TOM NELSON and CHARLES WHALL, portfolio managers at Investec Asset Management, explain why they believe the oil price is unlikely to stay this low for an extended period of time.
The sell-off has been driven by Opec’s surprise actions and not, as popularly believed, a ‘supply glut’.
We believe the oil price is unlikely to stay below the industry’s cash operating cost for too long.
We expect the recovery in the oil price will likely surprise investors in its speed and scale.
ANIMAL SPIRITS OF TRADERS AND CHANGING SAUDI BEHAVIOUR Oil prices have fallen steadily since the Opec meeting on 27 November 2014. The realisation that Saudi Arabia would not moderate production to support oil prices has let loose the animal spirits of traders who continue to sell oil aggressively. Brent crude oil is hovering at $50 per barrel (bl), WTI is in the high $40s, and energy equities continue to underperform. As a reminder, the average price of Brent oil in 2014 was $99/bl. We must not lose sight of the fact that the collapse has been in near-term prices as evident through the longer-term futures price which is currently trading at $78 today.
The Opec meeting was a significant negative surprise to us and to the rest of the market. The change in Saudi behaviour cannot be overstated, and far outweighs the demand weakness which we expect to be transitory. Saudi Arabia has decided to defend market share at the expense of price for the first time since the 1980s, which will cause oil prices to fall excessively – beyond a level which rational supply/demand economics would dictate.
Without a market moderator to smooth the supply/demand balance – a role Saudi Arabia had played skilfully for a number of years – the traders can sell oil with impunity, at least for now. Opec’s decision has changed the way oil markets will function in the short term. This new era of volatility will cause a material slowdown in spending and investment which will balance the market – and this will lead in time to an oil price overshoot to the upside. Neither scenario is helpful for major oil producers: the net effect will be less investment, at a time when the sector is already struggling to combat steeper production declines and a startling lack of exploration success.
However, reflecting on the Opec meeting, we are at least now clearer on Saudi intentions, namely to slow down supply from key non-Opec producers: US shale oil and Russia. To recap, Opec had expected nonOpec supply to increase by 1.4 million bl/day in 2015. We think this scenario is optimistic.
HOW LOW CAN OIL GO? The rational, if unanswerable, question at the moment is ‘how low can oil prices go?’. We base our oil price analysis around the four pillars of supply, demand, marginal cost and Opec – but recognise that short-term trading momentum, driven by financial speculation, is still to the downside.
Opec: The next meeting is scheduled for 5 June 2015, but we should not discount the possibility of an emergency meeting being convened before that date. Brent was trading at $78/bl when they met in late November. In our view, Saudi Arabia is waiting for clear evidence of a slowdown in US shale oil production, which could come towards the end of the first quarter.
Marginal cost: At $50/bl Brent oil we are already well below the marginal supply cost, defined as the cost of pumping the last and most expensive barrel required to satisfy demand, for the industry. Spending is being reduced, projects are being delayed, and investment in the sector is falling. We estimate the marginal cost for US shale to be around $75/bl.
Demand: 2014 was a weak demand year, but still a year of demand growth. We believe that 2015 demand will be stronger, stimulated by lower oil prices (the traditional cure for low oil prices). To reiterate, the oil price collapse has not been caused by a collapse in demand, which was only 0.5% less than estimated. Chinese strategic buying of oil – for which there is ample storage capacity – could surprise the market in 2015.
Supply: 2015 is the most difficult year to model since 2008 due to the sharp slowdown in spending. Regarding US shale oil: we calculate that spending by US shale oil producers will fall by 30%. Most importantly, we estimate that US shale oil production growth – which has been 1 million bl/day for each of the last three years – will fall to less than 0.5 million bl/day. The challenge is pinpointing the delay between reduced drilling and reduced production. Such is the efficiency of drilling and tying-in wells, this lower spending will be evident with a drop in production growth coming towards the end of the first quarter in our view.
Outside US shale oil, 2015 is expected to be a lean year for new conventional field start-ups, as we have written before. The changing tax regime in Russia has incentivised Russian producers to boost production in December and January, but the effect of sanctions and underinvestment could pull Russian production materially lower in 2015.
OUR OIL PRICE FORECASTS FOR 2015 With all of this in mind we forecast that Brent oil will average $60/$70/$80/$85/bl in the four quarters of 2015, to give a full-year average of $70-75/bl, representing 40-50% upside in the commodity price from today’s level. We model no premium for geopolitical risk but note that Saudi Arabian succession, Venezuelan debt default and Nigerian elections stand out as supply-side risks.
CONCLUSION Overall, we are positioning the portfolio for a recovery in the oil price in 2015, as described above. We believe the sell-off has been driven by Opec’s surprise actions and we expect the equities to recover in anticipation of a move higher in the commodity price. The recovery is likely to surprise investors in its speed and scale, just as the sell-off has, and we fundamentally believe that we are approaching the bottom in terms of sentiment, investor positioning and valuation. We believe the oil price is unlikely to stay below the industry’s cash operating cost for an extended length of time.
Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status. The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.
This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago. In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.
However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced. Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.
The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.
On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.
The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.
Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.
Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).
“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.
Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.
This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.
For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.
Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers. “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.
‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’
According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.
Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.
“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.