Friday, July 22, 2016

Schlumberger Warns of Impending Severe Oil Supply Deficit

Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) announced earnings after the bell yesterday, beating EPS estimates by $0.02 and revenue by $70 million.  That's the good news.  Everything else about the release points to a serious energy crisis looming in the not-too-distant future. 

Demand in the oil industry continues to grow at a steady and aggressive pace.  As the economies in the US, Europe, and China recover, that demand will increase.  The supply side, however, has taken a horrendous hit over the past two years.  CEO Paal Kibsgaard summed it up, "We are heading towards a significant global supply deficit as the E&P [exploration and production] spend rate now is down by more than 50%."

There has been a significant cost efficiency problem within the industry for some time, and that inefficiency in cash flow has been exacerbated by the dramatic plunge in oil prices worldwide over the past seven quarters.  Rig operators have reacted to this price crisis with a massive reduction in oil field activity.  Active rigs are now down to 25% of their original level, and the appetite to start new wells has reached a critical low.  This has caused a ripple effect through the entire oil supply-chain industry, and it's about to reach critical mass.

Non-OPEC production is set to drop an additional 900,000 barrels per day.  Similar weakness is being forecast in the non-Gulf OPEC nations, and as short-term high production activities run their course, the expectation is for an accelerated decline in overall oil production worldwide.

Kibsgaard went on to say, "The market is also underestimating the potential reaction from the supplier industry, which has temporarily accepted financially unviable contracts to support the operators and to keep their options open as the downturn has deepened and extended into uncharted territory."

Cash flow from the rig operators is becoming strained, and they are delaying payments to creditors in an attempt to improve that flow.  This, too, has a ripple effect through the supply-chain industry.  What the entire environment demonstrates, though, is that as the service industry pricing inevitably improves - supply and demand will naturally force it - much of the capital that would normally be spent on exploration and production will instead be spent on debt reduction.  That will put added pressure on the oil supply deficit, extending the duration of the pending crisis.

What all this means is that there will be continued negative pressure on the various industries that support all aspects of the oil business.  Expect the metals industries to take a hit as both repairs to existing rigs and the development of new rigs are put on hold or canceled outright.  Expect shipping to take a hit as the flow of supplies, raw materials, and energy resources to and from suppliers and operators continues to decline.  Expect the chemicals industries to take a hit as there is less demand for the materials that are used in drilling and refining.

This is not good news for the consumer, either.  We currently still have an oil glut, which, coupled with an uncharacteristically strong US dollar,  is holding prices down for the moment.  As that glut transitions to a supply shortfall over the coming year, however, we can anticipate a rapid rise in oil prices world-wide.  That will dramatically impact the price at the pump, likely forcing gas prices to record highs around the world. 

It will take some time for all of this to play out, but it does appear that the piper that played the tune of ridiculously low oil prices is poised to deliver the bill.  Paying that bill will be painful at best. 

Happy Trading.

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