Tag Archives: Oil

Clean energy – winners and losers

The impact of energy flows on the power and influence of nations has mostly been about the need for oil. Securing oil supply by ensuring its shipment, protecting the countries that produce it to the extent of going to war in an oil producing country has been prevalent in the 20th century. Oil being inelastic in demand has meant that as it becomes more scarce the price increases will result in higher revenue for the oil producing oligopoly. Countries dependent on the importing of oil have been at the wrath of higher oil prices caused by embargoes, wars, a financial crisis to name but a few – see graph below.

In fact the USA has been the most aggressive in protecting its oil supply to the extent that it saw it as their right to use military force in the Middle East – 2003 – second Iraq War. The reason given was to remove Saddam Hussein but this just disguised their real motive was to protect the oil fields. If they were so concerned about Saddam Hussein’s regime why didn’t they do anything about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe? The answer is Zimbabwe doesn’t have oil. Remember the Gulf War in 1990 was a UN sanctioned operation involving many countries not just the USA and UK.

However the idea of scarcity is coming to an end thanks to 3 big developments.

  1. The shale revolution in the US has lead to them being the biggest combined producer of oil and gas – the US now pumps 10m barrels a day and it is making the country less reliant on imported oil. Also increases in US supply has added to the global market reducing the price.
  2. China is now moving to a more service based economy and in the process is moderating its demand for coal and oil, slowing the consumption of electricity. More importantly though it is deploying gas and renewable energies and stopping the growth of carbon-dioxide emissions. It’s dependence on imported fossils fuels has been the catalyst to develop more of its own wind and sunlight for energy sources as well as it planner more electric vehicles.
  3. Climate change requires low-carbon energy and the Paris accord of 2015 is a start to fight climate change. To achieve this goal trillions of dollars will have to be invested in wind and solar energy, batteries, electricity grids and a range of more experimental clean-energy sources. Ultimately this creates significant competition between countries in developing these technologies but also but at risk the access to rare earths and minerals to make the hardware. It seems that energy is now driven by the technology not the natural resource we are so used to.

Energy transitions since the Industrial Revolution has seen the following:

Coal ——> oil ——> technology and clean energy.

The obvious losers from this change will be those who have an endowment of fossil-fuel reserves and have relied for too long on oil without reforming their economies.

Traditional energy system (oil etc) is constrained by scarcity
The abundant renewable energy system is contained by variability

Ultimately the challenge for countries in future will be who can produce the most energy and who has the best technology. Those that don’t embrace clean-energy transition will be losers in the future.

Source: The Economist – Special Report ‘The Geopolitics of Energy’ 17th March 2018

Oil price rises a sign of a healthy global economy.

Oil prices have been irregular over the last four years with the price of a barrel of oil being over $100 in 2014. This price had been suggested as the new $20 due to scarcity of oil reserves. However by 2016 the price had dropped to $28 a barrel the talk was that there was a global glut. Today the price is around $70 and analysts have been perplexed as to what is behind this increase. According to The Economist three significant questions arise:

1. Why has the oil price more than doubled in the space of two years against all expectations?

The 2016 slump in prices ($28) was in part due to the weak demand and an abundance of supply – simple economics. But demand recovered quickly and in particular the Chinese economy quickly pepped up its economy with fastest growth rates. On the supply side OPEC were able to restrict output and stocks of oil in the US started to fall. This saw D > S = P↑. Usually when there is an increase in price it attracts other sources of oil which are more expensive to extract – eg shale oil in the US and the tar sands in Canada. This is in turn will increase the supply and lower the price. But small suppliers are finding it harder to increase output as the financiers want more focus on profit rather than output. It can take months before oil actually comes on-stream.

Source: The Economist 20th January 2018

2. Why have stockmarkets been pleased with higher oil prices when it is usually associated with economic crisis?

The overall impact of higher oil prices has been to reduce aggregate demand in the global economy. With higher prices one might expect that the profits would be pumped back into the circular flow and therefore stimulating AD. However the Middle East producers tend to be big savers of oil profits at the expense of oil consumers in the West. Also countries have become less reliant on oil – demand peaked in 2005. Oil exporters depended on high oil prices to fund their government spending as well as importing consumers goods – Venezuela is a classic example of an economy that has relied on oil revenue for over 80% of government spending. Most big oil producers in the Middle East need the price of oil to be above $40 a barrel in order to cover their import bill. But a rising price of oil is usually a healthy sign that China is growing as it is the world’s biggest importer of oil.

3. What will be the ‘normal’ price of oil?

The critical change in the oil market from 30 years ago is that there is now an abundance of oil. Back then it was seen as an asset rather than a consumer good – oil in the ground was like money in the bank. But new sources of oil such as shale and tar sands have amounted to the existence of plentiful reserves. It must be added on the demand side the gaining momentum of mass-market for electric cars have reduced the demand for oil. It is being suggested that not all oil will extracted as there will not be enough demand. It makes sense that the five big producers in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait – which can extract oil for under $10 a barrel, to undercut high-cost producers and capture the market share. So it is better to have money in the bank rather than in the ground. Will oil prices plunge? Unlikely especially when oil exporters are cannot sustain low prices for very long – in order to fund their expenditure they need oil prices of $60 barrel.

Source: The Economist 20th January 2018 – ‘Crude Thinking’

 

Gourmet chocolate the economic lifeline to Venezuela

At the end of the 18th century Venezuela was the world’s leading cocoa producer. But the rise of the oil industry in the 20th century and the emergence of Hugo Chavez saw the decline of the cocoa industry. Chavez boosted state involvement in the economy and promised to create a society of equals. However since the crash in oil prices – up to 90% of government revenue came from oil – society has been divided. Doctors and engineers rarely make as much as US$50 a month whilst other with access to small amounts of hard currency can afford gourmet products.

Recently in Caracas there have been some 20 new businesses launched producing bars of Gourmet chocolate which retails for around US0.80 each in high end grocery stores — well out of the reach of most Venezuelans who earn less than that in a week but catering for the well-off in a two-tier system. Bars can fetch US$10 in a place like New York and Paris but bureaucracy makes this very difficult.

Although aware of these barriers one producer, Nancy Silva, is now focused on getting her chocolate to France, where she once sold a single kilo of her chocolate for the equivalent of 80 euros (US$96), which is today the equivalent of five years of minimum wage salary in Venezuela.

Venezuela cocoa beans

Venezuela produces 16,000 tonnes per year which is less than 1% of the global output and less than 10% of regional output when you take into consideration big producers like Brazil and Ecuador. However the use of Venezuela cocoa is seen as a marketing tool for shops as bars are produced with 100% local cocoa which is deemed high quality.

Many gourmet bars made in the United States now prominently advertise the use of Venezuelan cocoa but generally mix in other less-desirable cocoas. Bars made in Venezuela by contrast are made with 100 percent local cocoa.

This gives the new Venezuelan chocolatiers a leg up as they tap into the global ‘bean-to-bar’ movement, in which chocolate makers oversee the entire process of turning cocoa fruit into sellable treats.

On the second floor of an old mansion in Caracas, economist and chef Giovanni Conversi has been making specialty chocolate for two years under the name Mantuano. Sprinkled with sea salt or aromatic fruits from the Amazon, the chocolate bars are a hit in London, Miami and Panama City in specialty chocolate stores or shops that specialize in Latin American food.

Source: Reuters – Gourmet chocolate becomes economic lifeline in Venezuela crisis – 12th January

Oil and contango

There are very high levels of oil storage at present are the main reason for oil prices to go below US$50. Why are the storage tanks so full reports The Economist?

1. OPEC’s agreement with non-members such a Russia to cut production from 1st January attracted a lot of demand to take advantage of future price increases. This did produce higher prices which win turn encourages more supply as American shall producers started to pump more oil. American oil rigs have increased in number from 386 in 2016 to 617 in 2017 producing 400,000 barrels of oil a day more than the low levels in September 2016. Much of the oil has gone into storage terminals.

2. Before OPEC cut production it increased output and exports. A lot of this oil went into storage in the USA as refineries there were down for maintenance reasons.

3. Futures prices of oil are closely related to the level of inventories. It was hoped that the OPEC cut in production would push the futures market into ‘backwardation’ – short-term prices are greater than long-term (futures) prices which means that purchasers will use the oil rather than storing it. However with the release of US storage levels the immediate price of oil fell in comparison to longer-term rates – referred to as “contango” which makes it worthwhile to buy oil and store it. It is estimate that the price of storing a barrel oil is 41 cents per month compared to contango of 65 cents for the same period. Therefore you make 24 cents on each barrel. See video below from EKTInteractive.

So the more oil stored the lower the short-term prices go – the challenge is to break the loop. Maybe oil output cuts beyond June may force some to release their inventory.

Source: The Economist 16th March 2017

Sub-Sahara economies hit by fall in commodity prices.

Commodities have been the engine of growth for many sub-Saharan countries. Oil rich nations such as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola have accounted for over 50% of the region’s GDP whilst other resource-intensive countries such as Zambia, Ghana and Tanzania to a lesser extent.

I have mentioned the ‘resource curse’ in many postings since starting this blog. It affects economies like in sub-Sahara Africa which have a lot of natural resources – energy and minerals. The curse comes in two forms:

  • With high revenues from the sale of a resource, governments try and seek to control the assets and use the money to maintain a political monopoly.
  • This is where you find that from the sale of your important natural resource there is greater demand for your currency which in turn pushes up its value. This makes other exports less competitive so that when the natural resource runs out the economy has no other good/service to fall back on.

However it is the fall in commodity prices that is now hitting these countries that have, in the past, been plagued by the resource curse. As a lot of  commodities tend to be inelastic in demand so a drop in price means a fall in total revenue since the the proportionate drop in price is greater than the proportionate increase in quantity demanded.

The regional growth rate for 2016 is approximately 1.4% but it is not looking good for commodity driven economies:

  • Nigeria – oil – 2016 GDP = -2%
  • Angola – oil – 2016 GDP = 0%
  • South Africa – gold – 2016 GDP = 0%

In 2016 resource rich countries will only grow by 0.3% and commodity exporting countries have seen their exports to China fall by around 50% in 2015. Furthermore, public debt is mounting and exchange rates are falling adding to the cost of imports. With less export revenue the level of domestic consumption has also decreased.

It is a different story for the non-resource countries of sub-Sahara. It is estimated by the IMF that they will grow at 5.6%. By contrast they have been helped by falling oil prices which has reduced their import bill and public infrastructure spending which has increased consumption.

africa-oil-effectAs is pointed out by The Economist numbers should be read wearily as GDP figures are only ever a best guess, and the large informal economy in most African states makes the calculation even harder. Africa may have enormous natural reserves of resources, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from resources. There is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. What is needed is diversification.

Oil prices increase – OPEC reduces supply 

The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is a cartel of 12 countries made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

Recently OPEC countries have proved skeptics wrong by deciding to cut oil production. Previously OPEC seemed quite content maintaining oil supply levels even with low oil prices – maybe with the intention of driving prices down and putting companies with high costs of extraction out of business. But the collapse in oil prices since June 2014 – see chart –  has battered the economies of oil-producing nations as some investment projects are no longer financially feasible and this could result in a new supply shortage within a few years.

oil-2000-2015

However a deal signed in Algiers in September has seen OPEC countries will reduce production for the first time since 2008 by approximately 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) which means its production is around 32.5 million bpd – see table below:

Agreed crude oil production adjustments and levels*

opec-production-cuts

* Reference base to crude oil production adjustment is October 2016 levels, except Angola for which September 2016 is used, and the numbers are from Secondary Sources, which do not represent a quota for each Member Country.

From the table the big cuts in production are from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, UAE and Kuwait. Iran is allowed to raise output by 90,000 barrels as they have sought special treatment as it recovers from sanctions. It is unclear whether the Opec cuts were wholly contingent on the planned 600,000bpd cuts by non-Opec members, including a 300,000bpd cut by Russia. Mr al-Sada of OPEC said the agreement would “definitely help rebalancing the market”, enabling the industry to “come back and reinvest” in new production capacity to ensure future security of supply.

supply-demand-oilIn simple economics this reduction in supply of a very inelastic product should, in theory, increase the price of oil and on the news of the cuts oil prices surged as much as 10pc to hit $52-a-barrel – see graph opposite.

 

After oil what’s next for Saudi Arabia?

With oil prices being at historically low levels, oil exporting countries have been struggling to generate the revenue that was once apparent not so long ago. In Venezuela, for instance, oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and plummeting world prices have severely hit the government’s revenue stream. The Middle Eastern countries with their abundant supply of oil and the ease at which it extracts it, are starting to look at alternative revenue streams as the rent from oil is no longer sufficient to sustain public goods and services. As noted in The Economist the Arab world can be divided into three broad categories:

  1. Resource-rich, labour-poor – Gulf sheikhdoms with lots of oil and gas but few people;
  2. Resource-rich, labour-abundant – Algeria and Iraq, that have natural resources and larger populations;
  3. Resource-poor, labour-abundant – Egypt, that have little or no oil and gas but lots of mouths to feed (see chart).

Oil Rev Mid East.pngTo a degree the whole Arab world is an oil-driven economy: all three groups tend to rise and fall with the price of oil. However although some countries have significant reserves of wealth this does not offer an alternative to weaning them off their dependence on the oil industry.  Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 intends to be free of oil dependence by 2020 and among the proposals is a plan to launch a new defence company, combining Saudi industries under a single company and be floated on the Saudi Stock Exchange.

The country plans to list less than 5 per cent of Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Co), which is worth more than US$2 trillion. The sale of Armco would be big enough to buy Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – the world’s four largest publicly traded companies. The plan is for the government to be a lot more prudent in its spending and making sure that the budget deficit doesn’t exceed 15% of GDP which is a very high figure. Furthermore using the private sector to provide education and health care as well as selling valuable land to developers, will reduce the burden of the State. But this will bring about significant social change that the population of Saudi Arabia may not be prepared for. As The Economist said:

A generation of men that expected to be paid for do-nothing government jobs will have to learn to work. The talents of women, who already make up the majority of new university graduates, will have to be harnessed better. But for now even the limited reforms to give women more opportunities have gone into reverse. To achieve its goals, Saudi Arabia will have to promote transparency and international norms, which will mean overcoming resistance from the powerful religious establishment and the sprawling royal family.

Source: The Economist – May 14th 2016

Resource Curse

For most economies that have natural endowments like oil (Saudi Arabia) or minerals, there is the risk of the economy experiencing the ‘resource curse’. This is when a natural resource begins to run out, or if there is a downturn in price, manufacturing industries that used to be competitive find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability. According to Paul Collier, Nigeria has a resource curse of its own, the civil war trapin which 73% of the low income population have been affected by it, as well as a natural resource trap- where the so-called advantages of a commodity in monetary value did not eventuate – on average affecting only 30% of the low income population. It seems that in Nigeria there is a strong relationship between resource wealth and poor economic performance, poor governance and the prospect of civil conflicts. The comparative advantage of oil wealth in fact turns out to be a curse. governments and insurgent groups that determines the risk of conflict, not the ethnic or religious diversity. Others see oil as a “resource curse” due to the fact that it reduces the desire for democracy.

Click here for more on the Resource Curse from this blog

Venezuela – Cost Push to Demand Pull Inflation

Zim Venez InflationBelow is an informative clip from Al Jazeera which looks at the worst performing economy in the world – Venezuela. With oil accounting for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, plummeting world prices have severely hit the government’s revenue stream. GDP is forecast to contract 5.6% and inflation to hit 700% in 2016. The Economist has likened it to Zimbabwe and produced a graph showing the similar acceleration in inflation.

With 80% of all food items being imported and most of its agricultural land abandoned there are now major food shortages in the country – decrease in supply – cost-push inflation. As a consequence of this consumers are trying to stockpile goods as the prices increase – this shifts the demand curve to the right – demand-pull inflation.

Authorities are trying to clamp down on shoppers stockpiling goods by taking fingerprints before buying their ration of price-controlled goods. However the law of supply and demand is never far away as speculators use the black market to sell goods at a higher price as people becoming desperate for the essentials. Furthermore, producers can get around price controls by adding ingredients to staple food which therefore makes it unregulated – Venezuelan firms have added garlic to rice, called it “garlic rice”

Petrol prices in North Korea on the way up

A HT to Kanchan Bandyopadhyay for this piece from the Associated Press. Petrol prices in North Korea since February have risen by approximately 14% as it contends with the tougher international sanctions over its nuclear programme which is potentially putting a brake on the emerging market economy. However it is difficult to say what is exactly happening as officials in North Korea don’t discuss issues like this openly

What about supply and demand?

It might be a simple matter of the market. With more vehicles on the road there is more derived demand for petrol putting the price up. It is also possible that more fuel is being used for military purposes or for government construction or development projects. Most of the supply of petrol comes from China and the impact of sanctions is limiting the supplyThe fear that prices will rise further has coNK Fuel Couponnsumers stock piling petrol coupons. In North Korea customers usually buy coupons for the equivalent amount of fuel that they wish to purchase. To purchase 15 kilograms (petrol is sold by the kilogram in North Korea) it about $12 in Pyongyang which equates to a 20% increase in price. As with most planned economies the supply of petrol is controlled by the state and it decides on who gets what – military and public transportation such as street c
ars and buses are still kings of the road.

Black market currency 

Strangely enough North Koreans usually pay for their fuel in US dollars or euros. One kilogram of gas is currently about 80 North Korean won but no one actually pays that.

80 won =  80 U.S. cents under the official exchange rate, but only about eight-tenths of a cent under the unofficial exchange rate most North Koreans use when buying and selling things among themselves – the “real economy,” in other words.

The number of passenger cars has grown rapidly and rather than the typical black limousines or blue Mercedes sedans driven by communist party officials, they are middle of the range cars imported from China.

The growth in traffic in the capital is a visible indicator of economic activity the North generally prefers to keep under wraps. Many vehicles these days are clearly being used in an entrepreneurial style, moving people and goods around for a fee.

Higher gas prices could put a damper on such activities, or at least cut into their profits. The rise of automobiles is focused on the capital, which remains a very special place. Most North Koreans don’t have cars, or even access to cars. In the countryside, major highways are still not very well traveled and often not even paved. And gas, when it’s available, is usually more expensive.

Low oil prices fuel debt worries

Below is a video clip from the FT outling the reasons for the debt build up in the energy industry which is making investors nervous. Fracking has been partly responsible for the increase in oil output in the US by 400m barrels a day between 2010-2015. It was encouraged by high oil prices and also meant the sector took on a lot more debt – assuming that oil prices would stay above $100 a barrel. However as oil prices collapsed to around $30 a barrel oil extraction companies are finding it increasingly difficult to service their debt. Worth a look and with some very informative graphs.