Second quarter shaping up to be best for oil firms
July 22, 2016 | 6:35 PM
by Bloomberg News
The combined market value of the world’s oil companies shrank by $2 trillion in the past two years following crude’s collapse. Photo - File

London: For oil companies, the second quarter might be as good as it gets.

Shares gained more than in any other industry, thanks to crude rising from a 12-year low. Profits were the best in at least three quarters for majors including Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP, helped by cost cuts, analysts say. The rest of the year might not be as rosy as supply holds near record levels.

The combined market value of the world’s oil companies shrank by $2 trillion in the past two years following crude’s collapse. While analysts agree the worst of the oversupply is over, BNP Paribas and JBC Energy are among those forecasting a slide back to $40 a barrel as output rebounds in Canada, Iran, Nigeria and the United States, hurting producers whose investment cuts have put future growth in doubt.

"The oil market has still to absorb higher supply from the return of disrupted production,” Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS Group in Zurich, has said. "Oil prices could fall to $40 again.”

West Texas Intermediate crude averaged $45.64 a barrel last quarter and Brent $47.03, recovering from less than $28 for both grades earlier in the year. The 89-member MSCI World Energy Index, led by Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell, rose 9.7 per cent in the three-month period. It beat the 5.2 per cent advance of the next strongest sector, health care, and the 0.3 per cent gain of the MSCI World Index.

The last time the energy index surpassed every other sector was in the second quarter of 2014, just when oil’s slump was starting. Six months later, the index turned out to be the worst performer of the year. Brent is down 7 per cent this month and WTI 7.8 per cent.

"The road ahead is far from smooth,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) cautioned July 13 as it said bloated stockpiles will continue to damp oil prices. Inventories of crude and refined products in the US, the biggest oil consumer, swelled to a record 1.385 billion barrels last week, data from the Energy Information Administration show.

BP will be the first of the five biggest non-state oil majors to announce second-quarter earnings on July 26. Analysts surveyed estimate the company will post adjusted net income of $822 million, 37 per cent lower than a year earlier but the highest in three quarters. Its results are likely to indicate how the others will perform.

Shell is expected to report adjusted profit of $2.24 billion on July 28, according to the average of nine estimates. That would be the highest since the second quarter of 2015. Total will also publish results July 28, and Exxon and Chevron the following day.

Part of the reason for the quarter-on-quarter gains is improved refining margins. While oil’s lows led to losses at BP’s exploration and production business in the past two quarters, they’ve driven up earnings for its refineries, which benefit from cheaper crude. Global refining margins averaged $13.80 a barrel in the quarter through June compared with $10.50 in the preceding three months, according to the company’s website.

Those margins are now starting to contract, averaging $11.40 so far this month. Refiners that ran their plants at full capacity earlier this year made more gasoline than needed. There’s now such a glut that at least five tankers hauling the fuel to New York were turned away in the past month, according to ship-tracking data.

"The more you build product inventories that are not absorbed by demand, the greater the pressure will be on refining margins and thus crude-oil demand,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodities research at BNP Paribas in London. "Fundamental downward pressure on oil is not yet lifted.”

Chevron probably will post quarterly net income of $514.2 million, based on the average estimate from 12 analysts. While that’s 9.9 percent lower than a year earlier, it compares to losses in the prior two quarters.

Exxon’s profit probably declined 38 per cent from a year earlier to $2.6 billion, 12 analyst estimates show. Earnings may have gained 44 per cent from the previous quarter but were down 6.5 per cent from two periods ago.

Major oil companies still enjoy the benefit of growing demand for their crude. World oil consumption will rise to 100.5 million barrels a day in 2020, up 6.5 per cent from last year, the IEA said in February. Yet belt-tightening across the industry in the past two years — including project cancellations and thousands of job cuts — may limit their ability to exploit this expanding market.

Oil and gas companies will slash $1 trillion from planned spending on exploration and development from 2015 to 2020, slowing growth in production, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Swings in the oil price mean it’s still difficult for energy companies to plan for the future, according to Shell chief executive officer Ben Van Beurden, who predicts volatility will persist for the next few years.

"If we get to a point where we do not see a better recovery of the oil prices, therefore a better balance in our finances, we will be very much minded to defer projects,” he said earlier this month in London.

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