WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Crude oil prices deteriorated sharply

Because of copious US shale oil supplies, the West African crude oil market continues to struggle with the ripple effects of the Atlantic basin being awash in crude oil availability. (File/AP)
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Updated 26 January 2020

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Crude oil prices deteriorated sharply

Crude oil prices deteriorated sharply over the week, with Brent crude falling to $60.69 per barrel, the lowest in nearly two months. 

WTI dropped to $54.19 per barrel the lowest since October 2019. Pessimism seems to be back after fears that China’s coronavirus outbreak may dent crude oil demand. Still, China crude oil imports are increasing and the crude price encourages more buying to build up Chinese inventories.

Libyan supply interruptions are also affecting the market, where a similar type of light sweet oil to West African crude is made.

Traders have largely ignored Libyan supply issues because the market has become used to supply outages since 2011.

West African crude oil has usually stepped in to the fill the gap in European and the Mediterranean markets. At the same time the US shale oil revolution of the last six years has meant that less of this type of crude from West Africa has been sent to the US.

If the Libyan oil was a medium sour crude grade like the Arabian Gulf crude oil grades, the market situation would be different as this type of oil cannot be easily replaced.

Because of copious US shale oil supplies, the West African crude oil market continues to struggle with the ripple effects of the Atlantic basin being awash in crude oil availability. 

Over the longer term, prospects look bleak for European refinvers and Nigerian crude sales by implication. 

Big new refineries in Asia are posing stronger competition to Europe’s products market, as are US oil product exports which have been made cheaper and more plentiful by the growth of shale oil. Noticeably, shale oil has already displaced West African barrels from the US market. 

Today, the marginal barrel of crude oil has become extremely light, starving sophisticated refiners of heavy crude oil and thereby narrowing light/heavy differentials. 

This has meant heavier crude grades have been outperforming lighter sweet crude grades in recent years, so the loss of Libyan crude did not have a major impact.


Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

Updated 30 March 2020

Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

  • Risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations

LONDON: Sovereign wealth funds from oil-producing countries mainly in the Middle East and Africa are on course to dump up to $225 billion in equities, a senior banker estimates, as plummeting oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic hit state finances.

The rapid spread of the virus has ravaged the global economy, sending markets into a tailspin and costing both oil and non-oil based sovereign wealth funds around $1 trillion in equity losses, according to JPMorgan strategist Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou.

His estimates are based on data from sovereign wealth funds and figures from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a research group.

Sticking with equity investments and risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations. Their governments are facing a financial double-whammy — falling revenues due to the spiraling oil price and rocketing spending as administrations rush out emergency budgets.

Around $100-$150 billion in stocks have likely been offloaded by oil-producer sovereign wealth funds, excluding Norway’s fund, in recent weeks, Panigirtzoglou said, and a further $50-$75 billion will likely be sold in the coming months.

“It makes sense for sovereign funds to frontload their selling, as you don’t want to be selling your assets at a later stage when it is more likely to have distressed valuations,” he said.

Most oil-based funds are required to keep substantial cash-buffers in place in case a collapse in oil prices triggers a request from the government for funding.

A source at an oil-based sovereign fund said it had been gradually raising its liquidity position since oil prices began drifting lower from their most recent peak above $70 a barrel in October 2018.

In addition to the cash reserves, additional liquidity was typically drawn firstly from short-term money market instruments like treasury bills and then from passively invested equity as a last resort, the source said.

It’s generally a similar trend for other funds.

“Our investor flows broadly show more resilience than market pricing would suggest,” said Elliot Hentov, head of policy research at State Street Global Advisers. “There has been a shift toward cash since the crisis started, but it’s not a panic move but rather gradual.”

The sovereign fund source said the fund had made adjustments to its actively managed equity investments due to the market rout, both to stem losses and position for the recovery, when it comes.

Exactly how much sovereign wealth funds invest and with whom remain undisclosed. Many don’t even report the value of the assets they manage.

On Thursday, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said it had lost $124 billion so far this year as equity markets sunk but its outgoing CEO Yngve Slyngstad said it would, at some point, start buying stocks to get its portfolio back to its target equity allocation of 70 percent from 65 percent currently.

Slyngstad also said that any fiscal spending by the government this year would be financed by selling bonds in its portfolio.