How soaring US oil exports are transforming the global oil game from Dubai to Shanghai

Heavy traffic on a city ring road in Beijing. China’s crude imports climbed to a record 9.57 million bpd in January. (AP)
Updated 09 February 2018
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How soaring US oil exports are transforming the global oil game from Dubai to Shanghai

SINGAPORE: Bit by bit, the US petroleum industry is turning world oil markets inside out.
First, sharp drops in US imports of crude oil eroded the biggest market that producers like OPEC had relied on for many years. Now, surging US exports – largely banned by Washington until just two years ago — challenge the last region OPEC dominates: Asia.
US oil shipments to China have surged, creating trade between the world’s two biggest powers that until 2016 just did not exist, and helping Washington in its effort to reduce the nation’s huge trade deficit with China.
The transformation is reflected in figures released in recent days that shows the US now produces more oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia and means the Americans are likely to take over the No.1 producer spot from Russia by the end of the year.
The growth has surprised even the official US Energy Information Administration, which this week raised its 2018 crude output forecast to 10.59 million bpd, up by 300,000 bpd from their last forecast just a week before.
When US oil exports appeared in 2016, the first cargoes went to free trade agreement partners South Korea and Japan. Few expected China to become a major buyer.
Data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows US crude shipments to China went from nothing before 2016 to a record 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in January, worth almost $1 billion. Additionally, half a million tons of US liquefied natural gas (LNG) worth almost $300 million, headed to China from the US in January.
The US supplies will help reduce China’s huge trade surplus with the US and may help to counter allegations from President Donald Trump that Beijing is trading unfairly.
“With the Trump administration, the pressure on China to balance accounts with the US. is huge... Buying US oil clearly helps toward that goal to reduce the disbalance,” said Marco Dunand, chief executive and co-founder of commodity trading house Mercuria.
As the energy exports rose, China’s January trade surplus with the US narrowed to $21.895 billion, from $25.55 billion in December, according to official Chinese figures released on Thursday.
The energy sales to China are still modest compared with the $9.7 billion of oil shipped by OPEC to China in January. But they are already cutting into a market dominated by the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia — with the threat of much more competition to come.
“We see US crude as a supplement to our large base of crude” from the Middle East and Russia, said a refinery manager for China’s oil-major Sinopec, declining to be named as he was not cleared to speak to media.
He said that Sinopec was looking to order more US crude this year.
China’s crude imports climbed to a record 9.57 million bpd in January, official data showed on Thursday.
Meanwhile, US imports have fallen below 4 million bpd, against a record 12.5 million bpd in 2005.
At average December/January volumes, American oil and gas sales to China would be worth around $10 billion a year. Including exports to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the figure doubles.
US exports would be even greater but for infrastructure constraints: no US port can handle the biggest oil tankers, known as Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC).
To address that, one of the biggest facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Services (LOOP), is expanding in order to handle VLCCs soon.
For Chinese buyers, the main attraction of US oil has been price. Thanks to the shale boom, US crude is cheaper than oil from elsewhere.
At around $60.50 per barrel, US crude is currently some $4 per barrel cheaper than Brent, off which most other crudes are priced.
For many established oil exporters like the Middle East-dominated OPEC or Russia, who have been withholding production since 2017 in an attempt to push prices higher, these new oil flows mark a big loss in market share.
“OPEC and Russia accepted that the US will become a big producer because they simply wanted to get the price where it is today,” Mercuria’s Dunand said.
Since the start of the OPEC-led supply cuts in January 2017, oil prices have risen by 20 percent, though prices in February have come under pressure again in large part due to soaring US output.
The flood of US oil may even change the way crude is priced.
Most OPEC producers sell crude under long-term contracts which are priced monthly, sometimes retro-actively. US producers, by contrast, export on the basis of freight costs and price spreads between US and other kinds of crude oil.
This has led to a surge in traded volumes of US crude futures, known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI), leaving volumes of other futures like Brent or Dubai far behind.
“Buyers, like sellers of US oil, started hedging WTI,” said John Driscoll, director of Singapore-based consultancy JTD Energy Services.
Despite all these challenges to the traditional oil order, established producers are putting on a brave face.
“We have no concern whatsoever about rising US exports. Our reliability as a supplier is second to none, and we have the highest customer base with long-term sales agreements,” said Amin Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil behemoth.


NMC Health stock jumps as earnings rise and group looks to Saudi Arabia

Updated 20 August 2018
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NMC Health stock jumps as earnings rise and group looks to Saudi Arabia

  • Shares gain as profits rise
  • Analysts upbeat on prospects

LONDON: The UAE-based private health care operator NMC Health is looking to further expand into Saudi Arabia, buoyed by strong revenue growth and strategic acquisitions made in the first half of the year.

The company reported on Monday a 20.2 percent increase in revenue in the first six months of the year, to reach $932 million. Healthcare revenues alone rose by 25.8 percent to $706 million. Net profit also rose to $116.7 million, a 19.3 percent increase on the same time period the year before.

The stock was up more than 3 percent in early afternoon trade in London.

The results met with analysts’ expectations, who continue to be upbeat about the company’s prospects.

“These are good results from NMC Health and the positive outlook has clearly been well received by the market. The shares are up 5 percent in early trading following a strong run already this year,” said analyst Ian Forrest at the UK-based The Share Center.

“NMC’s impressive H1 results demonstrated that it continues to deliver its operational and strategic targets,” said Charles Weston, senior equity research analyst at Berenberg, in a note on Monday.

“We had projected 20 percent revenue growth and a 32 percent rise in EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization), and both were met.”

Acquiring new assets and growth in existing home markets helped drive the increase in revenue, said Prasanth Manghat, chief executive officer, in a statement on Monday.

“The first half of 2018 saw NMC continue to demonstrate strong organic growth alongside complementary acquisitions, resulting in the realization of improved financial results,” he said.

The health care operator has made a number of acquisitions in the UAE and Saudi Arabia over the last year as it looks to capitalize on Kingdom’s health sector privatization plans.

Earlier this year, it completed the acquisition of the Chronic Care Specialist Medical Center in Jeddah. It also obtained an 80 percent stake in the Riyadh-based Al Salam Medical Group in April 2018.

The company took its first steps into the cosmetics market this year, acquiring a 70 percent stake in the Dubai-based CosmeSurge, which has an expanding network of clinics throughout the UAE.

In June, NMC signed a joint-venture agreement with the Saudi Arabian Hassana Investment Company — the investment arm of the the state-backed pension fund, General Organization for Social Insurance.

It is a move which is expected to “substantially” increase the company’s expansion in the Kingdom.

“Our previously announced agreement with Hassana Investment Company to form a joint venture, good macro-economic conditions in the health care sector in Saudi Arabia, and a strong country management team provides an exciting platform from which our Saudi Arabian business will be grown further,” said Manghat.

The JV is anticipated to become the second largest health care operator in Saudi Arabia in terms of the number of beds, according to a company statement. It is due to be completed in the fourth quarter this year, and a management team are in place in the Kingdom.

NMC’s planned expansion into Saudi Arabia will be further supported by the $450 million convertible bond it issued in April.

The bond forms part of the company’s strategy to retain its recently-won place on London’s FTSE 100 index. It was one of the first Middle Eastern companies to join the index when it qualified last September. It first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2012.

The company’s growth this year has been also attributed to organic growth in the UAE with the increase in the number of operational beds at the NMC Royal
Hospital in Abu Dhabi as well as the introduction of mandatory health insurance in Dubai last year.

Health care is seen as a lucrative sector in the Gulf due to its relatively wealthy population becoming increasingly at risk of problems related to obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes.