The European oil majors’ first-quarter results are in, and the headlines are unanimous: the sector is roaring as profits are soaring.
The latter cannot be denied. Statoil’s profit was up by 74pc, Total’s by 56pc. Shell turned a four-fold increase in profit. Even BP was in the black. Compare with last year – as we must – and the bottom line is looking fine.
It’s not even been four years.
In April 2013, then Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi said there was nothing to fear from shale oil production in the US. A few days later, Naimi adviser Ibrahim al-Muhanna told Gulf Co-operation Council oil ministers that any concerns they had that shale oil would lead to a huge increase in supply and a collapse in prices were “misplaced”.
The oil market has been fixated on Opec of late, with newly-loquacious oil ministers’ every utterance pored over.
But the exporter body isn’t the only organisation with a key role to play in balancing the market. The People’s Bank of China is Opec’s mirror on the demand side, and the producer countries will be hoping it is up to the task.
BP, in its Energy Outlook published this week, said that all of the demand growth for oil in next 20 years comes from emerging markets, with China accounting for half.
The Middle Kingdom is already a black hole for crude, with storage being built and filled while global prices are low. Aggregate crude imports, apparent demand and refinery runs all hit record levels in December.
A year ago today international sanctions on Iran were lifted, an event that played no small role in the upheaval that rolled through the global oil market last year.
It is safe to say that Iran didn’t hang around to see how things would pan out, conscious that US policy could about-face within a year.
There was an interesting aside in an otherwise routine trading update this week from UK independent Serica. It said operating costs at the Erskine condensate field in the UK North Sea are averaging well below its guidance of $20/bl of oil equivalent (boe), thanks in no small part to the pound’s lower exchange rate against the dollar.