Synthesizing the barrage of outlooks from consultants in times of industry crises is practically a full-time job. When forecast fatigue sets in, the exercise of making predictions can seem futile. It might be just as worthwhile to hunker down, like Punxsutawney Phil, and poke your head out occasionally to see if the skies have cleared. If not, there’s always blissful hibernation. Though who can resist the urge to click on one more research note in hopes of discerning the vague outline of an upcycle?
Stratas Advisors said at an Executive Energy Club breakfast in early February that it doesn’t expect a global recession, but economic growth will be muted. It pegs the price of crude at $50 by fourth-quarter 2017.
A recent upstream analysis from WoodMac projects that by this summer, U.S. producers will declare “open season” on 2,500 to 3,000 horizontal DUC (drilled but uncompleted) wells—the cheapest way to mitigate production fall-offs.
The deepwater Gulf of Mexico will also contribute to supply. Industry giants splurged when oil prices were peaking, and now Gulf production is coming on regardless of the prices fetched. WoodMac estimated an additional deepwater yield of 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) will hit the market this year, pushing the deepwater “to a new peak of 1.9 million boe/d,” despite a 9% decline in capital investment.
Midsize and large companies may curtail development in the Gulf as production rises, but WoodMac said private-equity-backed companies will “press forward with development work and infrastructure-led exploration activities.” The target: low-risk, low-cost Miocene plays with breakevens of $15 to $30/bbl, “ideal in a low oil-price environment.”
Look for Mexico’s deepwater phase of its Round One bidding action to make a splash late in 2016. The process will be “highly contested and a success,” WoodMac predicted. “Given the long lead time of deepwater projects, high prospectivity of acreage and favorable contracts, Mexico’s deepwater will be attractive even at today’s oil prices.”
The hedging that helped operators dodge lower crude prices in 2015 is fast evaporating, according to a report from IHS Energy principal analyst Paul O'Donnell. “In 2016 and 2017, we see a significant decline in hedging protections,” he said. “Production hedging for the group of 51 companies studied will fall even more in 2017, when just 4% of total production will be hedged, including only 2% of oil and 7% of gas.”
On the 2016 capex front, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a 2016 quarterly production update that U.S. oil and gas spending would fall about 4% quarter-over-quarter for the firm’s coverage universe. TPH projects that the U.S. land rig count will trough at about 500 rigs before a second-half 2016 recovery. As leverage rises for E&Ps, select operators could cut back drilling programs and allocate capital to debt buybacks.
Analyst Irene Haas of Wunderlich Securities termed OPEC’s policy, “or lack thereof,” a “total disaster,” and concurred that dismal crude prices would drive more rig count cutbacks. China’s crude demand growth is front and center in price outlooks, she said. The firm lowered price forecasts for WTI for 2016 and 2017 from $54/bbl and $65 to $38.25 and $50, respectively, and pared its long-term oil price forecast from $70 to $65. Wunderlich’s natural gas pricing for 2016 and 2017 has dropped from $2.95 and $3.10/Mcf to $2.35 and $2.70.
Baird Equity Research published a list for investors of the Top 10 “things we are watching for an inflection point.” These include, on the supply side, accelerating declines in U.S. production, the combined year-plus rig count drop, and unconventional decline curves. Baird is also watching for stepped up non-U.S./non-OPEC production cutbacks.
OPEC, as well, must reduce output, and global liquids inventory levels must diminish for crude prices to retrench. A potential positive: Three years of “subdued” investment spending in the deepwater has created a “prolonged offshore investments gap” that could be constructive for oil prices, unless shorter-cycle sources step in.
On the demand side, non-OECD economic growth is needed, but the prospects for it are “mixed.” An uptick in U.S. gasoline consumption would help, but isn’t enough on its own to absorb oversupply.
Geopolitical tensions could gird prices, and if concerns about a looming global recession ease—“if growth slows, but does not roll”—the crude oil and equity markets could lose some of the fear implicit in year-to-date trading, Baird noted. A weaker U.S. dollar usually correlates with strong oil prices, but doesn’t seem likely.
So many ifs and buts. Keep clicking.
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