This is the second part of the crude oil discussion with energy markets veteran Vandana Hari. Tony Nash asked if the political tensions in the Middle East will affect oil prices in this environment, and how soon can we see the effect in oil prices if the Iran agreement is made? She also discussed her views on the Texas shale industry and when can we see a bounce back, or if we’ll ever see one.
The first part of this discussion can be found here.
Vandana Hari is based in Singapore. She runs Vanda Insights and have been looking at the oil markets for about 25 years now. She launched Vanda Insights about five years ago. The company provides timely, credible, and succinct global oil markets, macro analysis, mostly through published reports.
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This QuickHit episode was recorded on May 19, 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this Crude oil: New super cycle or continued price moderation? QuickHit episode are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any content provided by our guests are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
VH: And then, of course, we have Iranian oil and we could talk about that separately. So there’s plenty of supply.
TN: Let’s move there. So let’s talk a little bit about the Middle East with. First of all, with the political risk around Israel Palestine. Is that really a factor? Does that really impact oil prices the way it would have maybe 20, 30 years ago?
VH: OK, so with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that we’ve seen flare up in recent days, the short answer is no. Oil, it’s not even a blip on the radar of the oil complex. Now, obviously that’s because those two countries are neither major producers or consumers of oil. It is also not affecting shipping, the kind of fear that was in the markets, for instance, when ships were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz or the Red Sea.
But having said that, generally the oil market is keeping an eye on how that region, the tensions have been escalating. The Iranian and Arab tensions have been escalating. We have seen more attacks over the past few months. It seems to have died down a little bit recently, but more attacks from by the Houthi rebels just managing to miss white facilities in Saudi Arabia. So, yes, it is an area of concern. But somehow the oil market, maybe because there is enough oil available against demand, but the oil market has sort of almost gotten into this pattern of, that’s a knee jerk reaction. Every time, it looks like a supply might be affected from that region. But the oil complex has just been generally reluctant to price in on a sustained basis of geopolitical fear premium.
TN: Yeah, I can see that. That’s very evident. With the JCPOA, with the Iran agreement, how much of a factor would that be to supplies and over what timeframe would it be a factor? Would it be an immediate factor? Would it be something in six months time from if an agreement is made?
VH: We know the indirect talks that have been going on between the US and Iranians the past few weeks, and then there’s been a bit of confusing signals as well in terms of news emanating earlier this week. We had a Russian diplomat say that, oh, it’s on the verge of a breakthrough and then retracted so it doesn’t help the oil market of anybody as opposed to have that adding to the confusion. The oil market has made its calculations.
First of all, Iranian oil production as well as exports have been edging up. That’s a fact. Now, obviously, there’s no clearly transparent data, but there’s plenty of ship tracking companies, all of which have very clear evidence that there’s more oil going into China.
So to some extent, you could argue that crude prices today have factored in a little bit of extra Iranian oil coming back into the market. Just to remind our viewers that it never went down to zero. There was always Iranian in oil flowing into and we’ll not go into the details of that. But basically it’s sort of bypassing the US sanctions. So the question now is how much more Iranian oil can come into the market and when it could come into the market?
And I would add a third point to that is that what will OPEC+ do to that if it ends up pressuring prices? So how much more oil could come into the market? An estimated 1.2 million barrels per day additional oil could come if the sanctions are removed. When it could come back into the market? I’m no more privy to what’s going on behind closed doors in the discussions than the next person. But my personal feeling from reading what’s coming out of these talks is that it’s a very complex set of issues.
There’s a lot of politics going on when people come out and say, oh, we’ve made progress and so on. But it’s a complex web. It’s multilayered. I personally don’t expect sanctions to be removed before next month’s Iranian elections. So sometime this year, yes. But not right away.
And here’s the point I would make as well, is that I don’t think OPEC-non OPEC alliance will sit on their hands and see, especially if crude starts spiraling downwards with the Iranian oil more than Iranian oil coming back into the market. I think they will make adjustments accordingly. If the market can absorb it without a big hit to oil prices, well then good, you know, which is what was the case with Libya last year. But if it can’t, I think they’ll just redistribute that sort of cut back a little bit more or taper less basically. So either way, I don’t see that putting a huge downward pressure on crude.
TN: I’m in Texas and so we haven’t really seen a lot of new capacity come online with the with the Texas plays over the past few months as prices have risen. So what will it take for Texas to kind of install new rigs or re-open rigs and get things moving here? What are you looking for and what do you think the magic number is? I mean, if it hasn’t been hit already? What do you think needs to happen for Texas to kind of reopen some of these fields?
VH: Yes, we saw oil rigs across the US, which is a very crucial measurement of the activity in the shale patch, especially. We saw that number crash last year. And I look at the fracturing fleet count as well, which tells you exactly how much oil is being drilled out of those wells. But not just how many wells are being drilled. So both of those have been creeping up from from the crash of last year. I think since about August last year, they they have been moving up. But if you compare year on year still, that the total rig count is just half of the levels before Covid last year. Overall, US oil production and shale is the lion’s share of it has dropped from about nearly 13 million barrels per day to about 11. Two million barrels per day of capacity has basically disappeared from the shale patch.
And for OPEC, as well as for the oil market, I think it’s a key area to keep an eye on because we have seen in the previous boom and bust cycles and oil price up and down cycles, that shale was very quick to respond to oil price recovery. I think the story is very, very different this time. There’s a few influencing key factors, which are all pulling in the same direction.
So first of all, on a very sort of global level, we know that generally, funding is drying up in fossil fuels. OK, so that’s a baseline. That’s affecting conventional fuel. It’s affecting shale equally. The second is that we see and this has been an ongoing trend over the past few years, more and more majors have made inroads into majors are now independent players still produce the majority of the tight oil from the US shale. But the majors have become quite significant players as well. And almost every major that you tune into is saying that we are going to be very, very cautious in… We’d rather return money. We’d rather pay down debt, cash discipline, essentially. We would rather return money to our shareholders than invest in just growth at any cost. That’s happening.
When it comes to independence. I think they’re going their own ways, basically. You can’t say all independents have the same philosophy. But again, when I listen to the major independent players, they pretty much are also into cost discipline strategy. If you aren’t, are going to just have a tough time, far tougher time than than the previous down cycles in getting funding. So we generally see that funding for the shale sector is also starting to dry up.
I suppose banks and lenders and shareholders probably just seen enough of that, how sales fortunes go up and down. If you’re a long term investor, it’s not really an area of stability. So all of these put together to lead me to conclude that the EIA thinks shale production will creep up a little bit this year. But of course, compared with 2019, they’ll still remain low. It’s predicting quite a big bounce back in ’22. But I’m not that sure about it. I have a feeling that it’s probably going to sort of plateau from here on.
TN: OK. Really interesting. So it sounds like kind of that marginal barrel that would come from shale to be honest, isn’t really that necessary right now given the cost that it would take to reopen the rig. Is that fair to say?
VH: Yeah. And then you have to remember that the OPEC is sitting on that marginal barrel of supply as well. And that has to come back into the market. And you have to see prices supported, let’s say WTI, well above sixty dollars. And then ask yourself that have any of these, the three conditions that I outlined earlier changed substantially enough for shale to go into a boom again? So I think the answer is pretty clear.