Category Archives: Analysis
Analysis: Some Gulf rulers wary of U.S. shifts on Islamists, Iran
(Reuters) – The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists.
While the ruling families in the Gulf are currently vital U.S. allies who buy large amounts of American military hardware and facilitate a significant U.S. military presence, some are apprehensive Washington may apply pressure on them to accommodate Islamists who could end up challenging their exclusive rule.
In a number of colorful online outbursts, Dubai’s outspoken police chief Dhahi Khalfan has warned of an “international plot” to overthrow Gulf systems of government with Western complicity. The Brotherhood, manipulated by the United States, is working to take over the Gulf by 2016, he said.
“Today the Americans are mobilizing the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab nation, for the benefit of America, not the Arabs,” he wrote on his Twitter account on Sunday. “There is an American plan that has been drawn up for the region.”
Though Khalfan insists his tweets are his personal views, analysts and diplomats say they reflect largely unspoken concerns among the United Arab Emirates’ ruling elite about the regional popularity of the Islamists and the possibility that the West will sympathize with them as political underdogs.
They also reflect fears among the region’s Sunni Muslim rulers that, despite being Sunni itself, the Brotherhood is soft on their arch enemy Shi’ite Iran. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi tried to dissipate such fears at a Tehran conference last week by condemning Iran’s ally Syria and urging attendees to back rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Despite pockets of Western-style liberalism in cities like Dubai, most Gulf ruling elites seek to project an image of Islamic conservatism.
So the threat they see is not religious or social but political: the Brotherhood advocates playing by the rules of parliamentary politics as a path to government, threatening inherited rights to rule and state-backed clerical establishments.
An opposition movement that gains ground in Gulf states could perhaps find the U.S. administration newly disposed to speak out in its favor.
Such an opposition has already emerged in the UAE, where more than 50 Islamists linked to Brotherhood thinking have been arrested since late last year. So far Washington has kept mum.
“While the U.S. security umbrella protects the UAE against threats from Iran, Washington would be much more reluctant to support a widespread crackdown against a local opposition movement,” said analyst Ayham Kamel of the Eurasia Group.
“This is making the political leadership in the UAE much more nervous about domestic threats,” he said.
The Brotherhood also has potential to draw support from Gulf Arabs who may see their countries’ foreign policies as overly pro-Western and are concerned about the social influence of their large Asian and Western expatriate communities.
SEEKING U.S. REASSURANCE
Washington was initially hesitant to openly support the uprisings that toppled Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, partly because of concerns they could bring Islamists to power.
President Barack Obama’s administration has since overcome its reluctance, and has made extensive efforts to engage Egypt’s Brotherhood over the past year.
Analysts say Washington is simply pursuing realpolitik given the new power centers in the region.
“I don’t think the West is keen on having a bunch of Islamists coming to power in the Gulf anytime soon,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute based in Doha. “It’s more the case that Washington is working with who they can work with, because Islamists are in power and they have to be dealt with.”
U.S. officials said privately that they addressed the Gulf’s concerns last year after Mubarak fell and that subsequent conversations have not focused on the issue. They declined to go into specifics.
“Gulf governments realize both the United States and Iran will want to have relations with the new regimes,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior analyst with Cornerstone Global. They just needed to be reassured that those regimes’ gain was not their loss, he said.
Diplomats said they were confident that building good ties with the Brotherhood was unlikely to strain the long-term strategic relationship between the U.S. and Gulf states.
“They (the Gulf states) need the Americans to protect them against Iran. Iran is the biggest worry for them in the whole region right now,” one Gulf-based Western diplomat said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
YES, BUT …
Still, rumblings persist.
Saudi Arabia, which has long seen itself as insulated from political Islam because of its promotion of more conservative Salafi Islam, is feeling less secure these days, said Abdulaziz Alkhamis, a London-based Saudi analyst.
“After the Arab Spring they (the Islamists) are rising again. They start to use Islamist political rhetoric to gain publicity in the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Prominent clerics such as Awadh al-Garni and Salman al-Odah, viewed as sympathetic to the Brotherhood, have become more outspoken, cheering Islamist gains in social media.
Brotherhood-linked Islamists are well-established in Kuwait, where parliamentary politics is most advanced in the Gulf. And in Bahrain the government has drawn closer to the Minbar party, another group inspired by the Brotherhood, as it shores itself up against a protest movement dominated by Shi’ite Islamists.
The angst over what the United States plans for the region is at its most public and visceral in Bahrain, whose government Obama has urged to enter dialogue with leading Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq, citing the group by name.
Sunni clerics and commentators in official media regularly raise the fear that Washington, currently at odds with Tehran over its nuclear program, is plotting to create a Wefaq-led government in a regional reordering of power that would open a new page of cozy ties with Iran.
TV presenter Sawsan al-Shaer denounced a “Satanic alliance” between Tehran and Washington in an article in the al-Watan daily last month, claiming Wefaq was a “Trojan horse, used by the U.S. administration and Iranian regime to redraw the region.”
The wild card in the region is Qatar. It has actively promoted the Brotherhood and its affiliates, giving them coverage widely seen as positive on its satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera.
At an early stage in the uprisings Doha stuck its neck out much further than other Gulf states in its support for protests in Egypt and Tunisia, and then rebel movements in Libya and Syria, supporting those among them close the Brotherhood.
Earlier this year the Dubai police chief railed against Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a popular Brotherhood-linked Egyptian cleric based in Doha who criticized UAE policy towards Islamists on Al Jazeera. Khalfan threatened to arrest the cleric if he ever entered the country.
Alkhamis said opinion in Saudi Arabia was split over whether Qatar’s close links to the Islamists was a smart move to keep a close eye on a rising movement whose historical time has come, or a ruse to sow discord for its neighbor and sometime rival.
“The Qataris say that if we don’t have the Brotherhood (operating) openly then they will go underground and that it’s not against Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis are not happy with this,” Alkhamis said pointing to Qatar-backed Islamist seminars. “Some think the Qataris are not an honest friend, but have an agenda.”
(Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn in Washington and Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Sonya Hepinstall)
- Dubai police chief warns of Muslim Brotherhood threat (dailystar.com.lb)
- Egypt’s Outreach to China and Iran Is Troublesome for U.S. Policy Makers (jafrianews.com)
- ‘Brotherhood’ threatens Gulf (arabtimesonline.com)
Euro zone fragmenting faster than EU can act
(Reuters) – Signs are growing that Europe‘s economic and monetary union may be fragmenting faster than policymakers can repair it.
Euro zone leaders agreed in principle on June 29 to establish a joint banking supervisor for the 17-nation single currency area, based on the European Central Bank, although most of the crucial details remain to be worked out.
The proposal was a tentative first step towards a European banking union that could eventually feature a joint deposit guarantee and a bank resolution fund, to prevent bank runs or collapses sending shock waves around the continent.
The leaders agreed that the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, the 500 billion euro ($620 billion) European Stability Mechanism, would be able to inject capital directly into banks on strict conditions once the joint supervisor is established.
But the rush to put first elements of such a system in place by next year may come too late.
Deposit flight from Spanish banks has been gaining pace and it is not clear a euro zone agreement to lend Madrid up to 100 billion euros in rescue funds will reverse the flows if investors fear Spain may face a full sovereign bailout.
Many banks are reorganizing, or being forced to reorganize, along national lines, accentuating a deepening north-south divide within the currency bloc.
An invisible financial wall, potentially as dangerous as the Iron Curtain that once divided eastern and western Europe, is slowly going up inside the euro area.
The interest rate gap between north European creditor countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, whose borrowing costs are at an all-time low, and southern debtor countries like Spain and Italy, where bond yields have risen to near pre-euro levels, threatens to entrench a lasting divergence.
Since government credit ratings and bond yields effectively set a floor for the borrowing costs of banks and businesses in their jurisdiction, the best-managed Spanish or Italian banks or companies have to pay far more for loans, if they can get them, than their worst-managed German or Dutch peers.
The longer that situation goes on, the less chance there is of a recovery in southern Europe and the bigger will grow the wealth gap between north and south.
With ever-higher unemployment and poverty levels in southern countries, a political backlash, already fierce in Greece and seething in Spain and Italy, seems inexorable.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi acknowledged as he cut interest rates last week that the north-south disconnect was making it more difficult to run a single monetary policy.
Two huge injections of cheap three-year loans into the euro zone banking system this year, amounting to 1 trillion euros, bought only a few months’ respite.
“It is not clear that there are measures that can be effective in a highly fragmented area,” Draghi told journalists.
Conservative German economists led by Hans-Werner Sinn, head of the Ifo institute, are warning of dire consequences for Germany from ballooning claims via the ECB’s system for settling payments among national central banks, known as TARGET2.
If a southern country were to default or leave the euro, they contend, Germany would be left with an astronomical bill, far beyond its theoretical limit of 211 billion euros liability for euro zone bailout funds.
As long as European monetary union is permanent and irreversible, such cross-border claims and capital flows within the currency area should not matter any more than money moving between Texas and California does.
But even the faintest prospect of a Day of Reckoning changes that calculus radically.
In that case, money would flood into German assets considered “safe” and out of securities and deposits in countries seen as at risk of leaving the monetary union. Some pessimists reckon we are already witnessing the early signs of such a process.
Any event that makes a euro exit by Greece – the most heavily indebted member state, which is off track on its second bailout program and in the fifth year of a recession – look more likely seems bound to accelerate those flows, despite repeated statements by EU leaders that Greece is a unique case.
“If it does occur, a crisis will propagate itself through the TARGET payments system of the European System of Central Banks,” U.S. economist Peter Garber, now a global strategist with Deutsche Bank, wrote in a prophetic 1999 research paper.
Either member governments would always be willing to let their national central banks give unlimited credit to each other, in which case a collapse would be impossible, or they might be unwilling to provide boundless credit, “and this will set the parameters for the dynamics of collapse”, Garber warned.
“The problem is that at the time of a sovereign debt crisis, large portions of a national balance sheet may suddenly flee to the ECB’s books, possibly overwhelming the capacity of a bailout fund to absorb the entire hit,” he wrote in 2010, after the start of the Greek crisis, in a report for Deutsche Bank.
European officials tend to roll their eyes at such theories, insisting the euro is forever, so the issue does not arise.
In practice, national regulators in some EU countries are moving quietly to try to reduce their home banks’ exposure to such an eventuality. The ECB itself last week set a limit on the amount of state-backed bank bonds that banks could use as collateral in its lending operations.
In one high-profile case, Germany’s financial regulator Bafin ordered HypoVereinsbank (HVB), the German subsidiary of UniCredit (CRDI.MI), to curb transfers to its parent bank in Italy last year, people familiar with the case said.
Such restrictions are legal, since bank supervision is at national level, but they run counter to the principle of the free movement of capital in the European Union’s single market and to an integrated currency union.
Whether a single euro zone banking supervisor would be able to overrule those curbs is one of the many uncertainties left by the summit deal. In any case, common supervision without joint deposit insurance may be insufficient to reverse capital flight.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, keen to shield her grumpy taxpayers, has so far rejected any sharing of liability for guaranteeing bank deposits or winding up failed banks.
Veteran EU watchers say political determination to make the single currency irreversible will drive euro zone leaders to give birth to a full banking union, and the decision to create a joint supervisor effectively got them pregnant.
But for now, Europe’s financial disintegration seems to be moving faster than the forces of financial integration.
(Editing by David Holmes)
- Most-Accurate Forecasters See Euro Bottom at Odds With Options – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- German president tells Angela Merkel to come clean on EU debt deal (independent.ie)
- Marsh on Monday: German anti-euro backlash gathers pace (marketwatch.com)
Is JPM “The Burning LOH”?
May 11, 2012
“The target is marked by the burning LOH.”
When I was an reconnaissance helicopter pilot in the Army many years ago, that was a popular saying that was passed down by the more experienced pilots, some of whom had flown during the Vietnam War. It was meant to convey our own frailty, and the foolishness of being too eager about finding the enemy’s location.
LOH back then stood for Light Observation Helicopter, either a Hughes OH-6 Cayuse or a Bell OH-58. It was pronounced as “loach”. They were 4-seat commercial helicopters that were bought by the Army and adapted for use in scouting for enemy forces. A pilot had little more than his eyes and his wits as weapons, and the .040″ aluminum skin and Plexiglas windows were not much protection from enemy fire. The idea was to fly low, using the terrain for cover and concealment, and try to find the enemy so that fighter planes or attack helicopters could be called in to deliver ordinance on the enemy’s position.
But given the fact that enemy soldiers are usually not stupid, and don’t want to be spotted, often the first indication that a pilot had located the enemy’s position was that he was taking fire from the enemy. A lot of them got shot down. So then another helicopter crew would step in to radio the fast movers and guide them into the target. The fighter pilots would acknowledge that call, and the existence of enemy fire in the area, and then ask:
“Roger, how is the target marked?” The question was about the possible use of colored smoke, landmarks, or other features that can be seen while zooming in at 500 MPH.
And the answer would be, “The target is marked by the burning LOH.”
There is a corollary to this in the financial markets. Quite often at the end of a big price move, we learn about a big institution blowing up because they did not think that the trade would go so far against them. The 2006 case of Amaranth Advisors would be a classic example, with its bankruptcy in late 2006 marking the bottom for natural gas prices ahead of the big commodity bubble in 2008. There were several portfolios that blew up at the top of that bubble.
In this week’s chart, I have labeled several notable news events that served as markers of important turns for T-Bond prices. Back in 1994, Orange County, California went bankrupt because its treasurer, Robert Citron, had overextended his bets the wrong way in the bond market. That bankruptcy marked the bottom for the big price decline. Orange County was the burning LOH.
In late 1998, the money management firm Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) famously made huge bets on T-Bonds that were based on the limits of how far price moves had historically gone in the past. And the market taught them a lesson about how trends can persist longer than one can stay solvent. The Federal Reserve had to intervene, lining up several major banks to help take apart LTCM’s positions and keep it from cascading into a bigger problem. LTCM’s collapse was the burning LOH for that up move.
More recently, the collapses of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and MF Global each coincided with peaks in bond prices. Each was the burning LOH for its particular moment in history.
So now this week, we find out that J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) has suffered a $2 billion loss on financial derivative bets that went bad. And this news comes as T-Bond prices are once again getting back up to the price levels seen at last year’s MF Global collapse. The implication is that the news of JPM’s big loss is serving as the “burning LOH” of this current time frame, and the news arrives just as the stock market is about at the end of the corrective period suggested by both our eurodollar COT leading indication and the Presidential Cycle Pattern. Subscribers to our twice monthly newsletter and our Daily Edition have been watching the current stock market correction unfold pretty much right on schedule relative to those models, and now we have a portfolio blowup to help mark the beginning of the end of that corrective process.
Editor, The McClellan Market Report
- All Signs Are Go For The Last Great Ponzi Scheme (businessinsider.com)
- JPMorgan Chase (JPM): The Whale Turns Wily Coyote, or The Trader’s Epitaph (wallstreetpit.com)
- This Is Clearly Going To Cost JPMorgan Much More Than $2 Billion (businessinsider.com)
- JPM-Hit by the limits of statistics? (zerohedge.com)
- Fitch Downgrades JPM To A+, Watch Negative (zerohedge.com)
- JP Morgan – Aaaaarrrrgggghh (ritholtz.com)
Analysis: Global oil outages at 1.2 million bpd in March: survey
(Reuters) – Global oil supply outages are running at more than a million barrels a day, a Reuters survey has found, helping provide justification for the United States and Britain should they release strategic reserves in a bid to cut oil prices.
Civil unrest, adverse weather and technical glitches disrupted 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of global oil output in March on the 90 million bpd world market, according to a Reuters calculation from information provided by companies, government agencies and traders.
While disruptions of supply to the world oil market are commonplace, it is rare and perhaps unprecedented that such a large volume of oil is offline at any one time outside a single major disruption.
The aggregate reduction now is close to the volume of exports lost from Libya during civil war last year which at its worst knocked out 1.4 million barrels a day.
The International Energy Agency opened emergency reserves for only the third time last year to cover that loss but is resisting doing so again, arguing that it does not see a significant supply disruption.
The United States and Britain were reported by Reuters last week to be planning a bilateral release. South Korea would support a release, a government source said, but has not yet had an approach to do so. Others including Germany and France are opposed to an increase. “I think it’s pretty clear from the administration’s references to Sudan’s and other outages that if it decides to use the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) it will justify it partly on various recent disruptions,” said a former White House energy advisor, Bob McNally, who heads consultancy Rapidan Group.
Leading oil exporter Saudi Arabia has raised its own output to 9.85 million bpd in February, according to a Reuters survey, but is the only producer with significant spare output capacity to counter serious shortfalls.
Some of the current outages could ease in April, when output from Canadian and Australian oilfields is expected to resume after temporary shutdowns. In addition, Libyan output is fast rising toward pre-war levels.
Supplies from politically volatile producers Syria, Yemen and South Sudan may remain disrupted for a prolonged period. Sanctions against Iran could also offset any increase in output from other countries, tightening oil supply later this year.
“Australian productions are just about to come back after the cyclone,” said Seth Kleinman, analyst at Citigroup. “But you always want to bet on more supply outages than less. The situation in Sudan and South Sudan has shown no signs of improvement and the key to watch is oil loadings from Iran,” he said.
Cyclone Luna last week forced Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) and Apache (APA.N) to shut several oilfields in Australia. Woodside’s Enfield has already restarted.
With Apache’s Stag likely to follow soon, about 65,700 bpd of Australian oil and about 320,000 bpd of Canadian oil, which has been unexpectedly closed off, are likely to come back to the market in April.
Still, a larger chunk of about 710,000 bpd in South Sudan, Yemen and Syria remains shut and shows no sign of an early return.
Disruptions may grow as a European Union ban on Iranian crude takes effect on July 1 and as pressure increases on Asian importers to reduce oil purchases from Iran. EU countries late last year were importing about 700,000 bpd of Iranian crude.
The IEA estimates Iran’s oil exports could be curtailed by between 800,000 and 1 million bpd from the middle of this year.
Citi’s Kleinman said Nigeria should be kept on the watch list. Although there have not been any significant outages in March, Africa’s largest producer suffers from sabotage attacks to oil production facilities, which have forced oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) to suspend exports.
In the North Sea, the UK’s largest oilfield Buzzard has been experiencing sporadic technical glitches, which have reduced its output since last year.
Buzzard’s output fell to about 153,000 bpd earlier in March but recovered to a normal 200,000 bpd late last week.
Following is the breakdown of global oil production outages by region and country as of mid-March.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA – 490,000 bpd
Syria – Export outage totals about 150,000 bpd. Syrian oil output has been severely reduced since last year and its exports suspended since September due to international sanctions.
Before the conflict, Syria exported about 150,000 bpd of mostly heavy Souedie crude.
Yemen – About 140,000 bpd of Yemen’s oil output has been reduced by months of political unrest over the last year. Output came to a near standstill in mid-February during a week-long worker strike at its largest oilfield.
Libya – Libya’s crude output as of late March was about 1.4 million bpd, or 200,000 bpd below the full production level of 1.6 million bpd before the 2011 civil war. An official with Libya’s National Oil Corporation said its exports are likely to increase to 1.4 million bpd in April, including some deliveries from tanks following some loading delays from March due to bad weather.
AFRICA – 350,000 bpd
South Sudan – South Sudan shut its crude oil output of roughly 350,000 bpd – about three quarters of the combined total from Sudan and South Sudan – in January after Sudan took some of the crude to make up for what Khartoum said were unpaid transit fees.
AMERICAS – 320,000 bpd
Canada – Oil output has been cut by about 320,000 bpd as production of Suncor Energy Inc’s (SU.TO) and Syncrude Canada has been cut by 220,000 bpd and 100,000 bpd, respectively, for unplanned outages. Both will be back online in April.
ASIA PACIFIC – 65,700 bpd
Australia – Cyclone Luna forced Apache (APA.N) and Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) to shut Stag, Enfield and North West Shelf oilfields last week. Woodside said on Monday it had restarted production at Enfield. After the restart, the production shut-ins total about 65,700 bpd. The figure includes the 8,800 bpd Stag field, which Apache said is expected to restart soon.
(Reporting by Ikuko Kurahone, Bruce Nicols in Houston, Scott Haggett in Calgary, Mica Rosenberg in Caracas, Rebekah Kebede in Perth and Florence Tan in Singapore, editing by Richard Mably)
- Oil shut-ins, slow supply growth support price: IEA (business.financialpost.com)
- Murky data makes oil trading tricky (business.financialpost.com)
- Tapping oil from the SPR may be trickier than ever (business.financialpost.com)
- OPEC oil output rises to more than three-year high (business.financialpost.com)
- China urges restraint in Sudan dispute (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Analysis: More, not less, oil this year despite Iran ban (reuters.com)
Analysis: Tapping oil from reserve may be trickier than ever
(Reuters) – The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not quite as strategic as it used to be.
As President Barack Obama moves closer to an unprecedented second release of the U.S. emergency oil stockpile in a bid to bring down near-record fuel prices, experts say dramatic logistical upheavals in the U.S. oil market over the past year may now make such a move slower and more complicated.
Moving to tap the four giant Gulf Coast salt caverns that hold 700 million barrels of government-owned crude would still almost certainly knock global oil futures lower, delivering some relief at the pump for motorists and helping Obama in the November election if he can prevent gasoline from rising above $4 a gallon nationwide.
On Thursday, prices fell by as much as $3 a barrel after Reuters reported that Britain was set to agree to release stockpiles together with the United States later this year. UK officials said the timing and details of the release would be worked out prior to the summer, when prices often peak.
But the logistics of getting that crude oil to willing refiners are more complicated than ever.
The reversal of a major Texas-to-Oklahoma pipeline will lower the distribution capacity of the SPR’s largest cavern, according to John Shages, who oversaw the U.S. oil reserves during the Bush and Clinton administrations. A resurgence in domestic oil output and the potential closure of the East Coast’s biggest refinery is curtailing demand for crude.
There is little doubt that SPR oil would eventually find buyers, since it is basically auctioned to the higher bidder. But it may move more slowly than the government hopes.
“The logistical system in the United States is shifting,” said Guy Caruso, the former head of the Energy Information Administration. “That probably is going to cause SPR officials to rethink how that oil would be distributed especially in an extreme scenario.”
The mechanics of the release may prove almost as tricky for Obama as rallying international support for a second intervention in as many years, or fending off attacks from Republicans who will likely brand it as a pre-election gimmick.
The U.S. shale oil boom and rising imports of Canadian oil sands crude have transformed the U.S. energy landscape, with industry now scrambling to move a glut of oil from the center of the country down to the U.S. Gulf Coast — reversing historical trends that were the basis for the SPR’s original planning.
The nation’s emergency oil stockpile, created by Congress in the mid-1970s after the Arab oil embargo, was designed to transport oil primarily via pipeline from the Gulf to refineries in the area and to buyers further north.
“The fact that pipelines go south and not north is a major change,” says Edward Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup and a former energy expert at the State Department.
The Department of Energy says the SPR can distribute crude to 49 refineries with a capacity of more than 5 million barrels per day — about one-third the U.S. total — and five marine terminals. It is designed to be capable of releasing oil within two weeks of an order, and to sustain a rate of 1 million bpd for as long as a year and a half, enough to meet 5 percent of U.S. demand.
Today it can discharge oil at a maximum rate of 4.25 million bpd, just below its 4.4 million bpd design capacity, a department official said. The reduction was due to a damaged storage tank.
Industry analysts, however, are skeptical.
Morse says that the maximum rate now appears unachievable, and that logistical problems constrained the government’s release of 30 million barrels of oil last summer — its largest ever — in response to the disruption of Libyan oil supplies.
Oil from the reserves must compete with crude already being transported via pipeline or tanker, often on crowded waterways, so there may not be enough capacity in the system to immediately take in millions of additional barrels of oil.
The Energy Department released an average of 743,000 bpd last August.
The department said it conducts thorough assessments of commercial capabilities to move oil from the reserves on a routine basis and remains confident it could supply the market with 4.25 million bpd if needed.
Many analysts doubt that much would ever be needed at once.
“Absent a serious disruption of great magnitude, it is inconceivable that the U.S. would draw down its inventory of SPR at the maximum rate,” said Shages, who now runs his own firm, called Strategic Petroleum Consulting, LLC.
Even so, the system now has less flexibility.
The move to reverse the flow of the 350,000 bpd Seaway Pipeline to move crude oil from Cushing, Oklahoma, where there is a glut, to Gulf Coast refineries will almost certainly hurt the distribution capability of the SPR’s Bryan Mound storage tank in Freeport, Texas, says Shages.
Bryan Mound is the largest of the four sites, capable of holding about a third of the SPR’s total crude. About 43 percent of last year’s release came from Bryan Mound, data show.
After operator Enterprise Products completes the process of reversing the line by June, it will be limited to shipping crude via two Gulf of Mexico terminals and a system of local pipelines into Houston area refineries.
But Bryan Mound will still be able to discharge crude at a rate of 1.25 million bpd, according to an energy department official.
“When the pipeline is reversed, the distribution capability of crude from the SPR site will still be nearly 25 percent more than the site’s maximum drawdown rate, ensuring more than sufficient distribution capability,” the official said.
The Capline from Louisiana to Illinois, the largest such south-to-north pipeline, in theory has plenty of spare capacity since it has been running at less than a quarter of its 1.2 million bpd — but that is because a glut of Canadian and North Dakota crude is already sating the big Midwest refiners.
Meanwhile Gulf Coast plants are filling up on growing output from the Eagle Ford shale in Texas, reducing import demand. Because most U.S. crude oil cannot legally be exported, SPR supplies will typically only displace seaborne imports.
U.S. crude oil imports into the Gulf Coast region, known as Padd 3, fell 8 percent last year to below 5 million bpd, the lowest level since the 1990s.
Last year, at least some of the crude released from the SPR traveled further afield, beyond the Gulf Coast.
Tesoro, whose only refineries are on the West Coast, bought 1.2 million barrels, while East Coast refiner Sunoco bought 1.4 million barrels. Obama issued 44 waivers to the Jones Act to allow companies to use non-U.S. tankers for shipments last year.
But the East Coast looks a less likely market this year. Sunoco is set to close its 335,000 bpd Philadelphia refinery before June if it does not find a buyer. That could cut the region’s capacity to less than 700,000 bpd.
Ultimately the rate of release means little if you cannot get the oil quickly to those who need it most, says Mark Routt, a senior oil market consultant at KBR Advanced Technologies.
“To say that you have this drawdown capability, but you’re putting oil in places it doesn’t need to go, isn’t really helpful to the market,” Routt said.
(Editing by Russell Blinch and Jonathan Leff)
- Tapping oil from the SPR may be trickier than ever (business.financialpost.com)
- Is China’s SPR soaking up all the oil? (business.financialpost.com)
- Is The SPR Release Already Priced Into Oil Prices? (zerohedge.com)
- Obama, the politics of the SPR and energy (lack of) exploration! (politicsandfinance.blogspot.com)
- U.S. lawmakers worry about East Coast refining capacity – Financial Post (business.financialpost.com)
- Seaway – Echo terminal link planned (mb50.wordpress.com)
- A Brief History of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve [OIL LOANS, OIL SALES] (ibtimes.com)