Tag Archives: Oil

China and global energy – it has the wind at its back.

Since 2010 there has been a significant increase in US oil production which has made them much less reliant on other oil producers – oil and gas production has increased over 50% and the US is the biggest producer of both. Being less reliant on oil imports means that the US can now have greater power of nations that they used to import oil from – Iran, Venezuela and Russia. According to The Economist being the biggest producer of gas and oil doesn’t mean as much today for three reasons:

The Economist: – The changing geopolitics of energy. 17th September 2020.
  • There is no longer fossil fuel scarcity as the demand for oil might have already peaked and with an abundance of supply prices have dropped significantly.
  • Countries that are reliant on fossil fuels now realise that for the sake of climate change they need to change their energy source to a more natural option of power.
  • Solar panels and wind turbines generate electricity instantly whilst fossil fuels provide energy to a medium which then generates the electricity.

In considering the above this paradigm shift does more for China than the USA. Even though China is the biggest importer of fossil fuels it is a leading exponent of renewable energy at gigawatt scales. However China is in a very good position to secure oil imports as:

  • The increase in supply from new sources – Brazil, Guyana, Australia (LPG), and shale from the US – has meant a buyers market and this has suited the Chinese.
  • China is also in a very strong position with those struggling oil producing countries in that it has given them oil-backed loans.
  • China Development Bank lent two state-controlled Russian companies, Rosneft, an oil producer, and Transneft, a pipeline builder and operator, $25bn in exchange for developing new fields and building a pipeline which would supply China with 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

China energy sources:

  • Coal-fired – more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity which makes it the world’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitter. Coal use is set to expand in the years to come.
  • Wind and solar capacity – 445GW, vast though it is by most standards, But China also has Hydropower capacity – 356GW of more than the next four countries combined.
  • Nuclear power – building plants faster than any other country; nuclear, which now produces less than 5% of the country’s electricity, is set to produce more than 15% by 2050.

Wind and Solar

Both wind and solar power require raw materials to be functional – non-ferrous metals like copper. Batteries require zinc, manganese and potassium. Although there is a lot of supply of these commodities it is the difficulty of getting them to the market that is the problem. China has helped here through domestic investment – it now produces 60% of world’s ‘rare earths’. It now looks overseas to Chile to secure lithium on which batteries now depend on.

China – produces more than 70% of the world’s solar modules and can produce over 50% of its production of wind turbines. It dominates the supply chain for lithium-ion batteries – 77% of cell capacity and 60% of component manufacturing. In 2019 China eased restrictions on foreign battery-makers – costs of solar panels and batteries have dropped by more than 85% in the past decade.

To maximise its electrostate power China needs to combine its renewable, and possibly nuclear, manufacturing muscle with deals that let its companies supply electricity in a large number of countries.

Source: The Economist – The changing geopolitics of energy. 17th September 2020

The challenges for the oil market with COVID-19

Another good video from the FT this time on the future of the oil industry. There is a movement towards more cleaner fuels by major companies in Europe but the same can’t be said about the US. Oil producing countries have been hit by lower prices but some like Saudi Arabia have sufficient reserves to fall back whilst others like Nigeria and Venezuela are financially exposed. Below is a graphic from the video looking at supply and demand – useful for an introductory lesson on the market.

Source: FT

Covid-19 hits oil prices hard

With the demand for oil dropping over covid-19 and the over supply in the market, oil prices have collapsed. Brent crude fell by more than half in March to below $23 per barrel. For many years OPEC – Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries – has manipulated supply to maintain higher prices. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

The Economist – 26th March 2020

Cost of extraction v Price of a barrel

Like any business you need to consider costs relative to the price of your good or service. Some shale oil wells in the US may have a break-even point of $40 a barrel despite the high fracking costs. However some sources say that it is above $60 a barrel with the higher-cost wells coming in at over $90 a barrel. These industries cannot survive in this environment of such low oil prices. Also the Canadian tar sands are another costly method of extracting oil and this could lead to a shut down of production.

By contrast in Saudi Arabia the extraction cost is around $9/barrel with Russia coming slightly higher at $15/barrel. The Middle East and North Africa are also very efficient, producing oil as cheaply as $20 per barrel. Worldwide, conventional oil production typically costs between $30 to $40 a barrel.

Nevertheless countries like Venezuela and Nigeria depend hugely on oil revenue for their spending. Although Russia and Saudi Arabia have significant foreign reserves the more the virus persists and demand keeps falling the greater the damage. Useful video from Al Jazeera below.

Saudi Arabia and Russia – oil price war

Below is a very good video from the FT outlining the latest disagreement between the USA and Saudi Arabia. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

China the biggest importer of oil has cut back on oil consumption because of the coronavirus outbreak was bringing the economy to a standstill. Oil prices had their biggest one-day fall since the 1991 Gulf Crisis – some are expecting prices to go to $20 a barrel. What is at the heart of the fallout? Russia’s anger over sanctions targeted at its oil giant, Rosneft Trading. Washington imposed the sanctions last month over its continued support in selling Venezuela’s oil. Moscow was hoping to get Riyadh on its side to inflict economic pain on US shale producers, who Moscow feels have been getting a free ride on the back of OPEC+ production cuts. Shale production has pushed the United States into the number one spot as the world’s biggest producer of oil. Moscow hopes it could lead to the collapse of some of those businesses, if oil prices remain below $40 a barrel.

Source: Al Jazerra- Counting the Cost.

The paradox of Norway – fossil fuel giant and leader in renewable energies

In 1969 the discovery of oil off the coast of Norway transformed its economy with it being one of the largest exporters of oil. A lot of countries in similar positions have succumbed to the ‘resource curse’ in which countries tend to focus on a natural resource like oil. 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.

Norway – has a different approach.

In Norway hydrocarbons account for half of its exports and 19% of GDP and with further oil fields coming on tap Norway could earn an estimated $100bn over the next 50 years. Nevertheless there is a need to wean the economy off oil and avoid not only the resource curse that has plagued some countries – Venezuela is a good example as approximately 90% of government spending was dependent on oil revenue – but also the impact on climate change. Norwegians have been smart in that the revenue made from oil has been put into a sovereign wealth fund which is now worth $1.1trn – equates to $200,000 for every citizen. This ensures that they have the means to prepare for life after oil.

The Economist – Ecowarriors bankrolled by oil – 8-2-20

What are they doing?

  • 98% of electricity is from renewable energies and technologies
  • Heating with oil is to be banned this year
  • 50% of new cars are to be electric
  • Oslo has set a ceiling every year for its greenhouse gas emissions
  • Oslo removed nearly all parking spaces from the city centre – now bicycle docks / benches
  • Norway is hoped to be completely emission-free shipping fleet over the next couple of decades – this accounts for almost all of Norway’s oil consumption
  • Sovereign wealth fund will sell its shares in companies dedicated to oil and gas exploration

Norway and Liberia – Coarse Theorem

Coarse Theorem – Ronald Coarse argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution.

An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests. The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.

Norway’s challenges

This being said there needs to be more emphasis on the service sector as an earner of GDP – this sector already accounts for 55% of GDP. According to The Economist Norway faces 4 challenges:

  • Reduce it focus on gas and oil
  • Increase its productivity through the use of technologies
  • Reduce carbon emissions to meet the Paris agreement goals on climate change
  • Create 25,000 jobs a year so that oil workers can find meaningful employment

Source: The Economist – Ecowarriors bankrolled by oil – 8-2-20

Economic Developments for 2019

This is a good summary of economic developments to watch in 2019 – from Al Jazeera. Some of the key points are:

  1. Protectionist policies will remain and any truce between the US and China will be short-lived.
  2. The US is in an unsustainable boom – the fiscal stimulus will fade and this will be followed by two larger deficits – budget and external. The US is consuming far more that it is producing and it mirrors the 1980’s – Reaganomics.
  3. China is slowing down – as well as the protectionist issues as a result of the US trade policy there are tensions between the economic system of capitalism and the political system of communism. This combination is referred to as ‘Market Socialism’. The problems are associated with: economic growth v environmental problems, rural areas v urban areas, rich v poor. China’s movement away from oil to gas which benefits Qatar but to the detriment of the Saudi economy.
  4. The Gulf economies are taking a hit from the fall in oil prices and government budgets may have to be cut. Diversification from the dependence on oil is necessary to avoid the resource curse and with a growing youth population job creating is needed. Movement to a more knowledge-based economy and large infrastructure projects are becoming focus areas as a necessity.

Why dearer oil impacts developing economies more.

It wasn’t long ago that $100 for a barrel of oil was the norm but with the advent of the shale market the production increased which depressed prices. It was felt that the flexibility of large scale shale production from the USA could act as a stabiliser to global oil prices.

Oil shocks – supply or demand?

Oil shocks are not all the same. They tend to be associated with supply issues caused by conflict or OPEC reducing daily production targets. In the case of an increase in global growth there is the demand side for oil which increases the price. However this doesn’t have a great effect as in such cases the rising cost of imported oil is offset by the increasing export revenue. However today’s increase has a bit of both:

Demand – global consumption has increased as the advanced economies recover after the GFC especially China
Supply – supply constraints in Venezuela from the economic crisis. Also tighter American sanctions on Iran and OPEC producers are not increasing supply with the higher price.

Higher oil prices do squeeze household budgets and therefore reduce demand. Lower prices are expected to act as a stimulus to consumer spending but it can also have negative effects on the petroleum industries.

Emerging economies the impact of higher oil prices

Oil importing emerging economies are badly impacted by higher oil prices:

  • Terms of trade deteriorate as the price of their imports rise relative to their exports
  • Exports pay for fewer imports = importers’ current-account deficits widen.
  • Normally this leads to a depreciation a a country’s currency which makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

However this is not the case today. World trade is slowing and with it manufacturing orders therefore higher oil prices make the current account worse which in turn depreciates the exchange rate. For emerging economies who have borrowed from other countries or organisations a weaker exchange rate intensifies the burden of dollar-denominated debt. Companies in emerging economies have borrowed large amounts of money being spurred on by very low interest rates but they earn income in the domestic currency but owe in dollars – a weaker exchange rate means they have to spend more of their local currency to pay off their debt. Therefore indebted borrowers feel the financial squeeze and may reduce investment and layoff workers.

Another problem for emerging economies, as well as higher oil prices, is that central banks are looking to tighten monetary policy (interest rates) with the chance of higher inflation.

Source: The Economist – Crude Awaking – September 29th 2018

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