On Oil and Energy into 2023

This post, the second in a series on the energy sector, was first published at Exante Data’s Money: Inside and Out.

In an earlier post we recalled the recovery of the energy sector in 2022. Here we look ahead to prospects for the oil market in 2023. In particular: 

  • Will we see more of the same, upside for energy stocks? 
  • Or will the energy sector subside again? Or mostly flatline? 

In previous times, we could offer some answers to these questions by focusing on market supply and demand for oil and gas products. Today, these market forces are made more complicated by factors that are not solely economic, but also political and geopolitical. 

Let us consider the key variables and some scenarios.

Key Factors to Watch in 2023

  1. Inventories

Inventories of crude oil and of some oil products now stand near historic lows in the US. This decline was exacerbated by the Biden administration’s sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) at a rate of about one million barrels per day. These sales have depleted the SPR from a total of over 600 million barrels in March to less than 400 million today, the lowest level since the early 1980s when the SPR was being filled. 

However, oil sales from the SPR are expected to stop this month and to eventually reverse when the SPR is replenished. The administration has vowed to rebuild the reserve by buying back when oil is near $70 per barrel. This new buying could create sustained demand for crude in 2023. Although the purchases will not be at the same rate as the drawdowns, the fact remains that one million barrels per week will soon be taken out of the supply and a portion of that will be added to the demand. 

Net, net inventory levels and the dynamic surrounding SPR replenishments must be considered directionally POSITIVE for the price of oil.

The market is not as tight for products downstream. There appears to be no real shortage in refined products on a global scale. US refining is holding steady and is producing more now than in the middle of 2022 because some refineries have returned from service turnarounds to normal operations. And China exports of refined products have risen in recent months after the government loosened export restrictions. Having said all that, there were sporadic tightenings in the market on a local basis such as we saw with gasoline and diesel in some US regions in the spring and summer. Further, as the Chinese economy reopens, the global products market could get tighter as the country redirects its production from exports back to domestic usage.

  1. Ukraine war and Russian shipments Continue Reading at Money: Inside and Out (paywall) >>>

Note: This post is not investment advice. Please do your own work and discuss with professional advisors before committing capital.

The Great Energy Recovery of 2022

This post, the first in a series on the energy sector, was first published at Exante Data’s Money: Inside and Out.

The energy sector outperformed in the past year, and not only because of Russia-Ukraine.

“By the fall of __, it was clear that a nation’s prosperity, even its very survival, depended on securing a safe, abundant supply of cheap oil.” 

When Albert Marrin penned this sentence in his book Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives, he was looking back nearly a century and referring to the fall of 1918. But we can agree now, looking at the wreckage suffered by the European economy and at severe disruptions elsewhere, that it applies just as well to the fall of 2022. The six months since the start of the Ukraine war have shown like no other recent period that the global economy in the 21st Century is still very much predicated, as it was in the 20th Century, on the story of oil (and natural gas), of nations searching for it, competing for it, trading it or withholding it.

This realization is not quite what we expected. 

On the contrary, rich economies had been for over a decade moving slowly but methodically to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. As a result of climate change concerns, investors were pouring money into renewables and curtailing fresh outlays to oil, gas and coal projects. Natural gas was previously seen as the cleaner source of energy but it was now deemed as only marginally better than oil. There was a spreading consensus in some quarters that fossil fuels were on their way out, sooner or later but preferably sooner.

University endowments and other large institutions were scrubbing their portfolios free of fossil fuel holdings and were doing so with fanfare and as proof (in their view) of good responsible citizenship and of adherence to ESG standards. Their timing was good because, starting in late 2014, a surge in shale oil production in the United States depressed the price of oil and with it the price of energy stocks. From late 2014 to early 2020, the mere avoidance or diminution of fossil fuel holdings allowed many endowments and funds to deliver significant outperformance vs. the major equity indices. Their returns were further boosted by their generous allocations to the technology sector where stocks rose smartly year after year.

Consider that from its peak in June 2014 to the end of 2019, the XLE energy ETF declined by 40% while, during the same period, the XLK technology ETF rose by 142% and the S&P 500 by 92%. It is easy to see how many “clean” or “green” funds outperformed the S&P 500 in 2014-19, in particular if they overweighted the technology sector.

But linear assumptions are often shredded by reality. So then the pandemic came.

The stock market and all sectors crashed. 

At the bottom of the panic, short-duration oil futures were briefly priced below zero as financial traders were desperate to get them off their books and to avoid taking physical delivery. Imagine in an extreme scenario a London fund manager being visited by an oil delivery truck at his Kensington townhouse. Luckily this did not come to pass. Continue Reading at Money: Inside and Out (paywall) >>>

Note: This post is not investment advice. Please do your own work and discuss with professional advisors before committing capital.

You Are What You Risk, With Michele Wucker, 19 April 2021

“For some people, risk is scary and dangerous, and means peril and loss. For others, it means risk assets and they have to pile on because they just see the upside. But risk is actually value-neutral. It is important to be aware of the bias that you bring to things. Do you see both sides and do you weigh them? Or are you likely to overweigh the downside or overweigh the upside?” ________ Michele Wucker

We all have an ambivalent attitude towards risk. In 1850, a young Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Abiah Root “the shore is safer, Abiah, but I love to buffet the sea. I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I love the danger!”

In her new book You Are What You Risk, author and strategist Michele Wucker codifies this ambivalence to risk. In this podcast with Sami, Michele explains the concepts of “risk fingerprint” and “personal risk portfolio”, among others.

Topics include:

  • 0:00 Introduction of Michele Wucker
  • 2:13 Thesis of ‘You Are What You Risk’
  • 5:20 Attitude towards risk: innate vs. acquired through experience
  • 10:40 Taking a risk vs. following a path; Risk and entrepreneurship
  • 14:10 About each person’s risk fingerprint
  • 19:45 Taking risk as the only woman in the room
  • 24:40 “Risk is value-neutral”
  • 33:00 Matching risk fingerprints in interactions; Measuring risk
  • 38:20 The personal risk portfolio
  • 42:25 Remembering the onset of the pandemic as a gray rhino

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

(photo of Michele Wucker by Hal Shipman)