Oil prices edge up, but set for weekly loss on inventory build, US-China trade row

US crude stocks last week climbed 6.5 million barrels, the fourth straight weekly build. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Oil prices edge up, but set for weekly loss on inventory build, US-China trade row

  • US crude stocks last week climbed 6.5 million barrels, the fourth straight weekly build, almost triple the amount analysts had forecast
  • An unprecedented volume of Iranian crude oil is set to arrive at China’s northeast Dalian port this month

SINGAPORE: Oil prices nudged higher on Friday on signs of surging demand in China, the world’s second-biggest oil user, though prices are set to fall for a second week amid concerns of the ongoing Sino-US trade war is limiting overall economic activity.
Brent crude oil futures were trading at $79.51 per barrel at 0521 GMT, up 22 cents, or 0.3 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 19 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $68.84 a barrel.
For the week, Brent crude was 1.1 percent lower while WTI futures were down 3.5 percent, putting both on track for a second consecutive weekly decline.
Refinery throughput in China, the world’s second-largest oil importer, rose to a record high of 12.49 million barrels per day (bpd) in September as some independent plants restarted operations after prolonged shutdowns over summer to shore up inventories, government data showed on Friday.
The refinery consumption may rise through the fourth quarter as several state-owned Chinese refiners return to service after maintenance.
Undermining the strong refinery data, China did on Friday report its weakest economic growth since 2009 in the third quarter, with gross domestic product expanding by only 6.5 percent, missing estimates.
The weak economic data raised concerns that the country’s trade war with United States is beginning to have an impact on growth, which may limit China’s oil demand.
The trade war concerns combined with surging US oil stockpiles reported on Thursday are capping the day’s price gains.
US crude stocks last week climbed 6.5 million barrels, the fourth straight weekly build, almost triple the amount analysts had forecast, the US Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
“EIA Weekly Petroleum Status Report was a complete shocker sending Oil markets spiraling lower amidst some concerning development for oil bulls,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading APAC at OANDA in Singapore.
Inventories rose sharply even as US crude production slipped 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 10.9 million bpd last week due to the effects of offshore facilities closing temporarily for Hurricane Michael.
Meanwhile, Iranian oil exports may have increased in October when compared to the previous month as buyers rush to lift more cargoes ahead of looming US sanctions that kick in on Nov. 4.
An unprecedented volume of Iranian crude oil is set to arrive at China’s northeast Dalian port this month and in early November before US sanctions on Iran take effect, according to an Iranian shipping source and data on Refinitiv Eikon.
So far, a total of 22 million barrels of Iranian crude oil loaded on supertankers owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co. are expected to arrive at Dalian in October and November, the data showed. Dalian typically receives between 1 million and 3 million barrels of Iranian oil each month, according to data that dates back to January 2015.


Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Updated 39 min 57 sec ago
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Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.