Crisis-wracked Venezuela’s relentless fall in oil production sunk to a new low in May, according to OPEC figures, a milestone in a decade of decline for the once-proud petroleum powerhouse.
Venezuela — heavily dependant on income from oil exports — produced just 570,000 barrels of oil a day, a drop of 54,000 bpd compared to one month earlier in April, according to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries figures out Wednesday.
The OPEC number was also 162,000 bpd lower than official Venezuelan statistics.
Venezuela’s oil production peaked in 1970 at 3.7 million bpd, and even 12 years ago state oil company PDVSA — once among the world’s top five oil enterprises — was producing 3.2 million bpd.
Not counting a December 2002-March 2003 oil workers strike, the current output is the lowest since 1943, when Venezuela had a population of barely four million, compared to 30 million today.
Experts blame the production drop on government mismanagement, corruption, and failure over many years to invest in infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.
These problems have been amplified by US sanctions aimed at starving President Nicolas Maduro’s regime of a major source of funds in a bid to force him from power.
Between 2004 and 2015, Venezuelan oil exports raked in $750 billion, and the country had more than $42 billion in international reserves — now down to just $6.4 billion, according to the Central Bank.
Venezuela’s economy has been devastated by six years of recession, and it is experiencing the world’s highest inflation rate — all before the COVID-19 pandemic even struck.
On April 24, Venezuelan crude prices plunged to $9.90 a barrel — its lowest in two decades, although it rebounded to $13.45 by May 1. The oil ministry has not published any figures since.
According to oil information firm S&P Global Platts, Venezuela was forced to scale back production in recent weeks due to storage limitations and a lack of light oil to process its heavy crude.
Yet even if Venezuela were pumping at capacity, oil prices are at their lowest in years due to a huge drop in global demand, a result of worldwide economic crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
– ‘Trump’s knee on our neck’ –
Up to 2018, Venezuela was sending 500,000 bpd to the United States alone, and received in return 120,000 bpd of light oil, diluents and fuel-producing supplies.
Sanctions, however, have forced Venezuela, which used to refine enough oil for its own needs, to turn to allies such as US nemesis Iran to alleviate a desperate gasoline shortage.
All this is “sharpening Venezuela’s cycle of recession,” said economist Jose Manuel Puente, from the Public Policy Center at the Institute of Higher Education Administration (IESA).
Venezuela is heading for a seventh straight year of recession, during which time its economic growth has halved.
Making matters worse, Venezuela is selling the little oil it exports “at a loss” due to the global price drop and the dealings it must operate to work around US sanctions, said Puente.
The country “is on the brink of collapse,” he said.
Central Bank advisor Carlos Mendoza Potella is critical of the government’s policies, but says US sanctions played a major role in the oil industry’s demise.
“They’re strangling us, we’ve got (President Donald) Trump’s knee on our neck,” said Mendoza Potella.
Even without sanctions, though, he doesn’t see a future with oil as a “driver of development” due to the high costs in extracting Venezuelan crude.
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven crude reserves, but “that serves no purpose” if you can’t extract and sell it at a profit.
Puente believes the sector cannot recover without private investment.
“Alone we can’t do it. We don’t have the technology, or the financial and human resources,” he said.
The latest drop in production coincides with a flare-up of tensions between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself acting president 18 months ago, earning recognition from more than 50 countries.
Although the two agreed to cooperate to help fight the novel coronavirus, they have since clashed over upcoming legislative elections, which the opposition plans to boycott.
Puente says there is no chance of an economic bailout without a political transition plan that would likely require Maduro to cede power.
“We have no alternative, either we do it or we’ll continue un the cycle of disaster,” he said.
UAE Energy Minister Suheil al-Mazrouei said on Monday current low oil and gas prices are unsustainable and warned that if they last longer, it could lead to energy shocks.
Mazrouei said that “very good signs” of rising demand for oil have been seen in China and India, two of the world’s biggest crude consumers, and to some degree in Europe.
“This environment of low oil and gas prices, I don’t think it’s sustainable,” the minister said in a virtual interview hosted by the US-UAE Business Council.
Mazrouei said that if low oil prices persist for a long period, some of the current high-cost producers will drop out leaving a supply gap, pushing prices higher.
“We need someone to fill in that gap, otherwise we are going to have shocks in… prices and the last thing we want is to have shocks,” he said.
“We need to have stability and to have a reasonable and fair price.”
Brent crude crashed to multi-year lows under $20 a barrel and WTI (for May delivery) sank into negative territory in April for the first time in history as demand slumped due to coronavirus lockdowns and a global supply glut.
The two benchmarks have recovered to around $40 a barrel after the OPEC+ producers alliance agreed to record production cuts of 9.7 million barrels per day in April, effective for two months starting May.
Earlier this month, the alliance extended the historic cuts through July as governments around the world ease unprecedented lockdowns in many countries.
Mazrouei said that although oil consumption has dropped to 2013 levels “we think things will go back to normal within one or two years.”
“Unless we have a second wave of Covid-19, I think we will see a demand recovery at a pace that is adequate to the cut we have done as… OPEC+, provided other producers do not rush and over-produce,” Mazrouei said.
US crude prices bounced Tuesday but were unable to keep in positive territory, a day after crashing below $0 for the first time owing to crippled demand and a storage glut, while the commodity rout sent equities sharply lower.
Investors have also been spooked by US reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had undergone cardiovascular surgery earlier this month and was in “grave danger”.
West Texas Intermediate for May delivery rose to $1.10 a barrel in early trade after diving to an unprecedented low of -$37.63 in New York as the pandemic brings the global economy, transport and factory activity to a halt. However, it later eased back -$4.52.
The sell-off in May futures came because the contract expires later Tuesday, meaning traders needed to find buyers to take physical possession of the oil — a job made near-impossible as storage becomes scarce.
However, focus is now on the June contract, which had trading volumes more than 30 times higher. That rose towards $21 a barrel, from $20.43 on Monday.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, was changing hands at $22.97 for June delivery, down about 10 percent from Monday.
The collapse in WTI “was driven by a precipitous drop in demand caused by the market expectation that the US lockdown could continue into May”, said Tai Hui at JP Morgan Asset Management.
“This isn’t surprising, given flights are grounded and people are driving much less for work and leisure. If the economic reopening takes longer than expected, we could see pressure further out in the futures curve.”
He added that firms were still churning out oil because stopping output “is not feasible for some producers since it could permanently damage their oil fields. Hence, giving their oil away for one month could still make sense in the long run.”
Oil markets have been ravaged this year after the pandemic was compounded by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While the two have drawn a line under the dispute and agreed with other top producers to slash output by almost 10 million barrels a day, that is not enough to offset the lack of demand.
Equity markets were deep in the red, having enjoyed a healthy couple of weeks thanks to massive stimulus measures and signs of an easing in the rate of new infections globally.
Tokyo ended two percent lower, while Hong Kong shed 2.2 percent and Sydney dropped 2.5 percent with Mumbai more than three percent lower.
Shanghai sank 0.9 percent while Seoul was down a similar amount and Taipei retreated 2.8 percent.
Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok lost more than one percent, and there were also big losses in Wellington and Manila.
In early trade, London, Paris and Frankfurt tumbled.
– ‘Grave danger’ –
The losses came despite signs that the virus, which has infected almost 2.5 million people and killed 170,000, is easing as global lockdowns begin to take effect, allowing some countries to slowly return to normality.
Analysts warned the drop in stocks could be an indication that the recent surge may have been too much too quick and another sell-off is possible.
Adding to pressure on markets were the reports about Kim Jong Un.
CNN cited a US official saying Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that the leader was in “grave danger after a surgery”. The report did not specify what the intelligence was.
“If the North Korean news proves to be correct, the region is set for a period of uncertainty,” said OANDA’s Jeffrey Halley.
“Kim Jong-un was its leader for life, and he had weeded out a goodly number of potential rivals already. That leaves a nuclear-armed North Korea with giant armed forces facing a potentially messy succession process. China will also want to have its input into the process, forcefully if necessary.”
The flight to safety was reflected in currency markets, where the dollar soared against high-yielding, riskier units.
The Australian and New Zealand dollars and the South Korean won were all down almost one percent, while the Russian ruble sank more than two percent.
– Key figures around 0810 GMT –
West Texas Intermediate: UP at -$4.52 from -$37.63 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN at $22.97 from $25.57 per barrel
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.0 percent at 19,280.78 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 2.2 percent at 23,793.55 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.9 percent at 2,827.01 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 1.8 percent at 5,710.69
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0835 from $1.0863 at 2045 GMT
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 107.38 yen from 107.67 yen
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2408 from $1.2435
Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.31 pence from 87.34 pence
New York – Dow: DOWN 2.4 percent at 23,650.44 (close).
Top oil producers started a crucial meeting on Thursday to discuss a possible cut in output after a collapse in demand due to the coronavirus and a Saudi-Russian price war caused the market to crash.
The video conference meeting began shortly after 1440 GMT between OPEC, its OPEC+ allies including Russia and other key non-members.
Oil prices rose sharply as the meeting opened, extending earlier big gains, but then fell back again later to post more modest gains as nervous traders took profits in volatile business.
The meeting is seen as the best chance of providing support to prices which have been wallowing near two-decade lows.
Experts warn that without concerted action the commodity risks a steep sell-off.
Last week US President Donald Trump claimed Russia and Saudi Arabia would step back from their stand-off and agree to slash output.
Then OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia called for an urgent meeting of producers “to try to reach a fair deal” to “stabilise the oil market” following a phone call between its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump.
Thursday’s meeting intends to conclude an agreement to cut production by between 10 and 15 million barrels per day, Kuwait’s Oil Minister Khaled al-Fadhel said in an interview with the Kuwaiti Al-Rai daily published Thursday.
Late Wednesday a spokesman for the Russian energy ministry told the TASS agency that Moscow was “prepared to cut 1.6 million barrels a day”, which would be the equivalent of 14 percent of Russia’s production in the first quarter of 2020.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov in a press briefing on Thursday declined to give details, only saying Russia was in favour of “coordinated action to stabilise the global oil market”.
– Global standstill –
“The extraordinary producing-countries meeting is the only hope on the horizon for the market that could prevent a total price collapse,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets at Rystad Energy.
Saudi Arabia will on Friday host a separate virtual gathering of energy ministers from the G20 group of major economies in a similar bid to ensure “market stability”.
Oil prices have slumped since the beginning of the year as the COVID-19 pandemic sends large parts of the planet into lockdown and brings the global economy to a virtual standstill.
Compounding the problem, Riyadh and Moscow have both ramped up output in a bid to hold on to market share and undercut US shale producers.
– Search for consensus –
“Saudi Arabia and Russia have been extremely clear that they will cut production if — and only if — other major oil producers join in as well,” said SEB oil analyst, Bjarne Schieldrop.
However, there are worries about the participation of US producers.
The US is battling to breathe new life into its shale industry, which has transformed the nation into the world’s top producer, but which cannot sustain its high cost base as prices collapse.
Yet its oil sector appears reluctant to trim production, having extracted a near-record 13 million barrels per day in the final week of March. This fell to 12.4 million bpd last week.
At the same time, the global supply glut — already weighing on oil markets before the new coronavirus crisis — has stretched oil storage capacity to its limits, forcing many producers to scale back output.
Trump on Wednesday told reporters that he wanted to save jobs.
“Obviously for many years I used to think OPEC was very unfair… I hated OPEC… But somewhere along the line that broke down and went the opposite way,” he said.
Ten oil-producing nations from outside the wider OPEC+ alliance, including the United States, have been asked to take part in Thursday’s meeting, Russian news agency TASS reported.
Canada, Britain, Norway, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, and Trinidad and Tobago have also been invited.
Norway’s oil ministry confirmed in a statement Thursday that it was taking part in the meeting as an “observer”.
The International Energy Agency warned Monday that the world is set for its first annual decline in oil consumption in more than a decade because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak has shut down large swathes of the global economy, including key sectors such as air travel, manufacturing and retail.
The global oil glut could reach 25 million bpd in April, according to Rystad Energy.
An explosion at a US oil refinery on Tuesday resulted in a huge fireball, social media clips showed, with plant owners Exxon Mobil saying no one was hurt.
Flames could be seen shooting up from the Louisiana chemical centre, according to Facebook videos posted by David Allen.
The fire at the Baton Rouge facility had been contained and volunteer Exxon Mobil fire team members were attending, the company posted on Twitter Wednesday.
“There are no injuries, with all personnel accounted for. The fire was contained to the area where it occurred,” an Exxon spokesman later told AFP in a statement.
The perimeter and surrounding areas of North Baton Rouge will be actively monitored, the spokesman added, though “at this point, all readings are non-detect”.
The company’s integrated facilities in the southern American state produce a range of oil-based products — such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel — as well as everyday items like paint and plastic milk jugs.
Global stocks and oil dropped on Monday as panicked investors fled risky assets for safer bets gold, bonds, the dollar and the yen after China warned that a deadly new coronavirus was spreading fast.
Luxury goods makers and airlines suffered particularly on equity markets, as Chinese tourist spending is a key factor for them. Shares of energy and technology companies were also weak.
China extended its traditional Lunar New Year holidays to buy time in the fight against the epidemic but fears of a repeat of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which also began in China, spooked investors.
Recent record highs on stock markets gave them plenty of room for a reverse.
Key European stock markets dropped more than two per cent, while losses on Wall Street were only slightly less severe.
Oil prices also retreated on concerns over demand from China, the world’s top energy consumer.
“The bottom line is that the virus has become deadly and it has caused a major panic in markets,” said Ava Trade analyst Naeem Aslam.
Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Holdings, said rising investor unease has reflected an increased number of cases and as the virus has spread to more regions.
“The escalation of the news causes more uncertainty,” especially for travel-oriented companies, Hogan said.
“I think it’s very logical, especially given that the sectors that would be affected by any slowdown are getting hit the hardest.”
Analysts said there were growing fears the crisis could become as bad as the SARS outbreak that hammered markets and the global economy 17 years ago.
The new outbreak has led China to lock down Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease and home to 11 million people while imposing tight travel restrictions on a number of other cities including Beijing.
The move comes during the Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of people criss-cross the country and spend huge amounts of money.
Flight to safety
Most Asian markets were closed for the Lunar New Year break but Tokyo was open and fell two per cent. Bangkok plunged nearly three per cent on worries over the Thai travel sector.
The flight to safety saw the yen rally against the dollar, with the Japanese unit now up more than one per cent from eight-month lows reached earlier this year.
The dollar, however, rose against the euro and pound.
Gold, another go-to asset in times of turmoil and uncertainty, seemed headed back towards $1,600 per ounce and the six-year peaks touched at the start of January.
While the main focus is on the spread of the virus, traders will also be keeping an eye on the release of earnings this week from top companies including Apple, Facebook and Samsung.
Key figures around 2140 GMT
New York – DOW: DOWN 1.6 percent at 28,535.80 (close)
New York – S&P 500: DOWN 1.6 percent at 3,243.63 (close)
New York – Nasdaq: DOWN 1.9 percent at 9,139.31 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 2.3 percent at 7,412.05 (close)
Frankfurt – DAX 30: DOWN 2.7 percent at 13,204.77 (close)
Paris – CAC 40: DOWN 2.7 percent at 5,863.02 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 2.7 percent at 3,677.84 (close)
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 2.0 percent at 23,343.51 (close)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: Closed for a public holiday
Shanghai – Composite: Closed for a public holiday
Brent Crude: DOWN 2.3 percent at $59.32 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.9 percent at $53.14 per barrel
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.88 yen from 109.28 yen Friday
Oil prices soared more than four percent Friday following news that the US had killed a top Iranian general, fanning fresh fears of a conflict in the crude-rich region, with Tehran warning of retaliation.
The head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, was hit in an attack on Baghdad’s international airport early Friday, according to Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful Iraqi paramilitary force linked to Tehran.
Later, Donald Trump tweeted a picture of the American flag, and the Pentagon said he had ordered Soleimani’s killing.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of “severe revenge” for “the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood”, while the country’s foreign minister called the move a “dangerous escalation”.
Brent surged 4.4 percent to $69.16 and WTI jumped 4.3 percent to $63.84 as investors grow increasingly worried about the effects of a possible flare-up in the tinderbox Middle East on supplies of the commodity. Both oil contracts later pared the gains but remained well up.
“This is more than just bloodying Iran’s nose,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes. “This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war.”
The killing of Soleimani is a dramatic escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran and comes after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy in Iraq following deadly American air strikes on the hardline Hashed faction.
The attack on the embassy highlighted new strains in the US-Iraqi relationship, which officials from both countries have described to AFP as the “coldest” in years.
Oil prices saw a record surge in September after attacks on two Saudi Arabian facilities briefly slashed output in the world’s top exporter by half, with Trump blaming Iran for the attack and previous other blasts on tankers in the Gulf last year.
‘A less safe world’
The crisis also comes as tensions between the US and North Korea worsen, with Kim Jong Un declaring a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests had ended, with US talks going nowhere.
“We are waking up to a less safe world than it was only hours ago, especially if we combine this with simmering tension in the Korean peninsula,” Innes added.
The drama sent investors rushing for the hills and safe-haven units rallied with the yen up 0.6 percent against the dollar and gold climbing 1.4 percent towards $1,600 and a near seven-year high.
High-risk currencies retreated against the greenback, with South Korea’s won down 0.8 percent, Australia’s dollar off 0.6 percent and the South African rand down 1.7 percent.
Equities were mixed, having been rallying for the second day of the year on China-US trade optimism.
Hong Kong fell 0.3 percent, Shanghai ended down 0.1 percent and Singapore retreated 0.7 percent, while Mumbai eased 0.5 percent.
But there were gains in Sydney, Seoul, Wellington, Manila and Taipei.
Regional energy firms were the big winners, with Santos surging more than two percent in Sydney and while Hong Kong-listed PetroChina climbed 2.8 percent.
Markets had all been well up before news of the strike, thanks to ongoing optimism fuelled by the China-US trade agreement, looser central bank monetary policies and easing Brexit worries.
“Investors are worried that the situation in Iran will worsen, since there could be some retaliation,” said Steven Leung at Mizuho Bank. “People will want to cut risk ahead of the weekend. Stocks have rallied a lot in the past month or so, so any bad news flow is a reason to take profit.”
In early European trade London fell 0.5 percent, Paris lost 0.6 percent and Frankfurt retreated 0.8 percent.
Key figures around 0820 GMT
West Texas Intermediate: UP $1.85 at $63.03 per barrel
Brent Crude: UP $2.19 at $68.44 per barrel
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 28,451.50 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,083.79 (close)
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,565.45
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3120 from $1.3139 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: UP at 85.14 pence from 85.02 pence
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1170 from $1.1172
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.12 from 108.54 yen
New York – Dow: UP 1.2 percent at 28,868.80 (close)
Nigeria and Russia Thursday in Sochi, Russia, signed an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which will enable both countries’ oil giants, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia’s Lukeoil to elevate commercial relationship to a government-to-government backed partnership.
With the signing of the MoU, NNPC and Lukeoil will work together in upstream operations and revamp Nigeria’s refineries.
Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari and Vagit Alekperov, President of leading Russian oil company, Lukeoil, signed the MoU, which entails cooperation in deep offshore exploration of oil in Nigeria, production, trading and refining.
The signing ceremony, which took place on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit, was witnessed by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva.
Earlier in his remarks at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Lenin, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria was prepared and willing to work with Russian businesses “to improve the efficiency of our oil and gas sector which provides us with the much-needed capital to invest in our security, infrastructure and economic diversification programmes”.
While taking note of the agreement between NNPC and Lukeoil, President Buhari gave an assurance that his administration will “ensure this initiative is implemented within the shortest possible time.”
The Group Managing Director of the @NNPCgroup, Mallam @MKKyari and the President of PJSC LUKOIL, Vagit Alekperov, yesterday, signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two companies at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum held in Sochi, Russia. pic.twitter.com/xFT3zKGjZb
The lawmaker noted that about 22 million barrels of crude oil, amounting to about N1.3 trillion of crude oil were stolen in the Niger Delta in 2019 alone.
According to him, “Oil theft is not only an economic loss but also causes environmental damage due to breaches on oil pipelines and the incidents are on the upsurge.”
Asides ascertaining how much oil theft goes on in the country daily, the committee is also mandated to determine the volume of oil extracted in the country on a daily basis, as well as to determine the quantity of oil sold at the internal markets and the quantity consumed locally.