FinnCap’s Dougie Youngson tells Hot Commodity why he is sceptical about recent talk of cuts to oil production…
Oil prices ticked up again at the beginning of this week as investors continued to hope that that the current glut of oil production could finally start to fall. Last week Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Qatar announced they were proposing to freeze production at January’s level. But any deal is dependent on the participation of Iraq and Iran. Both are said to be supportive of the “big freeze”, but have yet to commit to the group. Oil-field-services firm Baker Hughes also said last Friday that the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. fell by 26 last week to 413, down 68% from a peak in October 2014. But in both cases we are looking at freezes on current production levels, not cuts, and these countries will continue to produce above quota.
There is actually a practical reason for not making cuts. Once you shut in a well it can be difficult to bring it back online at the previous levels of performance. Shut in wells rarely return to former production rates, and this is a serious concern given the cuts that are required in order bring production in line with demand. This issue is particularly pronounced in Russia, which can be victim to a more common kind of freeze. Its shut in wells tend to get quickly filled up with water, and come winter this water freezes, which has a devastating effect on both the reservoir and infrastructure.
It’s not just the threat of gammy wells that mean producers are unlikely to shut down production. After all, what incentive does Saudi Arabia really have to reduce production? Why should they help out the rest of the industry? If they can still make a profit at the current oil price then they have little incentive to change. Oil is a finite resource and their oil supplies won’t last forever. So it makes more sense for them to keep production high, so that they can maintain their market share and enhance margins when the oil price does eventually recover.
Ultimately, any resolution on production levels will simply act as a sticking plaster. Key countries may well say they will rein in their overproduction, which is no bad thing. Demand is also forecast to increase by one to two million barrels per day, and this increase could help mop up the overproduction by the end of the year. However, what people say they will do and what will actually happen are two very separate things. The only certainty is that producers will act in their own interests, whatever they may be.
This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by FinnCap.