Hurricane season whips up further headwinds for US oil industry

An oil pump is seen operating in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, US on May 3, 2017. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 08 September 2018
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Hurricane season whips up further headwinds for US oil industry

  • The pace of oil production reached its highest point this year
  • But earlier in the week, a total of 48 offshore platforms were closed in the Gulf of Mexico, anticipating the arrival of Tropical Storm Gordon

RIYADH: The pace of oil production, which reached its highest point this year, coupled with slowing economic momentum in some nations, was last week reflected in downward sentiment on oil prices. Brent fell to $76.83 per barrel on Friday, with WTI down at $67.75 per barrel.
The deterioration in oil prices came about despite the strong environment in the world of physical crude purchasing. This added to localized market tightness.
Earlier in the week, a total of 48 offshore platforms were closed in the Gulf of Mexico, anticipating the arrival of Tropical Storm Gordon. But the storm quickly turned into a non-event. These offshore rigs are where most of the US sour/medium crude is produced. Most sophisticated US refineries were built to handle a choice of sour/medium crude, which is close to the crude specifications of imports from the Arabian Gulf.
Although the inclement weather in the Gulf of Mexico eased, the coming weeks will likely see further disruption in oil operations. The US is entering the peak months of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through November. While this year’s hurricane season is predicted to be below average, forecasters are still expecting 11 named storms, four hurricanes and one major hurricane. 
There is the potential for a tropical storm to arise this week, although it is yet unclear if it will threaten the western Gulf of Mexico and the Texas coast. This is the location of the offshore oil and natural gas platforms that produce about 5 percent of US natural gas and 17 percent of crude oil. Onshore facilities account for about 45 percent of US refining capacity and 51 percent of its gas processing. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) will be closely monitoring Atlantic storm activity, which is significantly more aggressive than it was last month.
The weather uncertainty has added to the headaches caused by the increasing demand for refined products in an already tight oil market. Lower volumes of refined petroleum products are coming out of India with lower exports overall from Northeast Asia. India is recording extremely fast growth in consumption with its refineries strained to keep pace with local requirements.
Global refining utilization is at a five-year high, with increasing product demand growth, as key economies returned to elevated utilization. Strong macroeconomic factors coupled with low refined product inventories have resulted in strong refining margins. This has incentivized refineries to run at elevated rates relative to 2017, especially during the peak summer driving season.
Some analysts might claim that high refinery throughputs would start to pressure refining margins globally, as a result of building refined products inventories. However, as the summer driving season ends, refineries enter the autumn turnaround season. Refineries typically process less crude in early October as they undertake autumn maintenance, so inventories will start to deplete.
The coming weeks should start to bring clarity to the issue of the medium and heavy crude coming out of Iran. It is thought that the US will refuse to grant waivers in regard to purchases of Iranian crude. This will leave Asian buyers in urgent need of over a million barrels per day of medium/sour crude from new suppliers. That could result in a shortage and a price rise.
Analysts are yet to sound any alarm on prices, preferring to wait and see if — due to US sanctions — demand weakens on lower economic growth in China. Despite agreements, Beijing could decide to increase purchases of Iranian oil, easing pressure on other suppliers.


Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

Updated 25 June 2019
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Selling sketches and clothes, Libyan women set up businesses against the odds

  • Libya has only a tiny private sector and the economy is dominated by the state
  • Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power

TRIPOLI: When inflation began eating into her state-paid salary Libyan architect and assistant professor Seham Saleh started selling drawings over the Internet to help pay the bills.
She joins a growing number of Libyan women launching start-ups in the conservative Arab country, where many still think a woman’s place is in the home but where the strains on personal and family income following years’ of political chaos have forced women to look for more work.
Libya has only a tiny private sector, which means there is a market for locally-produced goods. The economy is dominated by the state, which employs most adults under a structure set up by Muammar Qaddafi, who was toppled in 2011.
Men are the traditional breadwinners, although around 30 percent of women were in the labor force as of 2015, according to a UN report.
“I cannot live on my assistant professor salary of 1,000 dinars ($256) even if it is paid out,” said Saleh. She has been selling drawings of people in Libyan dress or book marks she created on a computer.
“Thank God... people wanted to buy the products,” she said. She also does freelance work as an architect.
Once one of the richest countries in the region, the chaos and civil war that ensued after the fall of Qaddafi has seen Libya’s living standards erode. Little is now produced in Libya other than oil, even milk is imported from Europe.
Cumulative inflation over the last four years has seen real incomes lose more than half of their purchasing power, and the government effectively devalued the dinar last September.
A cash crisis means public servants often do not get their salaries paid out in full. Lenders have no cash deposits as the rich prefer to hold their cash themselves, rather than deposit it in a bank.
Women rarely had jobs outside of sectors such as teaching, although the need for more family income has changed the situation, said Jasmin Khoja, head of a women’s business support venture.
Her organization, the Jusoor center for studies and development, has trained some 33 would-be female entrepreneurs, offers legal advice and office space as women often can’t afford their own.
While Seham’s “Naksha” art business is in its early stages, others such as Najwa Shoukri’s start-up are growing fast. She started designing clothes from home in 2016, and selling them online.
Now, together with five other women, she has a workshop selling 50 pieces a month and plans to open a shop next year on Jaraba Street, the main fashion shopping avenue in Tripoli.
To make the shop a success her output would have to rise to 150 pieces a month. Her brother and family have contributed to investments worth 10,000 dinars.
The biggest challenges for start-ups are legal hurdles and the lack of electronic payment systems.
Some Libyan commercial laws go back to the 1960s and are aimed at big corporations such as oil firms, not start-ups. Under these regulations firms need to deposit thousands of dinars.
“Banks do not give loans, which stops projects and makes them unable to grow or employ other women and young people,” Khoja said.
Undeterred, Mayaz Elahshmi started a business last week training women to fix computers and smartphones.
“There is big demand as many women are reluctant to go to a phone shop where men work, as they have personal files on their phones.”
Six people came to her first training session, each paying 30 dinars.