ever bought a boat knows how expensive it is to run any operation on the sea versus on land. The USA has a major advantage in the fact that shale and tight oil is domestic and land based rather than in the deep water off of Africa and Latin America. The ease with which these resources can be brought on line, and potentially even refracked, means it is only a matter of time before prices get to a level which justifies the cost of renewed activity.   



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July 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Samsung in Talks With BYD to Buy Stake in Electric-Car Maker

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

BYD said Samsung has been actively pushing forward talks about buying its shares in a private placement. Talks are still underway, the Chinese company said, denying a report by the Korea Economic Daily that an agreement was reached to acquire a 4 percent stake.

Samsung is pursuing the investment after its affiliate was among foreign battery makers left off a list of suppliers approved by China, where sales of electric vehicles are surging and the government has sped up construction of charging points.

The talks with BYD also add to the global trend of technology companies and automakers collaborating as car buyers increasingly demand more advanced powertrains and features that improve connectivity and safety.

“It puts Samsung into the electric-vehicle subsystem supply chain for a key Chinese electric vehicle and battery manufacturer,” said Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Co. “BYD gets a technology innovation pipeline partner with a reputable brand.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

China is the world’s largest car market. With a concerted government backed push into electric vehicles any company seeking to ride the wave to emerging automotive technology cannot afford to lose access to the market. Therefore BYD represents an attractive avenue for foreign investors. While in the USA Tesla sets the pace for what other companies are expected to provide, China’s state mandated vision for zero emissions represents an even more important influence on the market. Car companies have to try and build products for a global audience in order to keep costs under control. Therefore any company seeking to compete globally needs to have a foothold in China. 



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July 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Oil Tumbles After U.S. Fuel Stockpiles Unexpectedly Increase

This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg highlights the nuanced picture evident in the crude oil market. Here is a section: 

U.S. gasoline demand dropped 0.9 percent to 9.67 million barrels a day last week as refiners produced 10.2 million barrels a day of gasoline a day.

"The gasoline data is very bearish," said Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group LLC in Wellington, Florida.

"Gasoline production is outstripping demand by more than 500,000 barrels a day." Stockpiles of distillate fuel, a category that includes diesel and heating oil, surged 4.06 million barrels, the most since January.

Gasoline futures for August delivery dropped 4.2 percent to $1.37 a gallon. August diesel tumbled 5.2 percent to $1.3865 after earlier touching $1.3782, a two-month low.
Seasonal Highs

U.S. crude supplies fell 2.55 million barrels to 521.8 million last week, EIA data show. Inventories remain at the highest seasonal level in at least a decade. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 3 million barrel decline. The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said stockpiles climbed 2.2 million barrels last week.

"Crude supplies are down a little, but it doesn’t change the overall picture," Finlon said. "They remain at historic highs for this time of the year."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Efforts led by Saudi Arabia to knock higher cost competitors out of the market have been partially successful with the result US production has decreased while the fire in Alberta has been an additional headwind for Canadian supply. However economic growth has yet to be spurred by this development with the result stockpiles are higher than might otherwise have been expected. 



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July 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Putin's Military Buildup in the Baltic Stokes Invasion Fears

This article by Henry Mayer may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

“NATO could not have militarily prevented a determined Soviet effort to overrun West Berlin, nor can it militarily prevent a determined Russian effort to overrun the Baltic states. But if the Soviets had overrun West Berlin, that would have meant war with NATO,” said Thomas Graham, a senior White House aide at the time the three countries joined the alliance more than a decade ago. “In theory, the same thing should hold true if the Russians made an effort to overrun any Baltic state.”

To help dispel doubts about its commitment, NATO this week will approve plans to deploy four battalions to rotate through the region. But though bigger than what the military bloc has ever placed there before, the units will still be dwarfed by Russia’s forces on the other side of the border.

The Kremlin, which is spending 20 trillion rubles (about $313 billion) on an ambitious defense upgrade through 2020, argues that it’s just responding to NATO’s encroachment toward Russian borders. In May, Russia announced plans to put two new divisions in the Western region and another in the south. That could be about 30,000 troops, compared to 4,000 in NATO’s plan.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

There is a Chinese proverb to the effect that when the snipe and the clam fight the fisherman wins. With the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Western European political elites are scrambling to put together a response. At the very minimum it says to the rest of the world that the EU is vulnerable due to a lack of internal cohesion suggesting outside parties have an advantage. As a military strategist Putin may well view this is as an opportunity. 



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July 05 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

What Really Drives White Metals Prices

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from ETF securities which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Silver supply drivers
While overall silver stocks are high globally, over the last few years silver has experienced what is known as a “supply deficit,” as annual production has been less than the demand for the metal, gradually eating away at current stocks. What many investors may not realize is that only 25% of silver production is derived from silver mines; the rest—roughly 75%—is a byproduct of mining for other metals, most notably lead, zinc, copper, and gold. As of year-end 2015, as mining capital expenditures for these other metals has been scaled back in response to relatively low prices, silver production has correspondingly fallen.

Silver demand drivers
Although it may not be the first thing that comes to investors’ minds when they think of silver, industrial applications are a significant demand driver, accounting for more than half of the precious metal’s usage worldwide. Silver’s unique characteristics include its outstanding thermal and electrical conductivity, along with its ductility, malleability, optical reflectivity, and antibacterial properties. These features make the precious metal invaluable as an input in myriad industrial applications including electrical components, batteries, photovoltaics (solar panels), auto parts, pollution abatement technology, ethylene oxide (an important chemical precursor), as well as brazing alloys and solders. 

Of the white metals, silver also tracks gold most closely, boasting a correlation of 0.8 over the past five years. Since gold is seen as a defensive asset in times of expanded bank balance sheets or quantitative easing programs by central banks, monetary policy tends to have a “shadow impact” on silver—far less so than gold, but still noticeable. Lastly, albeit accounting for just 20% of silver use worldwide, it’s worth noting that jewelry demand has held more or less stable over the past decade. 

Looking forward 
Deep capital expenditures cuts in the industrial metals space is likely to have a significant effect on silver supplies, as the majority of silver is mined as a byproduct of zinc and copper. In the context of weakening global demand, especially from China, low commodity prices have reduced production incentives. Looking forward, as the global growth outlook improves, demand for commodities, including silver, is likely to rise.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

If “the cure for high prices is high prices” is one of the oldest adages in the commodity markets then it also works in reverse. Industrial metal prices trended lower for four years and the LME Metals Index more than halved in the process. That forced miners to cut back on spending, cancel expansion plans, hold off on acquisitions, fire workers, especially administrative staff, and become much more conservative with their expectations for growth. 



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June 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

California's Last Nuclear Plant Is Closing, Edged Out by Renewables

This article by Jim Polson and Jonathan Crawford for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

Economics have achieved what environmentalists have sought for years: the shutdown of California’s nuclear power plants.

PG&E Corp. is proposing to close two reactors at Diablo Canyon in a decade that would end up costing more to keep alive as California expands its use of renewable energy, Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley said Tuesday. They won’t be needed after 2025 as wind and solar costs decline and electricity from the reactors becomes increasingly expensive, he said.

Diablo Canyon became California’s only operating nuclear power plant after Edison International three years ago shut its San Onofre plant north of San Diego after a leak. Tuesday’s announcement follows decisions this month to retire three other U.S. nuclear plants struggling to make money amid historically low power prices and cheap natural gas.

“It’s going to cost less overall as a total package than if you just continued to operate Diablo Canyon,” Earley said. “It’s going to operate less because of the energy policies that are in place.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Nuclear in North America and Europe suffers from a boy who cried wolf problem. By over promising on cost and production and under delivering, particularly on safety, public ambivalence has grown substantially. That’s an unfortunate development because new nuclear technologies really do hold the potential to fulfil earlier promises, but they are unlikely to be built in either North America or Europe. China is now the primary bastion of support for developing nuclear technology and is already exporting its designs to other countries. 



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June 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musk's Solar Lifestyle Idea Has One Big Flaw

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

The commercial success of Musk's vertical integration idea hinges -- in terms of turning a profit rather than generating a high market capitalization -- on battery technology that would have mass rather than niche appeal. The assumption upon which Musks' concept -- and Tesla's $32.3 billion market capitalization -- is built is that Tesla is betting on the right battery technology and no one will come up with a much better one. That is the big hole in the donut: The assumption is far from safe.

Cheap and reliable energy storage is central to the idea of an off-the-grid, solar-powered household. Such a home needs energy at night, when the sun isn't shining: It has fridges, air conditioners and other appliances running, and a Tesla charging in the garage. So it needs a good battery, and Tesla's Powerwall doesn't necessarily fit the bill -- if only because the cost of the energy it supplies, including amortization, is higher than grid prices. Because of this, and given the high price of Tesla cars, the lifestyle on offer is an expensive statement. In terms of cost and convenience, it's not competitive with the traditional grid-and-fossil fuel model.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Let’s call Tesla Motor’s acquisition of SolarCity what it is; a bailout. The tide of highly attractive subsidies for solar has turned. NV Energy, Warren Buffett’s Nevada utility, successfully argued that it should not have to bear the full cost of the electrical grid when solar producers get to use it for free and get preferential rates on the electricity they supply. That represented a major upset for SolarCity in particular but also highlighted a deeper challenge for the solar leasing business model which has contributed to increased scepticism among investors about the prospects for related companies. The big question is whether other states, particularly in the sun-belt will announce similar charging structures. 



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June 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Oil Pares Biggest Weekly Drop Since April as Dollar Declines

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

“There is some rebalancing, and I believe the oil price will be in the region of $50, maybe $55 for the rest of the year,” Paolo Scaroni, deputy chairman at NM Rothschild & Sons and former chief executive officer of Eni SpA, said in a Bloomberg television interview. “I personally believe there is a cap. If prices go beyond $60, shale oil producers will start all over again.”

Rigs targeting crude in the U.S. rose by 9 to 337 this week, capping the first three-week gain since August, Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday. Explorers have dropped more than 1,000 oil rigs since the start of last year.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Crude oil accelerated to its January low and has since staged in an impressively consistent rally which has seen prices almost double. This has resulted in energy companies being a major contributor in the ability of the wider market to rally from the January lows. For example the majority of the top 10 best performers on the S&P500 year-to-date are energy/resources related. 



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June 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

BASF Joins Chemical Deal Rush in $3.2 Billion Albemarle Deal

This article by Andrew Marc Noel and Phil Serafino for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

For Albemarle, the deal is a means to pay down debt from its acquisition of Rockwood Holdings Inc. for $6 billion in 2015. It bought Rockwood’s lithium business to take advantage of demand for the lightweight metal used in rechargeable batteries in smartphones and electric cars.

"The sale of Chemetall reflects Albemarle’s continued commitment to maximizing shareholder value by investing in the future growth of our high priority businesses, reducing leverage and returning capital to shareholders,” Albemarle CEO Luke Kissam said in the statement.

The transaction value may be reduced for underfunded and unfunded pension obligations and other reasons, Albemarle said. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is advising Albemarle while Shearman & Sterling LLP is legal adviser. BASF worked with Citigroup, with legal help from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

BASF will gain an important foothold in North America through this acquisition but the price it is paying would appear to be rather expensive and is a further testament to the asset price inflation ultra-low interest rates have contributed to. 



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June 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

A Circular Reference: Ushering In A New Era For Natural Gas

Thanks to a subscriber for this report which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

Previously a commodity with volatile price swings due to a domestic market that was short supply, the outlook for natural gas through 2020 shows a well supplied market capable of delivering to growing demand sources. There will be s-t dislocations (weather / infrastructure constraints) and the introduction of LNG exports will re-couple the U.S. to the global economy, but we see an emerging theme of natural gas entering a range bound period of $3-3.50/mmbtu. The 5 year build up in demand (2013-18) now looks to be meeting up with the 10 year buildup in supply (2005-15), creating a period of price equilibrium with upward and downward pressures on both sides.

Demand – Focus On The Known Drivers
After a 15 year period of stagnant consumption (1995-2009), demand for natural gas has enjoyed consistent growth over the past 5 years (2-3Bcfpd annually), a trend we expect to pick up through 2020. The drivers of growth are visible – power generation, industrial use, and Mexico exports – and will provide a base level of consumption growth. The reemergence of natural gas on the global scene via LNG exports has also long been a theme and will be additive to demand, though the quantifiable impact is tough to point to as capacity utilization will vary based on global prices and supply. We estimate ~6Bcfpd of export demand in 2020 in our base case, which is needed to balance the S/D outlook. In total, we see demand growth approaching ~98Bcfpd by 2020 (ex pipeline imports) up from ~78Bcfpd in 2015.

Supply – Filling Demand Needs…Just Need More Pipeline Capacity
U.S. supply has increased ~50% over the last 10 years to ~75Bcfpd, a rate of growth not witnessed since the 1960-1970s and following a brief pause in 2016/17, we anticipate growth to resume in 2018. We see four key trends from our supply forecast: 1) Supply is ~2Bcfpd below demand (weather normalized) in 2016/17 but ~3Bcfpd oversupplied in 2018, 2) Northeast supply growth increases by ~9Bcfpd in 2018, driven by the pipeline build out, 3) The bull case for supply by 2H18 is based on demand as the Northeast has excess pipeline capacity, and 4) The Northeast isn’t the only source of growth as we anticipate the Haynesville and Associated Gas Basins to return to growth by 2018, and implementing new technology could support growth elsewhere. Our forecast grows to meet demand and fills storage with enough deliverability in 2018, creating a more range bound environment with equal s/d pressures.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The natural gas market was the original recipient of the innovations that led to the boom in unconventional supply. Since then it has offered an object lesson in the ramifications of how that is likely to play out for other commodities where supply is surging not least oil. The greatest beneficiaries have been consumers who have seen prices for essential energy commodities decline to levels not preciously imaginable. That has also resulted in demand increasing not least from substitution which has also benefitted consumers in other sectors. 



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June 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Batteries Storing Power Seen as Big as Rooftop Solar in 12 Years

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

The spread of electric cars is driving up demand for lithium-ion batteries, the main technology for storage devices that are attached to utility grids and rooftop solar units.

That’s allowing manufactures to scale up production and slash costs. BNEF expects the technology to cost $120 a kilowatt-hour by 2030 compared with more than $300 now and $1,000 in 2010.
That would help grid managers solve the intermittency problem that comes with renewables -- wind and solar plants don’t work in calm weather or at night, creating a need for baseload supplies to fill the gaps. Today, that’s done by natural gas and coal plants, but the role could eventually be passed
to power-storage units.

The researcher estimates 35 percent of all light vehicles sold will be electric in 2040, equivalent to 41 million cars.

That’s about 90 times the figure in 2015. Investment in renewables is expected to rise to $7.8 trillion by then, compared with $2.1 trillion going into fossil-fuel generation.

“The battery industry today is driven by consumer products like computers and mobile phones,” said Claire Curry, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York. “Electric vehicles will be the driver of battery technology change, and that will drive down costs significantly.”

The industry still has a long way to go. About 95 percent of the world’s grid-connected energy storage today is still pumped hydro, according to the U.S. Energy Department. That’s when surplus energy is used to shift large amounts of water uphill to a reservoir so it can be used to produce electricity later at a hydropower plant. The technology only works in areas with specific topographies.

There are several larger-scale battery projects in the works, according to S&P Global. They include a 90-megawatt system in Germany being built by Essen-based STEAG Energy Services GmbH and Edison International’s 100-megawatt facility in Long Beach, California.

“Utility-scale storage is the new emerging market for batteries, kind of where electric vehicles were five years ago,” said Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a battery researcher based in London. “EVs are now coming of age.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Innovation in the chemistry that supports batteries has been a lot more difficult to achieve than the Moore’s law related enhancements that have been commonplace in chip manufacturing and increasingly in solar technologies. Nevertheless as the requirement for storage grows increasingly urgent, the capital expended on R&D is expanding and innovations are being achieved. In the meantime economies of scale through larger manufacturing plants are helping to drive efficiencies. 



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June 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Energy in 2015: A year of plenty

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of BP’s annual report by Spencer Dale which may be of interest. Here is a section:

The increasing importance of renewable energy continued to be led by wind power (17.4%, 125 TWh). But solar power is catching up fast, expanding by almost a third in 2015 (32.6%, 62 TWh), with China overtaking Germany and the US as the largest generator of solar power.

The older stalwarts of non-fossil fuels – hydro and nuclear energy – grew more modestly. Global hydro power increased by just 1.0% (38 TWh), held back by drought conditions in parts of the Americas and Central Europe. Nuclear energy increased by 1.3% (34 TWh), as rapid expansion in China offset secular declines within mainland Europe. This gradual shift of nuclear energy away from the traditional centres of North America and Europe towards Asia, particularly China, looks set to continue over the next 10-20 years.

And

The key lesson from history is that it takes considerable time for new types of energy to penetrate the global market. Starting the clock at the point at which new fuels reached 1% share of primary energy, it took more than 40 years for oil to expand to 10% of primary energy; and even after 50 years, natural gas had reached a share of only 8%.

Some of that slow rate of penetration reflects the time it takes for resources and funding to be devoted in scale to new energy sources. But equally important, the highly capital intensive nature of the energy eco-system, with many long-lived assets, provides a natural brake on the pace at which new energies can gain ground.

The growth rates achieved by renewable energy over the past 8 or 9 years have been broadly comparable to those recorded by other energies at the same early stage of development. Indeed, thus far, renewable energy has followed a similar path to nuclear energy.

The penetration of nuclear energy plateaued relatively quickly, however, as the pace of learning slowed and unit costs stopped falling. In contrast, in BP’s Energy Outlook, we assume that the costs of both wind and solar power will continue to fall as they move down their learning curve, underpinning continued robust growth in renewable energy.

Indeed, the path of renewable energy in the base case of the Energy Outlook implies a quicker pace of penetration than any other fuel source in modern history. But even in that case, renewable power within primary energy barely reaches 8% in 20 years’ time.

The simple message from history is that it takes a long time – numbering several decades – for new energies to gain a substantial foothold within global energy.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subcsriber's Area.

The evolution of renewable energy technology represents a major paradigm shift for the energy sector not least because the cost of production continues to decrease independently of the oil price and environmental concerns result in a compelling case for adoption. In tandem with wind and solar, the rollout of electric vehicles is a related but separate development which is likely to represent a continued headwind for demand growth.



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June 08 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The weakness of the Dollar against commodity producing currencies and continued supply disruptions in both Nigeria and Canada are helping to boost demand among traders for the most important commodity and are at least partially offsetting the boost in supply from Iran since sanctions were lifted. 



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June 01 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The technology behind autonomous vehicles is progressing towards greater utility and it makes sense that haulage vehicles represent the primary source of demand considering the high cost of fuel, personnel and regulations. It represents an additional example of the deflationary role technology has and the benefits that accrue to consumers as a result. 



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May 27 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the slides is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Mr. Gundlach’s opinion, and I agree, is that negative interest rates are inherently deflationary. How could they not be, you deposit money and get less back. He was quick to point out however that central banks don’t appear to have realised that yet and are likely to push the policy further before abandoning it and trying something else. He believes it is only a matter of time before some form of helicopter money policy is employed somewhere. That helps explain his medium-term bullish view on gold. 
 



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May 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Brent Crude Oil has posted an orderly rebound from its January low and has almost doubled in the process. A progression of higher reaction lows is evident with reactions of between $5 and $6 constituting entry opportunities along the way. A reaction of greater than $7 would be required to question the consistency of the advance. Nevertheless the round $50 area represents a psychological level for many investors so it would not be surprising to see prices pause in this area. 



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May 16 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.”

And 

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I devoted a lengthy discussion in the Subscriber’s Audio on Friday to the role of buybacks in both supporting the market and manipulating valuations by decreasing EPS. Anything that impinges on companies buying back their shares represents a challenge for the market. Corporations have been the primary driver of demand for shares and buybacks have been an important artery for the transmission of central bank liquidity. 



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May 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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?  

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for raising a question which I suspect many investors are puzzling over. I certainly have and I’m not sure there is a conclusive answer. In fact considering the lack of commonality I think the answer lies in treating each market on their individual merits. 



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May 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Oil prices have been the subject of a great deal of media coverage over the last few months not least because of Saudi Arabia’s court politics. There are so many moving parts to this market that we can really only be guided by the price action as an arbiter of what people are doing with their money. 



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May 09 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The cost of lithium ion batteries falling rapidly and the fact this is occurring at the same time solar cells costs have been trending lower is a major incentive for installations of both technologies; increasingly in parallel. With costs coming down and technology improving growth in demand is a major consideration as factories achieve scale and miners invest in additional supply. 



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May 04 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Generally speaking energy demand represents a constant long-term growth trajectory because so much of the global economy depends on energy consumption to fuel growth. However the evolution of electric and CNG vehicles, as well as increasingly stringent emissions regulations reflect an additional consideration that was not so much of a factor previously.



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May 03 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Big declines in oil prices put enormous pressure on drillers to innovate. As exploration budgets are slashed customers demand more for less and new technology is the only way that can be achieved. Companies like Schlumberger have to constantly push the barrier of what is possible so they can gain market share and ensure a place for themselves when the oil majors come under cost pressure. 



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April 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

TerraForm Power Believes It Has Sufficient Liquidity to Operate

This note by Will Daley for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. 

Even if some SUNE obligations are not fulfilled, TERP expects to continue operating

Defaults may now exist under many of TERP’s non-recourse project-debt financing pacts (or such defaults may arise in the future) due to SUNE bankruptcy filing, delays in preparation of audited financial statements

Defaults “are generally curable"; TERP will work with its project lenders to obtain waivers and/or forbearance agreements

No assurances can be given that waivers, forbearance agreements will be obtained

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

SunEdison rallied impressively from its 2012 lows following the adoption of a quickstep leveraged strategy aimed at acquiring or building solar energy power plants while simultaneously divesting of the completed assets into two MLPs. This saddled the parent with the risk of acquisition and building without holding onto the residual cash flows from a working utility once completed. The strategy was predicated on the rapid pace of solar installations persisting indefinitely. They do not appear to have factored in the role a drop in oil prices would have on that business model. 



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April 19 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch April 19th 2016

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

In light of that view, a critical question is whether a real economic transformation can be performed. An earlier attempt was made in 2000 following the late 1990s oil price downturn and the expensive Saudi-financed war to oust Saddam Hussein’s troops from neighboring Kuwait. The financial pain of that experience was washed away by the rebound in oil prices that ended that transition effort. That experience leads Saudis to expect something to bail them out from having to make hard economic and social decisions.  

Critical to this transition effort will be the mindset of the young Saudis who dominate the country’s population. By 2030, the youth group will add 4.5 million new Saudis to the labor force, nearly doubling its current size to 10 million workers. If the female labor force participation rate increases the number could be larger. This population demographic will force the economy to have to create three times the number of jobs for Saudis than it did during the oil boom of 2003-2013, which seems highly unlikely to occur. 

There are a number of social impediments to making this transition occur, including Saudi reluctance to take blue-collar jobs that are thought to be menial. Saudi workers enjoy the slow pace and shorter working hours of government jobs. There is also a problem associated with tapping the young females in the country who are constrained by the social stigmas of not being able to drive and not earning enough to employ a car and driver. Here is where modern technology is helping as Uber helps liberate some of these females. More females are taking white-collar jobs in the private sector. Instead of becoming teachers, many are become lawyers and professionals. The challenge is that many of them are willing to trade down to government jobs with shorter hours when they have children. There are also social and employment issues involved with marriage when a woman’s father prefers that a prospective husband have the security of a government job. 

Probably the greatest challenge for Saudi Arabia is that both the rulers and the ruled have been satisfied with the social compact that underlies the nation. The populace trades loyalty and obedience to the government in exchange for prosperity, which costs the government substantially. The new social compact will demand greater self-reliance from the people in exchange for their prosperity. Whether the populous understands how precarious their position is in continuing to depend on the government’s continuing largess because of the current and future market for oil. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Governance is Everything has been a idiom at this Service for decades and Saudi Arabia has a long way to go before it can be considered that governance is improving regardless of how low the base is. 



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April 14 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Exxon Says `$25 Billion Rule' Will Sink Deepwater Oil Drilling

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

Environmental groups say the new rules don’t go far enough to safeguard marine life and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods. Friends of the Earth has called on the government to halt all auctions of offshore drilling leases.

“There’s no such thing as safe offshore drilling,” said Marissa Knodel, a climate campaigner for the Washington-based group. “Tougher rules aren’t going to mitigate the human and environmental costs of allowing more drilling to occur.”

Government Shortcomings
In a closed-door meeting last month, BP, the largest driller in the U.S., said the government underestimated the time and complexity needed to implement the rules, ignored the reduced production and stranded reserves that would result, and added unneeded operations that could boost risks rather than decrease them. The comments came in slides Exxon presented at the meeting and were posted on a government website.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster looms large over federal attempts to tighten requirements. The blowout at the $153 million well sank a $365 million drillship, paralyzed the Gulf region for months and cost BP more than $40 billion in penalties, compensation and restoration costs.

Exxon, in the closed-door meeting with White House and Interior Department officials on March 7, outlined its assertion that the rules will cost $25 billion and argued they would increase the danger of a blowout by wresting decision-making from on-site engineers with decades of experience.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Offshore and deep water oil prospecting, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, represents an important source of current and potential future supply that is seriously at risk from the increasingly long reach of regulation. The move to take decisions about how best to proceed with operations away from experienced people on the rig and hand it to bureaucrats onshore represents a major victory for anti-fossil fuel campaigners and will result in a much higher regulatory burden for oil companies. 



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April 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Jamie Dimon's Rate-Spike Nightmare

This article by Lisa Abramowicz and Rani Molla for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

3) Investors are piling into medium and longer-term U.S. bonds with increasing conviction that borrowing costs will stay low forever. The biggest exchange-traded funds that focus on such notes have experienced a surge of new money this year, with the volume of short interest on the ETFs' shares falling. This has helped fuel a 4.9 percent surge in Treasuries maturing in seven to 10 years so far this year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data.
 
4) The demand hasn't only come from ETFs and mutual funds. Big institutions and hedge funds have also bought more U.S. government bonds, particularly those maturing in the next decade, as they seek safe spots to park cash in the face of global economic uncertainty. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

How the Fed measures inflation does not appear to bear a great deal of resemblance to what we experience in our day to day lives. The cost of services such as insurance, education and healthcare have all trended higher and housing prices have recovered in many major cities but inflation measures have not responded. When I look at what I spend on a monthly basis that doesn’t make sense but the other side of the balance sheet also needs to be addressed.

Wages have been static for a long time and that means people have had to pay more for services but have cut back elsewhere to make ends meet. That is probably closer to how the Fed views inflation than any other explanation but it means wages are vital in how they decide to act. 



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April 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch April 5th 2016

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

There is another aspect of U.S. production that is troubling given the rapid increase in oil prices during March. While we believe much of that increase was driven by speculators who had bet on oil prices falling and were rapidly covering those short positions as optimism about rising demand and falling output supporting higher oil prices grew. As oil prices rallied on the reports of steps being taken to reign in production growth and optimistic estimates for rising demand took hold, industry focus shifted to the question of at what oil price would producers resume drilling? Often overlooked in this process was how higher oil prices would encourage producers to begin completing previously drilled but uncompleted wells, or DUCs as they are referred to. DUCs will enable oil production to recover without an increase in the drilling rig count. It is this phenomenon that had us wondering whether we could see a repeat of what has happened in the natural gas market – steadily rising production despite fewer rigs drilling.
 

When we plot the price of natural gas and crude oil to the number of drilling rigs searching for each of these commodities, we find very close relationships. Those relationships are shown in the following exhibits.

What is equally interesting is the pattern between natural gas and crude oil production versus the number of active drilling rigs seeking the respective commodities. The chart in Exhibit 5 (next page), while busy, is instructive for its relationship between natural gas output and gas drilling rigs. One goes up relentlessly while the other steadily declines. In contrast, crude oil output, which had risen unchecked is now in decline, but only months later than the drop in drilling rigs began. The decline is now being hastened as a result of how few oil drilling rigs are working. What makes the volume-to-drilling-rigs relationship for natural gas different from that of crude oil? Most likely it is the impact of associated natural gas volumes. In 1993, associated natural gas from crude oil wells accounted for 26% to 28% of gross natural gas produced. The ratio declined steadily until 2013 when it was in the 15% to 18% range, but by the end of 2013 was up sharply to 20%.

In the case of natural gas drilling, the fewer rigs working are targeting the most productive areas of the formations. On the other hand, during 2014 and early 2015, oil drilling continued at a high rate adding, we suspect, additional associated natural gas. This probably explains why gas volumes have continued to climb. With crude oil output now falling and both oil and natural gas drilling off sharply, one has to believe that the associated natural gas component of supply will shrink, possibly finally stopping the climb in natural gas volumes. If that happens, look for natural gas prices to begin rising, even with the huge volumes of gas in storage. Should we get a warm summer and economic activity continue to grow, we could see a more positive response by natural gas prices heading into the fall of 2016. That might become the surprise of 2016. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area, 

The fact natural gas is a by-product of crude oil production is a fact often ignored by analysts. With drilling activity expected to be moribund for the foreseeable future I agree this could be an important factor in gas pricing as the year unfolds. In addition, with prices so low, the incentive to use more gas has seldom been so compelling.  



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April 06 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The bin-Salman Interview What Does It Mean?

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from DNB which may be of interest.  Here is a section:

The announcement of this meeting has been very supportive for the oil price as it led to a large short covering by financial players, since a deal to freeze production should limit the potential downside in oil prices. Now with the statements by MBS in the Bloomberg interview last week, the outcome of this freeze deal is much more uncertain. In the interview MBS said that Saudi Arabia will only freeze output if Iran and other major producers do so. If all countries agree to freeze production, we’re ready," MBS said . "If there is anyone that decides to raise their production, then we will not reject any opportunity that knocks on our door.” This stands in contrast to prior statements from the Saudi Oil Ministry and from Russia which had suggested that a freeze deal could happen without any commitment from Iran. The market took this statement very negatively for the oil market because Iran has made no indications that they will join the freeze deal and even if they did, most analysts would probably doubt that production from Iran would be frozen anyway.

If Saudi Arabia indeed see any chance that a freeze deal cannot be accomplished then it is relevant to ask the purpose of even arranging the meeting. If a meeting is held and Saudi does not accept a deal without Iran participating then we believe a deal will not happen and if a meeting is held without a successful deal, then the oil price may drop quite significantly on that kind of news. Would that be in Saudi Arabia’s interest. Would MBS like to see a lower price again to inflict even more pain on the other global oil producers and hence set the stage for higher prices later? It seems odd that MBS is not coordinated with the oil ministry in this issue, but could his statement have been meant for domestic politics? And is it not very strange if MBS in the last minute should undermine the Russian effort to achieve this now famous freeze deal? Is this a negotiating trick to achieve something in return from the Russians vs Iran in Syria or other places?

The problem with this statement from MBS is that he outranks everyone else in Saudi when it comes to economic policy as he heads the newly formed Economic Council. This implies that if he actually means what he is saying here, there will be no production freeze deal in Doha, because we are confident that Iran will not take part in any production freeze deal. Before this statement by MBS we were 90% certain that there would be a production freeze deal coming out of the Doha meeting, because why hold this meeting if a freeze is not already agreed? It would, as described above, send the oil price in tailspin if a meeting was arranged and ended up with no agreement. After the MBS statements we see the chances for a freeze deal meaningfully reduced, maybe down to 50%.

If the meeting to hold the freeze deal in Doha is cancelled or if it is held without a successful outcome we would reduce our short term (3-month) price target for Brent which is currently 45 $/b. We would however not do anything with out 6-month target of 55 $/b and our 12-month target for 65 $/b. Our 24-month target (currently 70 $/b) on the other hand may be adjusted slightly higher due to the extra damage that may be inflicted to the supply side of a potential revisit to 25-35 dollar oil prices.

On Monday this week the Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak however stated that “Russia can conduct extra talks with Saudi Arabia on oil output freeze before the meeting in Doha on April 17th”. Novak also stated that he is confident that an agreement will take place. This suggests that maybe the statements from MBS in the Bloomberg interview last week may have been meant for his domestic audience. Also the Kuwait OPEC governor Nawal Al-Fuzaia said on April 5 that there are indications that oil producing countries in both OPEC and non-OPEC are poised to agree on a production freeze to January levels. This statement seemed to give the market some restated confidence that there could still be a freeze deal in the Doha meeting on April 17th. But nonetheless the MBS interview last week has added a lot more uncertainty to the April 17th meeting than what the oil market would prefer. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Brent crude prices firmed today on positive inventory data but the result of the April 17th meeting between major OPEC and non-OPEC producers is a major consideration for traders.

Saudi Arabia is fighting wars on three fronts and higher oil prices would certainly help with affording this adventurism as well as its highly accommodative domestic social programs. While Iran remains its greatest competitor for regional hegemony and the administration will not wish to give it any advantage, economic factors will probably take precedence. 



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April 05 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of day on the long-term outlook for energy resources

Yer man, while I often feel like I am part of the new old economy. I am not concerned in the near term that electric vehicles will have mass adoption. I am puzzled how the electrical grid will power all these new super cars? Coal which is the worst emitter of GHG's is the primary source of electrical generation in North America and that is being phased out for natural gas as you know. The environmental movement is flawed with hypocrisy and makes no economic sense. In Canada the govt has chosen to demonize the oil and gas industry which funds the majority of our social services and yet we bail out Bombardier and the auto industry. I sound like a grumpy old man.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thanks for this topical comment to a piece I posted on Friday. It’s been a long time since we shared an apartment in London; when we were both new to London, and I’m glad you’re still in the heat of the action in Calgary. I think everyone finds it hard not to be grumpy when things are not going one’s way at any age. 

This article from the state.com from 2014 estimates that if every car in America was an electric vehicle it would represent only about a 30% increase in electricity demand because electric vehicles are more efficient. 



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March 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch March 22nd 2016

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

Mr. Burns, a long-time financial journalist and the creator of the “Couch Potato” investment portfolio, authored a column recently pointing out the dilemma faced by retirees who wished to finance their retirements without assuming any risk, or as he titled it, “How to cope with the great yield famine.”

The column, published about two weeks ago, pointed out that the last time anyone earned 6% on a six-month certificate of deposit (CD) was December 2000. The lowest yield on a six-month CD immediately after the dotcom market crash was 1.01% in June 2003. The highest yield on a six-month CD since June 2003 was 5.22% in July 2006. Today, according to Bankrate.com, the highest yield on a six-month CD nationwide is 1.10%, but the vast majority of banks offer less than 0.15%.

He then went on to figure out the retiree’s needs and how much capital was required to meet those needs risk-free. The monthly premium for Medicare Part B is $121.80, or $1,461.60 a year. To earn that much money from a 0.15% CD you would need to keep $974,400 on deposit. For most Americans that is a large sum, but it is not a problem since Social Security deducts the payment from your monthly check.

The official federal poverty level income for a family of two for 2016 is $15,930. To generate that income from a risk-free CD at 0.15% interest, you need to deposit $10,620,000. To finance a poverty-level retirement with a risk-free investment portfolio means you have to maintain $11,594,400 of your assets on deposit in those low-yielding CDs, which would place you among the top 1% of wealthy Americans. Think about that. If you don’t want to accept financial risk in your retirement, you must be in the top group of Americans in terms of wealth. The rich are poor! In order to keep our world spinning and boost its growth rate, there are no risk-free avenues available for ordinary Americans. Recognition of this condition, coupled with the stock market’s volatility, may be fuelling a portion of the anger we are seeing among the electorate today. This situation will also be an anchor on how fast our energy needs grow.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A lik to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The impact on savers of the near zero and increasingly negative interest rates we are now presented with represents a major challenge for savers. A subscriber left this comment on a piece I posted Friday and I believe it is well worth repeating here:

“I find it very concerning that central bankers, like finance ministers, never discuss the distortions produced in the future savings markets by the NIRPs.

“Pension funds and insurance companies are suffering even more than banks, but no one is discussing this. It seems to me that in the medium term the dysfunction of markets under NIRP will continue to produce counterproductive effects on risk appetite, which will negate the aim to increase risk acceptance by investment in business assets (as opposed to just paper).”

 



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March 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

On perceived deficits in the lithium market

This interview between Peter Epstein and Joe Lowry for Mineweb may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

One point I find extremely interesting is that the countries that always were low price buyers, trying to secure the cheapest Chinese product, have now been shut out due the price run-up in China and the VAT penalty creating a disincentive for exports.

I have been approached for help in securing product by companies in India and in similar markets, who in the past always sought the lowest price. These companies, faced with shutting down their plants, have offered US$28,000 – US$30,000/Mt, in advance, for lithium hydroxide.

Unfortunately, since they have no relationships, supply for these companies is hard to come by. What we considered the bottom of the market appears to prove that demand destruction is not a major concern. On the other hand, the Japanese have contracts at low prices for much of their 2016 volumes and seem to be in denial that they will have to pay much higher prices in 2017.
I see a return to a normalized global price range as a major theme for 2017. 

Any thoughts on how Tesla’s (under construction) giga-factory fits into global battery markets?

Yes, good question. The western press seems fixated on the Tesla giga-factory; however Tesla is really just one of many large battery projects worldwide. China has multiple projects, some of which, although smaller than Tesla’s planned operation, are already in production and will grow in phases.
I think what Tesla is doing is great, but it’s only part of the global story. 

Based on extensive meetings around the globe, are there critical events on the horizon that could shake things up?

As long as China continues a reasonable level of support for battery related initiatives and there is not a major global recession, I think lithium ion battery demand for non-consumer applications has reached a tipping-point, ensuring robust lithium demand for the next several years.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Until quite recently the market for lithium batteries was confined to the impressive growth rate for hand held devices. The increasing penetration of electric vehicles into the passenger transport sector represents an additional growth trajectory not least because major car manufacturers plan to have vehicles in the $30,000 bracket on the road within two years. A third strand for growth is represented by industrials and utilities seeking to smooth the pattern of supply and demand or to employ remote power generation facilities. 



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March 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Brazil Impeachment Picks Up Amid Protests and Legal Battles

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

A number of court injunctions have stopped Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from taking a job in Rousseff’s cabinet, dashing hopes that the former president would use his political abilities to rebuild the government coalition and defuse the impeachment threat.

The decision to block Lula’s appointment “will deprive Rousseff’s government of a crucial power broker capable of rallying her base,” Neil Shearing, chief emerging market economist with Capital Economics, wrote in a note to clients. “Her term in office looks increasingly likely to be curtailed.”

The first injunction against Lula’s nomination was issued by a federal judge just one hour after his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday. It was later struck down by a higher-court judge but the legal battle is set to continue, with several others cases being considered all over the country, including in the Supreme Court.

Rousseff said her government respects the courts but that the judicial system “can’t be politicized.” She lambasted federal judge Sergio Moro’s decision to release phone recordings that critics say show she appointed Lula to shield him from a corruption probe.

According to Brazilian legislation, only the Supreme Court can probe, indict or imprison presidents and cabinet members.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

With the kind of protections from prosecution enjoyed by the President and cabinet of Brazil there is no chance Rousseff will resign of her own accord. To do so would immediately result in her being indicted for her role in the Petrobras bribery scandal as well as a number of other payment schemes that have come to light since she became President. That means impeachment is the only route to a new government. 



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March 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on next generation batteries

Have you seen this :- World First: Graphene Battery Plant Gears up for 2016 Commercial Production Spanish company Graphenano has introduced a graphene polymer battery it says could allow electric vehicles to have a maximum range of up to 497 miles. The battery can also be charged in just a few minutes, is not prone to explosions like lithium batteries, and can charge faster than a standard lithium ion battery by a factor of 33. The batteries are expected to be manufactured in Yecla, Spain and will have an energy density of 1,000 Wh/kg. For perspective, conventional lithium batteries have an average energy density of just 180 Wh/kg. To top it all off, the battery does not exhibit memory effect, a phenomenon in which charging a battery multiple times lowers its maximum charge

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this snippet and no I had not previously heard of Graphenano but it captured my attention because it sounds almost too good to be true. 



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March 11 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

MLP Investors Face Tax Hit On Top of Big Losses

This article from the Wall Street Journal may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

The issue stems from the fact that Linn is taxed as a master limited partnership, or MLP, rather than a corporation, a popular arrangement among energy companies when oil prices were soaring.
In good times, that status allowed income to flow straight through to investors without the Internal Revenue Service taking a cut at the corporate level. Linn distributed some billions of dollars of cash to investors as U.S. energy production boomed.

But the collapse in oil and gas prices has exposed the structure’s double-sided risk: Investors with potentially worthless shares—or units, as they are known—may nonetheless owe taxes on debt that is forgiven in a bankruptcy or an out-of-court restructuring.

That is because MLPs pay no corporate taxes and instead pass certain tax burdens, along with a share of their income, to investors. Debt forgiven in a restructuring counts as noncash income, or “cancellation of debt income,” which creates a tax liability for investors without an associated cash distribution.

The roughly 60% plunge in oil prices since the summer of 2014 already has sent a number of energy companies into bankruptcy court, and more are expected to follow. Fitch Ratings expects the default rate for U.S. high-yield energy bonds to rise to 11% by the end of the year, compared with 1.5% for bonds outside the battered energy and metals-and-mining sectors.

A gusher of bankruptcies and debt restructurings could be especially painful for MLP investors, most of whom are individual investors. Big institutions like BlackRock Inc., as well as many endowments and foreign institutions, can’t legally own partnership units or don’t want to, given their complexity.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I’ve given talks and conducted The Chart Seminar all over the world but I was never asked about the tax implication of a decision to sell until I came to the USA. The tax code is complex, rates are high and sometimes tax savings can reside where you might not expect them such as in trusts. The details described above highlight some of the reasons why the MLP sector underperformed so acutely while oil prices were falling but with such a panic to get out, is the bad news already in the price?



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March 09 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

US agency reaches 'holy grail' of battery storage sought by Elon Musk and Gates

Thanks to a subscriber for this article from the guardian which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

But the biggest breakthrough is in the area of energy storage. “I think that’s one area where we have delivered big time,” Williams told the Guardian.

The battery storage systems developed with Arpa-E’s support are on the verge of transforming America’s electrical grid, a transformation that could unfold within the next five to 10 years, Williams said.

The most promising developments are in the realm of large-scale energy storage systems, which electricity companies need to put in place to bring more solar and wind power on to the grid.

She said projects funded by Arpa-E had the potential to transform utility-scale storage, and expand the use of micro-grids by the military and for disaster relief. Projects were also developing faster and more efficient super conductors, and relying on new materials beyond current lithium-ion batteries.

The companies incubated at Arpa-E have developed new designs for batteries, and new chemistries, which are rapidly bringing down the costs of energy storage, she said.
“Our battery teams have developed new approaches to grid-scale batteries and moved them out,” Williams said. Three companies now have batteries on the market, selling grid-scale and back-up batteries. Half a dozen other companies are developing new batteries, she added.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Battery technology is the missing link in the supply chain between generating electricity via wind and solar and meeting requirements for base load. Until the last decade investment in batteries was puny compared to what has gone into other sectors. However the high oil price environment created an incentive to develop more efficient ways of generating and storing energy. Some of that is now coming to fruition and it is likely to have a transformative effect on electricity costs and the potential for electric cars. 



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March 08 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From The Oil Patch March 8th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever thoughtful report for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

To demonstrate how dramatically the outlook for petroleum demand growth has changed, we compared common year demand estimates from the 2004 and 2015 AEO forecasts and found the following data points: 2015 – 43.94 vs. 32.76 QBtus; 2020 – 46.97 vs. 33.16 QBtus; and for 2025 – 50.42 vs. 32.64 QBtus. These represent forecast differences between the 2004 and 2015 AEO forecasts of -25.4%, -29.4% and -35.3%, respectively. 

It is our belief that this dramatically altered long-term outlook for petroleum is at the heart of the Saudi Arabian oil strategy. High oil prices have hurt demand growth prospects while at the same time encouraging the development of high-cost, long-lived petroleum resources. These high oil prices have provided an umbrella for expensive alternative energy sources and, given the global embrace of climate change and anti-fossil fuel policies and mandates, made petroleum’s long-term outlook even less rosy. In the U.S. where producers could sell everything they produced, few gave any thought to the shifting demand outlook globally and the role that domestic production growth would play in altering that outlook. 

Recognizing that the outlook for petroleum demand is lower requires a mindset change for oil company CEOs; something we sense is just now beginning to sink in. While oil CEOs talk about lowered production growth forecasts as a result of low oil prices and the forced reductions in their capital spending plans, recognition that there are substantial low-cost oil reserves in the world held by countries desperate for income is beginning to resonate. Zero production growth in a declining demand business may not be the worst outcome for oil companies. Without production volume growth, maximizing profitability becomes even more important. Determining how to organize and manage a company in this new black-swan-world of shrinking oil demand will be the real challenge. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

I have not previously seen historic figures for how expectations of demand growth have inflated over the last decade. We know that China’s booming steel industry encouraged new mines to open and existing iron-ore miners to increase supply. The exact same thing happened in the energy market and the problem now is that those demand growth forecasts have to be recast in the light of China’s moderating growth rate and the increasingly efficient use of energy on a global basis. 



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March 04 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Brazilian Real, Stocks Rally as Traders Root for Impeachment

This article from Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

"Brazilian stocks have already risen a lot these past days as investors reverted bets on the worsening of the economy," said Alvaro Bandeira, economist at Banco Modal. 

"The market clearly wants a better government, one that’s credible and stable, and able to change economic policies that have led the country into this recession."
Some market watchers warned the rally could be short-lived as the process to impeach the president drags on, potentially plunging Brazil deeper into chaos.

“The market is reacting like Brazil woke up today as a whole new country, but a corruption investigation is hard, long and full of surprises," said Adeodato Volpi Netto, head of capital markets at Eleven Financial Research. "There’s room for profit taking on stocks as short-term investors play to make money, not to discuss politics."

Eoin Treacy's view -

I had hoped Dilma Rousseff would lose the 2014 election but that was not to be the case and her success resulted in a loss of investor confidence that Brazil could deal effectively with its challenges. The collapse of oil prices highlighted how much of a piggy bank Petrobras had become for the ruling elite and pictures today of former, and well-loved, president  Lula da Silva being arrested highlight just how high up the payments may have gone. As the above segment suggests impeachment is not a simple process so we can expect this saga to persist a while longer unless of course she resigns which appears unlikely given the protections from prosecution afforded the president. 



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March 01 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

February 29 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Electric car war sends lithium prices sky high

This article by James Stafford for Mineweb may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

That’s why Goldman Sachs calls lithium the “new gasoline”. It’s also why The Economist calls it “the world’s hottest commodity”, and talks about a “global scramble to secure supplies of lithium by the world’s largest battery producers, and by end-users such as carmakers.”

In fact, as the Economist notes, the price of 99%-pure lithium carbonate imported to China more than doubled in the two months to the end of December—putting it at a whopping $13,000 per ton.

But what you might not know is that this playing field is fast becoming a battlefield that has huge names such as Apple, Google and start-up Faraday Future throwing down for electric car market share and even reportedly gaming to see who can steal the best engineers.

Apple has now come out of the closet with plans for its own electric car by 2019, putting it on a direct collision course with Tesla. And Google, too, is pushing fast into this arena with its self-driving car project through its Alphabet holding company.

Then we have the Faraday Future start-up—backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting–which has charged onto this scene with plans for a new $1-billion factory in Las Vegas, and is hoping to produce its first car next year already.

Ensuring the best engineers for all these rival projects opens up a second front line in the war. They’ve all been at each other’s recruitment throats for months, stealing each other’s prized staff.

And when the wave of megafactories starts pumping out batteries—with the first slated to come online as soon as next year–we could need up to 100,000 tons of new lithium carbonate by 2021. It’s an amount of lithium we just don’t have right now.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Describing lithium as the “new gasoline” is an interesting take on the projected demand for electric cars. Last week’s Bloomberg article proclaiming batteries would cause the next oil crisis would appear to be in the same vein. These estimates are based on the fact that large battery factories are going to come on line in the next 18 months and not just Tesla’s giga-factory in Nevada. With additional supply, prices can be expected to decline and demand should rise. Home batteries and home charging stations are likely to become much more visible and utilities are already installing industrial scale batteries to tackle intermittency of renewables and to become more efficient with fossil fuel use. 



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February 29 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

It's expensive, but you need some insurance

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank focusing on the outlook for gold not least as a hedge against fear in other asset classes. Here is a section:

As a hedge against a weakening currency, we think Chinese gold demand will continue to increase, and whilst we do not forecast a repeat of 2013, physical demand could grow in the order of 10% or 100 tonnes. Chinese demand has increased by 14% CAGR since 2005. In the recent bout of RMB weakness we have seen increased trading volumes on the Shanghai Gold exchange, suggesting a higher propensity to buy gold as a hedge against a depreciating currency. Chinese buying remains tactical with the most activity occurring on the dips. We note that since the strong rally in gold, we have seen activity drop off on the SGE.

Gold holds its own in a US recession
Although we are not as bearish on the US to suggest that the entire economy will lapse into a recession, there are certain manufacturing sectors that are in a recession. Assuming the worst case scenario where the US slips into a recession, dragging the global economy with it, the USD normally performs very well as investors search for safe havens and US investors repatriate funds onshore. Gold is normally inversely correlated to the USD, but under these conditions i.e. extreme risk aversion, gold also performs relatively well. We outline the performance of the USD in the past two global recessions.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Gold rallied as negative yields made it attractive based on what is now a positive carry. That alerted people once more to its characteristics as an uncorrelated asset class which was ignored while prices trended lower. 



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February 25 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on cyanobacteria and biofuel

Have you' received any comments on developments with Cyanobacteria? The website of Joule Unlimited is intriguing. There is a short video which is worth watching. It is early days with this technology but I wonder if any of your subscribers have any realistic ideas about the potential

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which I suspect is of general interest to the Collective. If subscribers have any additional information we would be glad to see it.

You might remember Exxon Mobil invested about $600 billion in algae experiments in 2009 only to lose interest after a couple of years, as fears about peak oil faded. Using algae as the catalyst for producing biofuels was a popular idea almost a decade ago but the problem for companies like Joule is their process is only efficient when oil is above $50. That is just not low enough for widespread roll out in the current environment. 



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February 24 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch February 23rd 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report which this month highlights the toll low prices are taking on Texas oil companies. Here is a lengthy section: 

For example, the surprise decision by Southwestern Energy (SWN-NYSE) to lay off 40% of its staff, or more than 1,100 employees, and shut down all its drilling rigs after having recently moved into a massive new headquarters building shocked the industry. Likewise, ConocoPhillips (COP-NYSE), after defending its dividend through the first year of this downturn even at the cost of laying off staff, finally caved and cut its quarterly dividend by two-thirds from 74-cents to 25-cents per share. ExxonMobil (XOM-NYSE), after reporting weak earnings results for its fourth quarter, followed up last Friday by announcing it had failed to replace its production last year for the first time in 22 years, announced a 25% cut in its 2016 capital spending plans and the suspension of its share repurchase program. These steps are designed to reduce the drain in the company’s cash balances. Another optimist, Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD-NYSE), after signaling late last year that it might actually increase its 2016 capital spending by 20%-30% as a result of the multiple attractive exploration opportunities it has in its Permian Basin acreage, announced a 10% capex cut this year, which means it will be forced to cut in half the number of drilling rigs it operates, going from 24 at year-end 2015 to 12 by mid-year 2016. The latest industry bombshell was Devon Energy’s (DVN-NYSE) announcement just last week that it was slashing its 2016 capital spending by 75% and laying off 1,000 employees, or about 20% of its staff. The shock from this announcement had barely been digested when Devon announced the sale of up to 69 million shares of stock and raising potentially $1.6 billion in cash to shore up its balance sheet. The cash infusion also helps the company by reducing the pressure to depend partially on selling assets to help fund capital spending. 

The sale of stock by Devon is another example of the continuing ability of energy companies to tap capital markets, something a growing number of observers believe is prolonging the needed spending reduction that will cause oil output to fall off materially and set the stage for a recovery in prices. According to Bloomberg, the energy industry has announced plans to raise $4.6 billion in new equity, accounting for nearly 30% of all new equity raised so far this year. The amount of equity being raised is almost evenly split among three deals – Pioneer Natural Resources, Hess Corporation (HES-NYSE) and Devon. Each of these deals was upsized from their original announcement reflecting high levels of demand from investors betting not only the individual companies surviving but that their share prices will soar when the oil price rises and energy industry fortunes improve. 

The $4.6 billion equity raise so far this year compares with the $7.8 billion raised by exploration and production companies during the first two months of 2015, the fastest pace in raising new equity in over a decade. An interesting question is whether the capital raised in early 2015 has been wasted? If we consider what has been happening to companies within the E&P and oilfield service sectors, the oil price collapse is finally ending the corporate and investor strategy of “pretend and extend.” That strategy means that company executives have been selling lenders and investors on the view that a turnaround is just around the corner, so if they will just give them a little more time (and money?) the companies will be fine. As this strategy evaporates, the battle lines are drawn between managements and their owners. A change in the past is that many of the owners of the companies are investors who specialize in distressed securities. As a result, the struggle over how to redo the capital structure of energy companies becomes more intense as debt-owners, who have legal claims against the assets of the company, fight to gain the most ownership and thus stand to benefit the most whenever the share price recovers. 

Many of these recapitalization struggles are being fought in the esoteric world of corporate bankruptcy law. The last great boom for the local bankruptcy industry occurred in the period of the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed. For energy, the greatest bankruptcy boom was the demise of the industry in the 1980s bust. A recent article about the state of the bankruptcy business, in response to the collapse in oil prices, was in The Houston Chronicle. The article included a graphic showing the number of Chapter 11 (the section of the bankruptcy law that provides for restructuring of financially distressed companies rather than liquidations of companies that is conducted under Chapter 8 of the code) filed in the Southern District and the State of Texas. In 2015, the number of bankruptcies filed in the Southern District approached close to those filed in 2008, the start of the financial crisis. The article cited a survey of 18 bankruptcy legal experts by The Texas Lawbook calling for a doubling of filings this year. 

The fallout from the low oil prices and the hefty cash outlays producers have been making to play the shale revolution and/or to continue to generate cash flows is showing up in the growing number of exploration and production companies filing for bankruptcy. The Houston energy practice of the law firm Haynes & Boone is tracking those filings for both E&P and oilfield service companies in the United States and Canada. As of the listings on their web site, as of early February, 48 E&P companies and 44 oilfield service companies have filed since the start of 2015. The total of secured and unsecured debt involved in these bankruptcy filings totals $25.1 billion, split $17.3 billion for E&P companies and $7.8 billion for oilfield service companies.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

This is the most comprehensive reporting of the measures taken by Texas energy companies to preserve capital I have seen. I chose to reproduce it because it should serve as a useful record for subscribers look as this transition unfolds. 



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February 19 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The multi-asset essay: Why commodities will recover

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Our call for a final leg down in metals prices is based on weaker-than-expected oil prices and the potential depreciation of the Chinese renminbi. Metals currently are factoring in oil at $40 a barrel – not today’s prices of low $30s. Furthermore, a weaker Chinese currency is likely to drag down commodity currencies even further. But that is likely to be the end of this deflationary cycle.
Management teams may be able to take out more costs, but we are at the point where these cuts would be unsustainable, ultimately leading to lower output in the future.

Why is that? Because current spot prices are 40 to 50 per cent below so-called incentive prices, which are the prices required to earn a 12-15 per cent rate of return on a project. As a result, capital spending on new capacity has simply dried up, with industry capex down over 60 per cent versus the peak in 2012. Ore bodies are depleting assets and current capex levels are not sufficient to sustain current output for more than two to three years. In copper, for example, the world needs two new large-scale mines every year just to offset the reserve depletion.

While oil prices are low, current spot prices for metals are well below the marginal cost of most producers. As an extreme example, nearly two-thirds of the nickel industry is under water. That has placed mining company balance sheets under intense pressure. We estimate the net debt of the largest companies will approach an uncomfortable 3.5 times ebitda by the end of the year. This could force an industry tipping point and, indeed, supply curtailments have already started to gather momentum. In aggregate, around five per cent of the industry’s capacity is in the process of closing. We need at least ten per cent of the capacity to be shuttered to reach critical mass. Given the stresses in the industry, we think this will occur during 2016 and will stabilise prices. It may take a little longer for capital constraints to become apparent, but as they do, metal price deflation will quickly turn to inflation. 

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

I was talking to a Scotland based nickel buyer in Heathrow a couple of weeks ago who testified to how difficult the business of buying scrap has been over the last few years. Prices have been falling in a jerky fashion, which complicated their hedging strategy making it largely ineffectual. They are now surviving on thin margins and really hope for a turn in the price environment soon to ensure survival. 



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February 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Berkshire Expands Energy Investments With Kinder Morgan Stake

This article by Noah Buhayar and Joe Carroll for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“It strikes me as a business that’s right up his alley,” said Jeff Matthews, an investor and author of Buffett-related books. “It’s a business that’s going to last for a long time,” he said. And the stock has “gotten crushed,” creating an opportunity to buy at an attractive price.

Oil drillers, gold miners and rig operators have sacrificed dividends to conserve cash amid tumbling prices in oversupplied commodity markets. When Kinder Morgan cut its dividend, it pledged not to issue any new shares through the end of 2018.

Shares Jump
Kinder Morgan jumped 7.5 percent to $16.79 at 6:50 p.m. in extended trading in New York. Berkshire’s portfolio is closely watched by investors for clues into how the billionaire chairman and his backup stock pickers are thinking. Newly disclosed holdings often send shares higher.

One of Buffett’s deputy investment managers, Todd Combs or Ted Weschler, could be responsible for the investment. Both have been building portfolios at Berkshire and tend to make smaller bets than their boss.

“Our guess is that it’s Todd or Ted,” said Tony Scherrer, director of research at Smead Capital Management, which oversees about $2.1 billion including Berkshire shares. “It’s not insignificant, but it doesn’t smell like a straight-up Buffett move to us.”

Energy Bets
Other closely watched investment managers added holdings in the energy industry during the fourth quarter. David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management bought shares of Kinder Morgan and Energy Transfer Partners LP, while Seth Klarman’s Baupost Group increased its positions in Antero Resources Corp., an oil and gas producer, and Cheniere Energy Inc

Eoin Treacy's view -

At the Daily Journal AGM in 2014 Charlie Munger mentioned that Berkshire was set to become the biggest utility in the country. The acrimonious dispute with solar companies in Nevada highlights its participation in that power market but that only gives a small window on the kinds of businesses Berkshire seems to buy. The short answer could be that they tend to buy companies whose products are used every day. That’s as true of Coca Cola as it is of railroads, electricity and now pipelines. 



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February 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Downside risk remains

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank focusing on the shipping sector. Here is a section:

Supply discipline is the only resort, but looks difficult to achieve 
Another 518k TEU of mega vessels will hit the water in 2016 (with 800k more in both 2017 and 2018), which will force Asia-Europe capacity to grow c.10% in 2016 (vs. est.2% demand growth). Liners’ supply discipline has also become increasingly difficult to achieve, given the widening cost gap. While the latest mergers (Coscon+CSCL; CMA CGM+NOL) should further consolidate market share, pricing competition typically intensifies post mergers, based on prior experiences. This is due to liners seeking to preserve market share while cargo owners seek to diversify their risks. Moreover, the existing alliances are set to break up post mergers, creating short-term instability for the industry. 

How deep and long will this downturn last? 
The sector has traded down to 1.0x P/B, vs. 2016E ROE of -19%, which still looks expensive. During the GFC, the sector troughed at 0.5x P/B vs. ROE of -20%. More importantly, investor interest has waned over the past several years as the sector’s oversupply was widely expected to persist. This explains why the sector’s P/B range has not only moved down but also contracted. We expect a prolonged downcycle; hence, value will only emerge when P/B is closer to the GFC trough of 0.5x.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Bull markets begin when new sources of demand emerge amid an environment where supply is constrained. Likewise they peak when supply has caught up and overwhelms demand. We occasionally get periods of time when demand falls but then prices retreat enough to encourage consumers to participate again. As a result supply is a more important factor than demand when thinking about how a market is likely to evolve. Bearing that in mind it has often puzzled me why people tend to think about the Baltic Dry Index as being an indicator of demand rather than supply; since that kind of interpretation is contrary to how we tend to look at just about every other commodity related market. 



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February 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Early Morning Reid

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by Jim Reid for Deutsche Bank which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Talking of Oil and Gold, last week we showed a long-term graph of Oil in real adjusted terms, showing that the average real price since 1861 was $47. Following on from that, one ratio we occasionally look at is the ratio of various assets to the price of Gold. So today in the off we update the Oil/Gold ratio back to 1865 and find that the Gold price has just hit an all-time high at around 44 times the price of Oil. The previous high of 41 in 1892 has just been exceeded. For perspective, the ratio was at 6.6 in June 2008 and only 12 in May 2014. The long-term average is 15.5. While this says nothing about where the ratio is going in the short-term surely this looks a good trade to exploit over the longer-term for those who care about such things.

A big reason behind the rally in Gold this year has been a flight to quality and the fading expectations of further Fed tightening in the next twelve months. Yesterday Yellen stuck largely to the script in acknowledging market concerns emanating from tightening financial conditions, while at the same time refusing to fully close any doors still open to the Fed later this year. That said the overall tone was certainly of a dovish leaning. Much was made of the passage suggesting that ‘financial conditions in the US have recently become less supportive of growth, with declines in broad based measures of equity prices, higher borrowing rates for riskier borrowers, and a further appreciation of the dollar’. Yellen said that should these developments prove to be persistent then they ‘could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labour market’.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

When gold was used to buy oil the ratio between the two would have been a powerful indicator of sentiment towards the economy and relative value of savings over investment. That may no longer be the case in an era of fiat currencies but when the ratio hits new highs it tends to turn heads. 



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February 12 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Crude Oil Futures Surge After Closing at Lowest in 12 Years

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

"It makes a lot of sense to cover shorts after plunging to new 12-year lows," said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA in New York. "We had one of the more reliable people in OPEC say that it was willing to cooperate in making cuts. I don’t believe anything will come of it but you have to pay attention."

And

“Prices are not appropriate, I won’t say for the majority only, but for all producers,” U.A.E.’s Al Mazrouei said in the Sky News Arabia interview in Arabic on Wednesday. “The people who have spent money and have this investment, it’s natural that they won’t make cuts alone unless there is complete cooperation from everybody in that area.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Oil is cheap right now and many producers are uneconomic at these levels. The question then is only about when this supply will be taken out of the market not if that happens. The lower prices go, the greater the potential is for that to happen. Russia signalled in January that it was willing to discuss cutting supply and now several OPEC members are discussing it which is a confirmation they are not immune to the decline in prices. These prognostications are helping oil prices to steady but substantive action is probably needed to act as a catalyst for a more impressive rebound. A lot will depend on what Saudi Arabia is willing to do. 



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February 12 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China Could Have a Meltdown-Proof Nuclear Reactor Next Year

This article by Richard Martin for the MIT Technology Review may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Construction of the plant is nearly complete, and the next 18 months will be spent installing the reactor components, running tests, and loading the fuel before the reactors go critical in November 2017, said Zhang Zuoyi, director of the Institute of Nuclear and New Energy Technology, a division of Tsinghua University that has developed the technology over the last decade and a half, in an interview at the institute’s campus 30 miles south of Beijing. If it’s successful, Shandong plant would generate a total of 210 megawatts and will be followed by a 600-megawatt facility in Jiangxi province. Beyond that, China plans to sell these reactors internationally; in January, Chinese president Xi Jinping signed an agreement with King Salman bin Abdulaziz to construct a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor in Saudi Arabia.

“This technology is going to be on the world market within the next five years,” Zhang predicts. “We are developing these reactors to belong to the world.”

Pebble-bed reactors that use helium gas as the heat transfer medium and run at very high temperatures—up to 950 °C—have been in development for decades. The Chinese reactor is based on a design originally developed in Germany, and the German company SGL Group is supplying the billiard-ball-size graphite spheres that encase thousands of tiny “pebbles” of uranium fuel. Seven high-temperature gas-cooled reactors have been built, but only two units remain in operation, both relatively small: an experimental 10-megawatt pebble-bed reactor at the Tsinghua Institute campus, which reached full power in 2003, and a similar reactor in Japan.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Regardless of the cost, China needs to import fossil fuels. From a national security perspective that’s a problem. Despite the fact the pace of growth is moderating the requirement the country is going to have for energy means they have little choice but to fund any and every potential technology to supply their market. Nuclear is a big part of that and China is now the largest test bed for new reactor designs in the world. They will inevitably seek to capitalise on that investment and China is going to be a major competitor in the construction of nuclear reactors globally. 



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February 11 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Tesla Boosts Shares By Putting BMW-Fighting Model 3 on Calendar

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

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk needed some good news for stockholders, who had been shedding shares amid fear that cheap gasoline and competing electric cars would undercut sales. While affirming that the Model 3 is on schedule, Musk also said that sales will be better than expected this year and that money- losing Tesla is “in striking distance” of positive cash flow.

“We’re really looking forward to the unveiling of the Model 3 at the end of next month,” Musk said during the fourth-quarter earnings call Wednesday. “I think it will be well received, and then getting into production and delivery at the end of next year.”

Musk said in a tweet last night that Tesla will take deposits of $1,000 for a Model 3 starting in showrooms on March 31 and online on April 1.~

Tesla is pinning its hopes of getting out of the red and into sustainable profitability on the Model 3, whose lower price will broaden its appeal to more buyers. The Model 3 will have a price tag of roughly $35,000 before incentives like the federal tax credits or state rebates, but Tesla will initially roll out a highly optioned version, as it did with its Model S sedan and Model X SUV.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

At its current valuation, even after the two-month slide, Tesla cannot afford to get anything wrong. The announcement that it is within striking distance of positive cash flow is certainly welcome and the expectation that it will deliver more cars than forecast this year is also beneficial. The fact that the loss widening in the last quarter is a further indication that the company cannot simply rely on hype and popularity to drive performance. It needs results. 



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February 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch February 10th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by Allen Brooks for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

One aspect of the presentation we found interesting as a sign of Saudi Arabia’s thinking about the long-term outlook for the oil business was a discussion of research efforts underway at the company’s newest research center located in Detroit. That facility was opened last November. Its focus is fuel technology and improved engines, but also strategic transport analysis. The latter effort involves scenario analysis of future transportation markets including ultimately issuing white papers on the topic.

With respect to their core technology focus, they are targeting passenger and commercial fuels and engine technologies. From descriptions of some of their research efforts, it seems they are focused on autonomous vehicle development, although that term was never used. Mr. Al-Tahini said that the over-arching research goal is to produce the most fuel-efficient vehicle with the lowest emissions.

Our take-away from that part of the presentation was that at some point in the past, Saudi Arabian officials began considering the forces at work reshaping the transportation business, a market dominated by crude oil. One broad trend impacting that market is demographics, but there is little Saudi Arabia can do to change the impact. Understanding these trends and their impact on the market is critical for long-term planning.

In recent years, the environmental movement has aggressively targeted the fossil fuel industry, which has resulted in a tightening of fuel-efficiency and carbon emission standards, the elimination of fuel subsidies in a growing number of countries around the world, and a strong push to urbanize the population and increase transportation alternatives. All of these forces will impact the growth of the transportation fuels market.
Given those forces, we have concluded that Saudi Arabia believes that oil demand may be closer to a peak than previously thought. This does not mean that the oil industry is going out of business anytime soon, but rather that its growth will slow in the future. Market share growth for Saudi Arabia will need to come from someone else’s share, which means increased price competition. It also means trying to slow the development of alternative energy sources. Knocking out future oil sands and deepwater oil output as well as marginally shrinking shale oil opportunities will all benefit Saudi Arabia’s long-term market potential. Any negative impact on the oil output of other significant producers such as Russia, Iran and Iraq, coupled with boosting demand would all help Saudi Arabia. Lastly, technological developments that enable Saudi Arabia to reduce the cost and extend the life of its oil fields would also help the kingdom’s future. While none of this is new to our thinking, Mr. Al-Tahini’s presentation provided confirmation of what we think is motivating Saudi Arabia’s actions.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

How Saudi Arabia views the market for its products matters. If they truly believe that the peak in demand growth has been reached that would help to explain the beggar thy neighbour approach that has been adopted over the last year. Major oil companies have responded by shelving expansion plans, Alberta put off its desire for more royalties from its producers and we can expect to hear a lot more about refracking in the unconventional supply sector. 



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February 08 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Credit Market Risk Surges to Four-Year High Amid Global Selloff

This article by Aleksandra Gjorgievska and Tom Beardsworth for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Exchange-traded funds that hold U.S. junk bonds slid to their lowest levels in almost seven years. BlackRock’s iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond exchange-traded fund and SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF both fell to the lowest levels since 2009.

Financials and energy were the two investment-grade sectors that added the most risk in the U.S., Markit CDX North American Indexes show. In high yield, energy, communications and health care fared the worst.

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the U.S. natural gas driller that’s been cutting jobs and investor payouts to conserve dwindling cash flows, lost more than half it stock market value Monday after a report that it hired a restructuring law firm.

The company’s bonds led losses among high-yield debt on Monday. Chesapeake’s notes due March 2016 tumbled to a record to 74.5 cents, from 95 cents last week, while its bonds maturing in 2017 fell to an all-time low at 34 cents.

“Broad oil weakness has now turned into distressed energy cases, which investors view as possibilities of higher risk of restructuring or debt exchanges," Ben Emons, a money manager at Leader Capital Corporation. “Nothing has been announced of that matter but markets move quicker ahead of such possibility happening."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Regardless of the answer, when someone asks whether a default is imminent one has to conclude that the situation is troubling. This is as true of Chesapeake today as it was of Greece, Portugal et al a few years ago. 

Chesapeake’s 2017 6.25% Senior UnSecured bullet bond now yields 150% suggesting very few people think it will make its last coupon payment due in July.   

 



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January 28 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Bigger Picture A Global & Australian Economic Perspective

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from National Australia Bank which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

There are signs that the strength in household goods expenditure is losing steam, possibly reflecting the recent cooling of the housing market spearheaded by Sydney. That said, the more recent data on retail spending continues to be relatively resilient, underpinned by improving trading conditions, while a lower AUD has encouraged tourism spending. ABS retail turnover growth for November (0.4%) was slightly below October (0.6%) to be 4.1% y/y, around the trend seen since late 2014. Meanwhile, NAB’s Online Retail Sales Index for November showed a 0.7% m/m rise in online spending. Despite soft wages growth, we expect a modest pick-up in consumer spending growth through to 2016, driven by a gradual reduction in households’ saving ratio and strong employment growth.

The Sydney housing market has clearly cooled, having recorded two consecutive months of price declines, while momentum in the Melbourne market has also slowed -but not as much as Sydney. Other capital cities experienced mixed outcomes in December. Recent property market outcomes are consistent with our view that prices growth will increasingly come under pressure as credit restrictions on investor lending bite, in combination with subdued incomes and slowing population growth/rising supply. We have maintained our previous forecast for much slower house price growth in 2016 (2%), although risks to the downside have escalated even more, especially in the apartment market.

Signs of stronger non-mining investment remain hard to find in the official data (especially the expectations data), while inevitable declines in mining capex continue – and could well become more pronounced given further falls in commodity prices. Despite significant signs of improvement in the business landscape, the NAB Business Survey reports that firms are still apparently gun-shy on investment. A fall in capacity utilisation in the December Monthly business survey has probably not helped, nor would recent financial market uncertainties. That said, we remain hopeful that AUD depreciation will eventually assist investment in trade exposed industries. Dwelling investment has been a little softer than expected in recent quarters, yet record high numbers of dwellings in the construction pipeline suggest the positive contribution to growth is likely to continue – although the cooling housing market will likely stem the flow of new projects.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

A firmer tone on energy markets represents a tailwind for Australia as LNG shipping capacity comes on line. In fact with the rationalisation of China’s steel industry Australia needs energy to play a significant role in exports to make up for the loss of revenue from coal and iron-ore. If we take that a step further it is reasonable to expect the Australian Dollar to be more heavily influenced by moves in the oil price than was previously the case. 



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January 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch January 26th 2016

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

With oil prices dropping and E&P companies cutting their spending, the answer to our question of what is the sound of another shoe dropping is becoming clear. It is the sound of pink slips landing on employees’ desks. Living within one’s cash flow has taken on greater meaning for companies today. Unfortunately, the major operating costs are employees, especially when there isn’t much to do. Reducing costs to stay within cash flow means laying-off employees. Last Thursday afternoon, Houston and the oil patch were shocked by Southwestern Energy’s (SWN-NYSE) announcement that it was terminating 1,100 employees, or 44% of its labor force, as it deals with low oil and gas prices. The third largest natural gas producer indicated it had no drilling rigs operating and was reducing its capital spending plans for the year. 

The next day, leading oilfield service provider Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB-NYSE) announced plans to reduce its workforce by 10,000 in response to low commodity prices and low oilfield activity. Since the third quarter of 2014, Schlumberger has cut 34,000 employees, representing 26% of its workforce. The company also stated in its fourth quarter earnings release that it doesn’t see an increase in oilfield activity until 2017. This view is rapidly being embraced by the industry and shaping all staffing and capital spending decisions. 

Leading forecasting groups – the International Energy Agency, OPEC, IHS, Wood Mackenzie – are embracing the view that the current low oil prices will force the industry to further cut its activity during the first half of 2016 and that natural attrition in production will drop global oil supplies, despite the addition of possibly 300,000-500,000 barrels a day of oil exports from Iran this year. These groups also see demand continuing to grow, although uncertainty about the health of the Chinese economy is becoming a significant wildcard in the forecasts. On balance, these forecasters see the imbalance of global oil supply and demand, which has existed for the past two years, will return to a more balanced condition by the second half of 2016. A balanced market will allow bloated global petroleum inventories to start shrinking, which sets the stage for higher oil prices in the third and fourth quarters of 2016 and still higher prices in 2017. It will be the combination of continued oil demand growth, matched by a stable supply outlook and declining inventories, that drives an upturn in oilfield activity in the first half of 2017. The challenge for the energy industry will be getting back those employees receiving pink slips now.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The same subscriber added the following anecdote: 

Interestingly enough, the massive layoffs of the 1980's have not YET repeated themselves in the Texas Panhandle, where vast numbers of conventional wells continue to pump. One specialist contractor in drilling supervision said (to my brother over the weekend) that he was still as busy as he could handle, and my nephew just hired on to a drilling company as a roustabout. Interesting anecdotal information - not perhaps strongly suggestive of anything in particular, of course.

 



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January 25 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Plumbing the depths...

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from ICBC Standard Bank which may be of interest. Here is a section:

We would be biased long gold into Chinese New Year but only up to around $1,140 We expect the current rally to fade after that the metal to post a new low for the current down-cycle in Q3, followed by a sluggish recovery into year end.

Silver remains a derivative of gold. Trading opportunities are tactical and technical, not fundamental. We recommend buying silver volatility when one-month implied dips below 23%. We would rather own puts than calls.

In the short-term we expect platinum to trade below $800 and potentially test the global financial crisis low of $744. The medium-term outlook is improving, however, and we think platinum’s long period of underperformance relative to both gold and palladium will begin to reverse during H2.

Relative to spot prices we are most bearish palladium. That’s counter to consensus and recent history. But the demand outlook has deteriorated, supply is inelastic, inventories are large, and investor conviction is shaky. Palladium is more likely to trade in the $300s than $600s this year

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

This report is representative of a large number that have crossed our desks recently with the abiding message being that there are short-term risks but medium-term upside potential. In any other circumstances investors would pre-empt a medium-term bullish view by buying now and using further weakness as an opportunity to increase positions. One has to ask why this is not more evident within the commodity complex right now?

 



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January 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Point & Figure

Eoin Treacy's view -

2016 will be 47th year of The Chart Seminar and it is still the longest running course on a behavioural approach to interpreting the market in the world. We will soon be announcing dates for when you can expect to attend both at a physical location and via webinar this year.

I was thinking about this earlier in the week and was ruminating on how we focused on p&f charts when we relied on chartbooks but on candlestick charts now that we have the online Chart Library. Both have their merits and candlesticks are certainly more expedient because you do not have to customise box sizes. However there is nothing quite like monitoring a persistent decline, or rally, on a p&f chart because the reversal when it comes is very clear. 



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January 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on new nuclear

This article recently published by Bloomberg caught my eye.   Do you have any insight into the technology and its potential? 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I’ve been watching the Small Modular Reactors (SMR) sector for a number of years because it has the potential to drastically change the way the nuclear sector is perceived. With smaller designs and generation IV technology many of the issues associated with nuclear can be avoided. In additional the plan to build them in a factory in a process that can be repeated should help to control costs. 



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January 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Brent Trades Near 12-Year Low as Iran Comeback to Swell Glut

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

“The likely increase of Iranian oil production could not have come at a more unfavorable point in time, with the oil market being oversupplied and renewed economic concerns,”

Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS Group AG in Zurich, said in a report. “It is not worth holding a direct exposure to crude oil at present, before more clarity sets in.”

Brent capped a third annual loss in 2015 as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries effectively abandoned output limits. Iran, which was OPEC’s second-biggest producer before sanctions were intensified in 2012, is trying to regain its lost market share and doesn’t intend to pressure prices, officials from its petroleum ministry and national oil company said this month.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Iran has been stockpiling crude ahead of anticipated end of sanctions and this has been a factor in the swift decline of prices over the last month. If we put some numbers on that, it is now January 18th and Brent Crude has fallen 40% from peak to trough so far this year. That’s an accelerating downtrend by any definition one might choose to use. 

Iran’s newfound unrestricted ability to sell oil is a potential bonus for the oil services sector since it is going to have to spend billions on upgrading infrastructure atrophied by sanctions. However let’s not also forget that Iran has been selling oil to China for more than a decade and that aside from what it has in storage for sale, the country’s ability to rapidly increase supply is relatively low.  

 



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January 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Meltdown But oil prices have fallen enough

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from DNB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

We are convinced that the moment the oil market starts to shift the focus towards 2017 and stops worrying about brimming inventories in 2016; that is the moment the oil price starts to increase. We have seen time and time again that the change in the oil price happens before changes in the supply demand balance. It has to do with interpretations of the future more than current fundamentals. The oil market has become similar to the equity market where the players try to “see around the corner” in order to get a head start vs the rest of the market. Investors would want to be early movers in order not to “miss the train”. 

We believe that the moment for higher oil prices will be the moment the investors starts to rebuild their long positions and buy back the short positions they have put on during 2015.

And 

Other potential catalysts are already on the list (known, unknowns), like for example the write-downs of shale oil resources from shale oil producers which we believe will start to materialize by end February. There are also other factors to watch like potential unrest in Venezuela after the parliamentary elections, falling US oil production which will likely lead to crude oil stock draws from March and onwards, increased focus on lower production from non-OPEC as a result of spending cuts, etc, etc.

We believe that one of the key drivers for higher oil prices through the second quarter will be a strong gasoline market, similar to what happened in 2015. The NYMEX gasoline crack spread increased significantly from late February last year and this was one of the key drivers behind the increase in oil prices during the second quarter last year. WTI increased from about 44 USD/b in March to 61 USD/b in June. Brent increased even more and reached almost 70 USD/b in May before it started to drift lower again. It was demand for gasoline which was the key driver on the demand side for refined products in 2015 and we believe the gasoline market will be strong also in 2016. This is due to the fact that gasoline is a consumer product and not an industrial product like diesel.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Oil prices are accelerating lower and we know for a fact that they will not go to zero. The counter argument is that the definition of an instrument that is down 90% is one that was down 80% and halved. Nevertheless the pace of the decline is picking up suggesting shorts are being increased and holders are panicking. 



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January 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on molten salt nuclear reactors

Some encouraging news from the advanced nuclear sector. I am pleased to see that Terrestrial Energy (disclosure: I own shares) has successfully raised the equivalent of USD 7m in equity. Albeit modest, it is an important step forward. The company is making steady progress in its task to finalize its Molten Salt Reactor design, while the next step is to work with Canadian authorities with the aim to license the technology. Commercialization in the first part of the 2020’ies is still some years ahead, but this technology should, as I hope and believe, prove to be an important tool to reduce carbon emissions in the future.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this update and the MIT review articles which gives additional insights on the development of new nuclear. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the nuclear industry is that despite the fact technology continues to improve quickly, regulatory change is moving at a glacial pace. With sufficient government backing there is credible scope for new nuclear to flourish but it is dependent on political will to make it happen.



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January 12 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From The Oil Patch January 12th 2016

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

The creator of the “lower for longer” scenario, BP plc’s (BP-NYSE) CEO Robert Dudley was interviewed at year-end by a reporter with the BBC during which he began to qualify his view. “A low point could be in the first quarter [of 2016].” Given developments in the global oil market during the first few days of 2016, this looks like a good call. Mr. Dudley went on to say, “But 2016’s third and fourth quarters could witness a more natural balance between supply and demand, after which stock levels could start to wear off.” If that proves to be the case, it implies that oil prices should begin rising during the second half of 2016. However, there remains the overhang of global oil inventories that continue to swell due to the global overproduction. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest total (crude oil plus refined products) inventory figures for the OECD countries as of October 2015, there were 2,971 million barrels in storage. Crude oil inventory totaled 1,181 million barrels. As shown in Exhibit 14, the amount of crude oil in storage grew dramatically last year.

A different way of looking at the crude oil inventory situation is to measure it on the basis of days of inventory in storage. Exhibit 15 (next page) shows this data for 2012 through August 2015. While one might think that 30-31 days of forward inventory cover is not meaningful, if we compared the July data when 2015 was at 30 days and the prior three years that were at 27 days, those three additional days represent nearly 300 million extra barrels of oil. To eliminate that additional supply, global oil demand needs to increase by nearly one million barrels a day, or 1% growth in existing oil demand, which just happens to be the long-term average increase in global oil consumption experienced since the 1980s. While consistent with the oil market’s long-term growth rate, reducing the oversupply assumes that supply stops growing, which we know may not happen due to the return of Iranian production plus efforts of other producing countries to boost output to offset lower oil prices.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

With deteriorating geopolitical considerations and no sign yet that supply has peaked, the futures market for Brent Crude is in contango right across the curve. For prices to rise a catalyst will be required. That may take the form of a major bankruptcy in the highly leveraged unconventional oil and gas sector or a marked deterioration on the geopolitical front. Both are possible and this is particularly poignant considering the fact that oil prices are accelerating lower and have already had a large decline. 



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January 05 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

How are traditional Safe Haven assets performing?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Following yesterday’s disappointing start to the year and against a background of heightened geopolitical tension, weakening performance in emerging markets and fears about a paucity of earnings growth I thought it would be an interesting time to look at the performance of what have traditionally been viewed as safe haven assets. 



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January 04 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Nevada Regulators Eliminate Retail Rate Net Metering for New and Existing Solar Customers

This article by Julia Pyper for GreenTechMedia may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The Nevada Public Utility Commission voted unanimously in favor of a new solar tariff structure on Tuesday that industry groups say will destroy the Nevada solar market, one of the fastest-growing markets in the country.

The decision increases the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowers compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity, over the next four years. The changes will take effect on January 1 and will apply retroactively to all net-metered solar customers.

The broad application of the policy sets a precedent for future net-metering and rate-design debates. To date, no other state considering net-metering reforms has proposed to implement changes on pre-existing customers that would take effect right away. Changes are typically grandfathered in over a decade or more.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Renewable energy and distributed generation are two of the greatest threats to established utilities in the sun-belt. If people can generate their own electricity at home, sell excess onto the grid at a favourable rate and only take from the base load provider when necessary, they are put in a highly advantageous position relative to the utility. On the other hand utilities are accustomed to a highly regulated market but not to competition. 



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December 29 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.S. Natural Gas Futures Extend Record Year-End Rally on Cold

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

“A quick shot of cold air will lead to the first widespread ice and snow event of the season across the northeast into Tuesday night,” AccuWeather forecaster Kristina Pydynowski said.

“As quick as the fresh cold and winter storm arrives, milder air will return to close out 2015. However, seasonably colder air should usher back in for the start of the new year.”

Futures for January delivery, which expire Tuesday, rose to $2.266 per million British thermal units, the highest price since Nov. 27, before trading at $2.263 by 6:57 a.m. New York time. The more active February contract gained 1.5 percent to $2.29 per million Btu.

Temperatures will likely drop below normal levels across most of the U.S. from Jan. 3 through Jan. 7, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in New York are forecast to fall as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 Celsius), 5 below average, on Jan. 12, AccuWeather’s website showed.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Natural gas had fallen to such low levels by the middle of the month that even a modest change in the balmy weather that has been in evidence across much of Eastern USA and Canada would result in a bounce. 



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December 28 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Hon Hai proposes deal to buy Sharp

This article from Taipei Times may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section

According to the report, while Hon Hai — known as Foxconn Technology Group (???) outside Taiwan — has proposed acquiring Sharp at a high premium, it also wants Sharp’s current management team, including president and chief executive officer Kozo Takahashi, to step down.
Hon Hai would send a team to Sharp to manage the firm, the report said.

Hon Hai also plans to take over the debt shouldered by Sharp to help the firm address its financial problems, the report said.

However, the report also said that Hon Hai has yet to talk with Sharp’s bank creditors.

The report said that Sharp was shouldering about ?760 billion in debt as of the end of September.
Hon Hai is not the only potential suitor seeking to buy Sharp, the report said, adding that the Innovation Network Corp of Japan (INCJ), which is sponsored by the Japanese government, is studying a buyout of Sharp.

The report said that the INCJ still needs some time to map out a concrete acquisition deal, and the proposal is unlikely to come out until next year, so Hon Hai is taking advantage of the vacuum created to make a deal.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Hon Hai Precision is best known for assembling Apple’s iPhone as well as being one of the world’s largest employers. As a fabless manufacturer it generally does not promote its own brands so the potential acquisition of a manufacturer with global brand recognition such as Sharp is an interesting development. 



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December 24 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Thin markets

Eoin Treacy's view -

Over the period between Christmas Eve and New Year a lot of people take some time off with the result there are fewer traders around to execute orders. Market liquidity tends to dry up. We occasionally see enterprising traders take this as an opportunity to pressure stops in an attempt to reverse short-term overbought or oversold conditions. 



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December 23 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Worst performers of 2015

Eoin Treacy's view -

With the exception of a small number of outliers the worst performing shares this year have been in the energy sector. This is particularly true of the S&P 500 where 11 of the 15 shares down more than 50% are energy related. Those are pretty scary declines and sentiment is about as bearish as I have seen with news flow compounding that view as one would expect. 



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December 22 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Soaring Debt Yields Suggest Oil M&A Could Happen in 2016

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

Mergers haven't taken off in the oil patch this year largely because potential targets have been banking on a rebound and potential buyers have been expecting further falls. The spike in yields for borrowers in the energy sector, along with the growing acceptance that oil and gas prices likely face another year on their back, should mean those opposing views finally converge in 2016, prompting some deals.

What's more, this chart suggests the advantage should lie with large, strategic buyers like the oil majors for two reasons.

First, one way potential targets have been shoring up balance sheets is to sell assets rather than the entire company.

But a thriving asset market requires buyers being able to raise capital at reasonable rates, be they other E&P companies or private equity firms looking to snap up bargains. Asset sales have slowed already this year, with just $29 billion worth in North America, compared with $107 billion in 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Second, with the cost of capital rising and cash harder to come by, any deals struck will require at least the promise of synergies and will favor those buyers able to use their own stock as a credible acquisition currency. One reason Anadarko's approach to Apache met with such scorn was that it scattered rather than tightened the company's focus. The majors, diversified anyway, bring the benefit of bigger balance sheets, which both alleviate any credit pressures weighing on the target and provide a clearer path to developing a smaller E&P company's reserves. Paying with shares also means that selling shareholders get to participate to some degree in the eventual recovery in oil and gas prices.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Major oil companies have slashed exploration budgets with the result they have more capital to pick up promising assets as prices decline. Private Equity firms have amassed sizable war chests to invest in troubled energy companies but have so far been slow to make large purchases. Meanwhile sellers are hoping for a rebound so they can get a better price. With everyone appearing to bide their time a catalyst is required to encourage deal making. 



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December 17 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Shale Drillers Are Now Free to Export U.S. Oil Into Global Glut

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

U.S. shale drillers will soon be able to sell their oil all over the world. Too bad no one needs it right now.

A congressional deal to lift the 1970s-era prohibition on shipping crude overseas has the potential to unleash a flood of oil from Texas and North Dakota shale fields into markets already flush with cheap supplies from the Persian Gulf, Russia and Africa.

The arrival of U.S. barrels in trading hubs from Rotterdam to Singapore will intensify competition for market share between oil-rich nations, publicly traded producers and trading houses, adding pressure to prices that have tumbled 67 percent in the past 18 months. In the longer term, it may also extend a lifeline to shale drillers strapped for cash after amassing huge debt loads during the boom years.

“The winners in all of this are the U.S. oil producers who now have a bigger market for their shale” output, said Gianna Bern, founder of Brookshire Advisory and Research Inc. in Chicago and a former BP Plc oil trader. “Unfortunately, it’s coming at a time when there’s already way too much crude on the global market.”

U.S. oil explorers from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Continental Resources Inc. have been agitating for an end to the export ban for most of this decade as technological advances in drilling and fracking opened up vast, untapped reserves of crude. The so- called shale revolution has lifted U.S. oil output for seven straight years, making the nation the world’s third-biggest producer behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. 

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

2016 is going to be an important year for US energy producers. One way to look at it is that they are going to be running slimmer operations since they had to cancel so much spending amid a collapse in prices. Another way to look at it is they will have the ability to export both crude oil and natural gas for the first time in decades and that will contribute to increasing fungibility between international contracts. 



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December 14 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.S. Gas Slumps to 13-Year Low as Forecasts Keep Getting Warmer

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

Natural gas output is on course to reach a fifth straight annual record this year, even as prices decline, government data show. Production will rise 6.3 percent to 79.58 billion cubic feet a day as output from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations expands, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Gas inventories totaled 3.88 trillion cubic feet as of Dec. 4, 6.5 percent above the five-year average. Withdrawals from storage will be smaller than average as warm weather curtails demand, Dominick Chirichella, senior partner at the Energy Management Institute in New York, said in a note to clients.

“With mild temperatures still looming through the end of December (and possibly beyond) weekly withdrawals are likely to underperform versus history for several weeks to come,” Chirichella said.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Natural gas is a big beneficiary of the climate agreement announced over the weekend not least because coal power is likely to face increasingly stringent environment regulation on top of that already in place. Gas more than any other fuel source will replace coal not least because energy storage solutions are not yet ready to ensure solar and wind can meet base load requirements. 



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December 11 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

High Yield and Energy

Eoin Treacy's view -

When interest rates are low there is an incentive to issue debt over equity. The low interest rate environment also contributes to spreads tightening as yield hungry investors move further out the risk curve to capture the return they require. The unexpectedly long length of time that interest rates have been low has created a situation where business models were framed around the situation continuing and now that the Fed is set to change tack an adjustment is underway. 



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December 08 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Oaktree's Marks Likens Distressed Conditions to Post-Lehman

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

“Post Lehman there was too much to do and now there is again,” Marks said Tuesday, referring to the financial crisis that followed the collapse of the investment bank in September 2008. “For the credit investor we have our first opportunities in several years. It’s been a long, long time."

After Lehman’s bankruptcy, Oaktree deployed billions of dollars in distressed debt, reaping a handy profit. Its Opportunities Fund VII, which did the bulk of the investing, has so far distributed $22 billion to clients on $13.5 billion of drawn capital, according to its recent third-quarter earnings statement.

Oaktree’s top executives, including Marks and co-Chairman Bruce Karsh, had bemoaned a dearth of distressed-investment opportunities since at least 2013, when the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was still in the middle of a four-year run-up. That changed in August, when investor concern that China’s economic growth was slowing quicker than expected sparked a selloff in stocks and high-yield bonds. Energy companies have been hit particularly hard as oil prices continue to slide.

“What you saw in the third quarter of this year could well be a harbinger of things to come in the next year or two,” Karsh said in October. “We’re in the later stages of this credit cycle. We saw the psychology beginning to really roll over and change and people starting to get fearful. We started to see a lot of cracks.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Private equity firms have had little trouble raising capital for energy sector acquisitions not least because it represents one of the few sectors trading at depressed valuations. With a dearth of truly high yield opportunities, investors have little choice but to look at energy and this is exacerbated by the availability of liquidity in an ultra-low interest rate environment. 



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December 07 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Statoil Is Offered Oil Assets Daily as Slump Hits Rivals

This note by Francois de Beaupuy and Mikael Holter for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

Statoil is flooded w/ offers of assets for sale from rivals squeezed by drop in crude prices, CFO Hans Jakob Hegge says in interview in Paris.

Co. not biting yet because valuations still too high; there are “a lot of unrealistic price assumptions from the sellers”

Statoil is cutting capex, opex, but not planning large-scale asset sales

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Statoil is not the only company cutting capex. However it is one of the first to throw some light on just how many companies are seeking to dispose of assets in order to reduce debt burdens, in realisation they are no longer in a position to develop them and/or because they are in financially unsound condition following the collapse in oil prices. 



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December 02 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Who's Who in the New Argentina: Macri's Five Key Ministers

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

The creation of a new energy ministry speaks of the increasing importance of Argentina’s burgeoning oil industry.

Aranguren, former CEO of Shell Argentina, will be in charge of attracting investment to the Vaca Muerta formation, the world’s second-largest shale gas deposit and fourth-largest shale oil reservoir. He’ll also head up attempts to unravel the current government’s system of utility bill subsidies that contributed to an estimated budget deficit of 7.2 percent of gross domestic product this year.

An outspoken critic of the current government who frequently sparred with some of its officials, Aranguren has already made clear his different outlook, saying he would prefer to import energy while prices are low rather than maintain subsidies on oil. His double role as mining minister suggests Macri’s government may be more proactive in developing that sector after years of stagnation.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Argentina is not Iran but they both share the ignominy of having been locked out of the international markets for a long time. Argentina is blessed with abundant natural resources and an educated workforce. A trend of improving standards of governance has been lacking for decades but, with expectations so low, the potential for a positive reaction from investors from even a modest uptick has to be the base case. 



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December 01 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From The Oil Patch December 1st 2015

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section on oil shares:

A final batch of questions focused on how important major oil company dividends were to holding up their share prices? We believe it is an important consideration, but the question of dividends and the major oil companies may actually foreshadow a discussion of their future business models. If a company is stuck in a low-growth industry, which oil certainly is, then spending inordinate sums of money to lift the growth rate may not be worth it. For oil companies, the cost for finding and developing new oil production to boost a company’s output growth rate from 2% to 3% to say 5% to 6%, without the company having any control over the price it receives for the product, should raise questions about their long-term business strategy. Maybe it is better to develop a steady, albeit low, production growth profile while using the surplus cash flow to maintain, and potentially increase, the dividend to shareholders. That might be a way to sustain a company’s stock market valuation and secure stable shareholder support. This strategy implies that capital spending would always be at risk in low commodity price environments, but the strategy could lead to stable employment, which is critical for securing and sustaining the technical talent required in the petroleum business. This strategy, however, wouldn’t work for smaller E&P companies needing capital to grow as their ability to tap the capital markets likely requires that they demonstrate rapid production growth. As we are learning, that strategy can be deadly in a period of low commodity prices. So if major oil companies were to adopt slow-growth production goals while defending and increasing their dividends, their share prices might not decline.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Capital Expenditure budgets have evaporated as companies deal with the revised economics of oil and gas development. On the plus side they have already taken significant write downs so any production that comes online as a result of previous investment can be considered already funded. Companies like Exxon Mobil, at a rating of AAA, are considered better credits than many sovereigns and the removal of the burden of capital expenditure leaves them in a better position to sustain their businesses into the medium term.



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