Oil slips on rising US rig count, China industrial slowdown

The US is now the world’s largest producer, and the economic slowdown are weighing on the oil price outlook. (AP)
Updated 28 January 2019

Oil slips on rising US rig count, China industrial slowdown

  • High US crude oil production has been weighing on oil markets
  • Beyond oil supply, a key question for this year will be demand growth

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell on Monday after US energy firms added rigs for the first time this year in a sign that crude production there may rise further, and as China, the world’s second-largest oil user, reported additional signs of an economic slowdown.
US crude oil futures were at $53.43 per barrel at 0253 GMT, down 26 cents, or 0.5 percent, from their last settlement.
International Brent crude oil futures were at $61.50 a barrel, down 14 cents, or 0.2 percent.
High US crude oil production, which rose to a record 11.9 million barrels per day (bpd) late last year, has been weighing on oil markets, traders said.
In a sign that output could rise further, US energy firms last week raised the number of rigs looking for new oil for the first time in 2019 to 862, an additional 10 rigs, Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its weekly report on Friday.
Beyond oil supply, a key question for this year will be demand growth.
Oil consumption has been increasing steadily, likely averaging above 100 million bpd for the first time ever in 2019, driven largely by a boom in China.
However, an economic slowdown amid a trade dispute between Washington and Beijing is weighing on fuel demand-growth expectations.
Earnings at China’s industrial firms shrank for a second straight month in December on falling prices and sluggish factory activity, piling more pressure on the world’s second-largest economy, which reported the slowest pace of growth last year since 1990.
China is trying to stem the slowdown with aggressive fiscal stimulus measures.
But there are concerns that these measures may not have the desired effect as China’s economy is already laden with massive debt and some of the bigger government spending measures may be of little real use.
The increased US supply, the country is now the world’s largest producer, and the economic slowdown are weighing on the oil price outlook.
“We expect US crude oil prices to range between $50-$60 per barrel in 2019 and about $10 more per barrel for Brent,” Tortoise Capital Advisers said in its 2019 oil market outlook.
However, Tortoise added that oil prices would be supported above $50 per barrel as it was “very clear that Saudi Arabia will no longer be willing to accept these lower oil prices.”
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries started supply cuts late last year to tighten markets and buoy prices.


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 30 min 10 sec ago

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.