Tuesday, January 15, 2019

First U.S. crude cargoes head to China since trade breakthrough: sources

Vessel: Alboran


HOUSTON (Reuters) - Three cargoes of U.S. crude are heading to China from the U.S. Gulf Coast, trade sources said on Monday, the first departures since late September and a 90-day pause in the two countries’ trade war that began last month.

The vessels left Galveston, Texas, last month and are scheduled to arrive at Chinese ports between late January and early March, according to shipbrokers and vessel tracking data. The shipments mark a change since Chinese buyers largely began avoiding U.S. oil during the trade dispute that flared last summer. 

“It looks like China has resumed purchasing U.S. crude,” one U.S.-based shipbroking source said. The person, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the destination data could yet change. 

China is the world’s biggest crude importer and became a top buyer of U.S. crude after Washington lifted a 40-year ban on shipments in late 2015. It imported 325,000 barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. crude in the first nine months of 2018, customs data showed. 

Beijing has also resumed purchases of some U.S. soybeans for delivery this year. But China’s 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean cargoes remains in place. 

The supertanker Alboran carrying about 2 million barrels of oil recently rounded South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and is due to arrive in China late this month, said brokers, citing fixture data. 

The Almi Atlas and the Manifa, two other vessels carrying 2 million barrels of crude, are expected to reach China in late February or early March. The two ships are currently located off Brazil, according to Refinitiv Eikon vessel tracking data. 

Wall Street falls amid growth concerns
 
The cargoes mark the first shipments of U.S. crude to China since U.S. President Donald Trump in December said China would begin taking more American products. 

“It’s a follow through of statements by the Chinese government they would indeed begin purchasing commodities from the United States again,” said Reid I’Anson, an energy economist at data provider Kpler. 

As China reduced U.S. crude imports, more American oil flowed into neighboring Asian countries, including India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. U.S. exports climbed to 2.33 million bpd in October, up from 2.2 million bpd in June. 

Reporting by Collin Eaton; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman

Monday, January 14, 2019

Venezuela congress slams oil deals with U.S., French companies

FILE PHOTO: A view of a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello


CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Tuesday issued a resolution calling deals between state-run oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and U.S. and French companies announced this week illegal, since they had not been sent to lawmakers for approval.

The body said the oilfield deals with France’s Maurel & Prom (MAUP.PA) and little-known U.S. company Erepla violated article 150 of Venezuela’s constitution, which requires that contracts signed between the state and foreign companies be approved by the National Assembly, as Venezuela’s congress is known. 

“They are giving concessions that violate the law,” said lawmaker Jorge Millan, mentioning the two contracts. 

Congress, largely stripped of its power since the opposition took it over in 2016, is unlikely to be able block the deals from going forward. But the rejection could create legal complications under a future government. 

Maduro is set to be inaugurated for his second consecutive term on Thursday following a May vote considered a sham by the domestic opposition and many foreign governments. A regional bloc of Latin American countries last week called on Maduro, a protege of the late Hugo Chavez, not to take office. 

The deals are part of Maduro’s effort to reverse a sharp decline in the OPEC nation’s crude output that has crippled its economy. Erepla said it would invest up to $500 million in three fields, while Maurel & Prom said it would invest up to $400 million for a 40 percent stake in an oilfield joint venture. 

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Maurel & Prom did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours in France. 

Weak trading slams Citigroup's revenue
 
A spokesman for Erepla, registered in Delaware in November and part-owned by a prominent Florida Republican donor and shipping magnate, said Venezuela’s hydrocarbons law “allows PDVSA to contract with companies like Erepla to execute field services without any additional approvals required.” 

Referring to the Erepla deal during the congressional session earlier on Tuesday, Millan said that while PDVSA referred to the agreement as an oilfield service contract, “the company will be conducting oil exploration and production activities.” 

Maurel & Prom Chief Executive Michel Hochard said the company would act “in accordance with the instructions given” by Maduro and Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, according to a statement attributed to him in a PDVSA press release. 

Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Venezuela opposition leader Guaido addresses rally after brief detention

Juan Guaido, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly and lawmaker of the opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), gestures while he arrives to a gathering in La Guaira, Venezuela January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Mayela Armas

CARABALLEDA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido led a rally on Sunday after being briefly detained by intelligence agents, days after saying he would be willing to replace the increasingly isolated President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido's comments on Friday spurred some opposition sympathizers to conclude that he had declared himself interim president, and led several government officials to say he should be arrested for treason.

Intelligence agents on Sunday pulled him from his car on the way from the capital of Caracas to the coastal town of Caraballeda, his wife and opposition legislators said.

He was released shortly thereafter, they said.

"I want to send a message to Miraflores - the game has changed," said Guaido, the head of the opposition-run congress referring to the presidential palace, from a stage surrounded by cheering opposition sympathizers. 

"Here we are! We are not afraid!"

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez told state television that the detention was an "irregular procedure" by rogue agents who wanted to help the opposition create a "media show," adding that the agents would face disciplinary action.

Guaido called Rodriguez's comments a sign that the government had lost control of its own security forces.

Asked whether he should be considered interim president, Guaido responded: "That has been clarified several times." 

The U.S. State Department on Saturday had called on Venezuelan security forces to respect the "safety and welfare" of Guaido and other legislators, calling for an "orderly transition to a new government."

Maduro was sworn in to a second term on Thursday, defying critics in the United States and Latin America who called him an illegitimate usurper of a nation where economic chaos has wrought a humanitarian crisis.

The once-booming OPEC nation's economy has collapsed following the fall of oil prices in 2014. Inflation is close to 2 million percent and some 10 percent of the population has emigrated since 2015 in search of better living conditions.

Maduro says the country is victim of an "economic war" led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington. He insists the 2018 vote was legitimate and that the opposition boycotted it because it knew it would lose.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Friday, January 11, 2019

BP just discovered a billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico

BP Oil rig
Sean Gardner | Reuters
BP Oil rig

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/08/bp-just-discovered-a-billion-barrels-of-oil-in-gulf-of-mexico.html
  • BP discovers 1 billion barrels of oil at its Thunder Horse field in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The oil giant also says it will spend $1.3 billion to develop a third phase of its Atlantis offshore field south of New Orleans.
  • BP credits its investment in advanced seismic technology for speeding up its ability to confirm the discoveries.
BP's investment in next-generation technology just paid off to the tune of a billion barrels of oil.

The British energy company has discovered 1 billion barrels of crude at an existing oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico. BP also announced two new offshore oil discoveries and a major new investment in a nearby field.

BP is the Gulf of Mexico's biggest producer, and it's making strides to hold that title.

BP now expects its fossil fuel output from the region to reach 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by the middle of the next decade. Today, it produces about 300,000 boepd, up from less than 200,000 boepd about five years ago.

On Tuesday, the company said it will spend $1.3 billion to develop a third phase of its Atlantis field off the coast of New Orleans. Scheduled to start production in 2020, the eight new wells will add 38,000 bpd to BP's production at Atlantis. The decision comes after BP found another 400 million barrels of oil at the field.

BP made the massive 1 billion-barrel discovery at its Thunder Horse field off the tip of Louisiana.

Executives are crediting their investment in advanced seismic technology and data processing for speeding up the company's ability to confirm the discoveries at Atlantis and Thunder Horse. BP says it once would have taken a year to analyze the Thunder Horse data, but it now takes just weeks.

"We are building on our world-class position, upgrading the resources at our fields through technology, productivity and exploration success," Bernard Looney, BP's chief executive for production and exploration, said in a statement.

Just northeast of Thunder Horse, BP also announced new discoveries at fields near its Na Kika platform.

BP says it plans to develop reservoirs at its Manuel prospect, where Shell holds a 50 percent stake. Producers also found oil at the Nearly Headless Nick prospect near Na Kika, where BP has a 20.25 percent working interest.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Increasingly isolated Venezuelan president begins new term



Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro began a new term on Thursday with the economy in ruins and his regime more isolated than ever as regional leaders declared his re-election illegitimate and shunned his inauguration.

The 56-year-old socialist leader was sworn in by Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno as an audience of hundreds, including a handful of South American leftist leaders and Venezuela's military top brass, cheered and applauded.

"I swear on behalf of the people of Venezuela... I swear on my life," Maduro said solemnly as he took the oath of office for a second six-year term. 

After donning the presidential sash -- as well as a ceremonial gold chain bearing the key to the sarcophagus containing the remains of Venezuela's revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar -- an ebullient Maduro turned to salute the crowd with a V-sign. 

Maduro was re-elected last May in voting boycotted by the majority of the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the United States, European Union and Organization of American States.

Even as he was sworn in, the United States said it would not recognize him, and vowed to increase the pressure on his regime.

"The US will not recognize the Maduro dictatorship's illegitimate inauguration," national security advisor John Bolton tweeted.

In a special session in Washington, the Organization of American States similarly backed a resolution declaring Maduro's government illegitimate.

"Venezuela is the center of a world war with US imperialism and its satellite governments," the socialist leader retorted in a rambling speech which lasted around two hours. 

He also demanded "respect" from the EU, accusing the bloc of "old colonialism" and "old racism" after it said Thursday that Maduro "lacked any credibility".

- Regional detractors -

A smiling Maduro arrived at the court building serenaded by a choir singing patriotic songs. He blew kisses at a welcoming party of children waving Venezuelan flags, and saluted supporters looking down from the building's multi-tiered galleries.

With the exception of Mexico, the Lima Group -- made up of 14 mostly Latin American countries -- has urged Maduro to renounce his second term and deliver power to parliament.

Maduro used his speech to call for a summit of Latin American leaders to discuss "with an open agenda all the issues that need to be discussed, face to face!"

Neither the EU nor the Lima Group sent a representative to the inauguration, with Lima Group member Paraguay announcing immediately after the ceremony that it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Peru branded it a "dictatorship."

Leftist presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, El Salvador's Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were present for the inauguration, as were representatives of Russia, China and Turkey. Mexico sent a low-level diplomat. 

-Former bus driver-

A former bus driver and union leader, Maduro is the handpicked successor of the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez.

Maduro has gained control of virtually all of Venezuela's political institutions and enjoys the support of the military. 

But his first term saw an exodus of millions of people escaping economic meltdown. The UN has said more than five million will have fled by the end of this year.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that Venezuela's economy will shrink by five percent next year, with inflation -- which reached 1.35 million percent in 2018 -- hitting a staggering 10 million percent.

He says he feels stronger and more legitimate than ever, but many blame him for Venezuela's economic woes, which have left much of the population living in poverty with shortages of basic foods and medicines.

"This is going to lengthen the agony we have lived through in recent years, everything has seriously deteriorated, basic goods and services are becoming more and more unattainable," Mabel Castillo, 38, told AFP.

Thursday's ceremony took place in the Supreme Court rather than the sidelined, opposition-controlled parliament, which has refused to recognize Maduro.

Instead, in a statement Thursday the parliament called on the army, Maduro's bedrock, to formally disavow the president.

-Opposition jailed or exiled-

While the opposition has tried to dislodge Maduro, it remains fractured, having launched a failed bid in March 2016 for a recall referendum aimed at removing Maduro from office before the end of his term.

Many prominent opposition figures are either in jail or exile and various factions continue to squabble over power while the National Assembly, the one institution they control, has been left impotent after Maduro created the rival Constituent Assembly and filled the Supreme Court with loyalists who annul every decision made by parliament.

Maduro claims US and EU sanctions cost the country $20 billion in 2018. The opposition says the government's control of foreign exchange, in place since 2003, has generated $300 billion in illicit gains.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Goldman Sachs slashes 2019 oil price forecast amid oversupply concerns

A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018.  
 Nick Oxford | Reuters 
A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018.
  • The investment bank now expects international benchmark Brent crude to average $62.50 a barrel this year, down from a previous forecast of $70.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is expected to average $55.50 in 2019, down from a prior estimate of $64.50, the investment bank said in a research note published Sunday.
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/07/oil-prices-goldman-sachs-slashes-2019-forecast-amid-oversupply-fears.html

Goldman Sachs downgraded its oil price forecasts for 2019, citing a surge in global production and surprisingly resilient U.S. shale growth.

The investment bank now expects international benchmark Brent crude to average $62.50 a barrel this year, down from a previous forecast of $70.

Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is expected to average $55.50 in 2019, down from a prior estimate of $64.50, the investment bank said in a research note published Sunday.

"We expect that the oil market will balance at a lower marginal cost in 2019 given: higher inventory levels to start the year, the persistent beat in 2018 shale production growth amidst little observed cost inflation, weaker than previously expected demand growth expectations (even at our above consensus forecasts) and increased low-cost production capacity," analysts including Damien Courvalin and Jeffrey Currie said.

'Excessively pessimistic' growth outlook

On Monday, oil prices continued to move away from December's 18-month lows, with OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts providing some support.

Last month, OPEC agreed to take 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) off the market from the start of 2019. Pledges from 10 other producers aligned to the influential oil cartel, including Russia, brought total output cuts to 1.2 million bpd.

The aim of the energy alliance's production cut is to rein in global oversupply, fueled mostly by the U.S., where production reportedly grew by almost 20 percent to nearly 12 million bpd by the end of 2018. That would make the U.S. the world's biggest oil producer — ahead of OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC heavyweight Russia.

Brent crude traded at around $58.28 on Monday, up around 2 percent, while WTI stood at around $49.07, more than 2.3 percent higher. Oil has gained more than 10 percent since last Monday, notching five consecutive days of price gains in the process.

Meanwhile, financial markets also offered some support for crude futures at the start of the trading week, with investors monitoring a fresh round of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

An ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing has exacerbated concerns of an economic downturn over the coming months, which would likely hurt demand for oil.

"The oil market has priced in an excessively pessimistic growth outlook," analysts at Goldman Sachs said, before adding: "This sets the stage for prices to recover as long as global growth does not slowdown below 2.5 percent."