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Crude rally fizzles out as U.S. production is set to increase

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com.

Oil prices faltered at the start of the second week of 2017 as fears set in about a rapid rebound in U.S. shale production. For the better part of two months, optimism surrounding the OPEC deal has buoyed oil prices, but bullish sentiment from speculators are showing early signs of abating, raising the possibility that the oil rally is running out of steam.

WTI and Brent sank more than 2.5% in intraday trading on Monday, after a report at the end of last week showed another solid build in the U.S. rig count, the tenth consecutive week that the oil industry added rigs back into the field. Aside from a single week in October, the U.S. oil industry has deployed more rigs in every week dating back to June, a remarkable run that has resulted in more than 200 fresh rigs drilling for oil. The gains in the rig count come even as oil prices have held steady in the mid- to low-US$50s per barrel.

At the start of 2017, there are two major dynamics at play occurring at the same time, each pushing in opposite directions on the market. The OPEC deal is slated to take oil off the market, while U.S. drilling is expected to add new supply. The pace and magnitude of each trend will ultimately drive oil prices one way or the other.

On the positive side, there are early signs that OPEC members are meeting their commitments. Saudi Arabia said last week that it is lowering its production in January by 486,000 barrels per day, a volume that it promised to cut as part of the November deal. That will take output down to 10.058 million barrels per day, a level that Riyadh was only required to meet as an average over the January to June time period. Cutting to that level ahead of time is a sign of good faith from Saudi Arabia, and increases the chances that OPEC will stay true to its promises.

On top of that, Kuwait’s envoy to OPEC said that Qatar, Kuwait and Oman were also complying with the cuts. In an interview with Bloomberg, Kuwait’s Nawal Al-Fezaia said that those countries already told customers that cuts were imminent. “It’s a good time to do maintenance on oil fields during production cuts,” Al-Fezaia said, noting that Kuwait will lower output from 2.89 mb/d in December to 2.7 mb/d by the end of January.

Market analysts paused a bit on news that Iraq’s oil exports from its southern ports on the Persian Gulf hit a record high in December, but the data has no bearing on whether or not Iraq will comply with the agreed upon cuts. “Achieving this record average will not affect Iraq’s decision to cut output from the beginning of 2017,” Oil Minister Jabbar Al-Luaibi told Bloomberg in an emailed statement. “Iraq is committed to achieving producers’ joint goals to control the oil glut in world markets.”

It is still early but all signs point to a stronger commitment from OPEC to adhere to the specifics of the cuts than market analysts might have given them credit for. That bodes well for a narrowing supply surplus – and ultimately a deficit – as well as falling inventories. In other words, OPEC is succeeding in putting upward pressure on prices.

However, the flip side of the equation is faster drilling from the U.S., where rig counts continue to climb. Oil output, according to EIA weekly surveys, is up roughly 300,000 bpd from summer lows, with more supply expected to come online in the months ahead as drilling picks up pace.

It is unclear, at this point, how rising U.S. supply and falling OPEC output will ultimately balance out. For now, the consensus seems to be tightening conditions in the first half of 2017, with much greater uncertainty in the second half, but that remains to be seen.

What is clear is that oil speculators have built up such a large bullish bet on oil that they have opened up crude to near-term downside risk. According to Reuters, hedge funds and other money managers amassed net-long positions in WTI and Brent equivalent to 796 million barrels in the last week of December, which was nearly double the amount from mid-November. The OPEC deal clearly fueled a huge speculative rush in rising oil prices, which, not coincidentally, corresponded with real gains in crude prices.

But at this point, there are very few short positions left in oil while a massive volume of long bets have built up. That suggests two things both of which are bearish for oil: there is not a lot of money left to go long, lowering the chances of further prices gains; and the potential for a correction in prices is very high at this point. Indeed, in the most recent week for which data is available, net-long positions declined a bit, raising the possibility that bullish bets have peaked. All it will take is a bit of bearish news to spark a downturn in prices.

There are a few minor worrying signs for oil prices that could crop up as additional bearish forces in the next few weeks. The U.S. DOE announced on January 9 a “notice of sale” from its strategic petroleum reserve, with plans to sell 8 million barrels for delivery over the course of February, March and April. Meanwhile, Libya is seeing rapid gains in oil exports after the reopening of a key export terminal, with output jumping to 700,000 bpd, according to the latest data, up sharply from the 580,000 it produced in November and the 300,000 bpd it exported before it started restoring output last summer. Moreover, Nigeria – which, like Libya, is exempt from the OPEC deal – is intent on restoring production. It may struggle to do that with the recent shuttering of the Trans Niger Pipeline, potential strikes from oil workers unions and the announcement from the Niger Delta Avengers that attacks will resume this year. In fact, production appears to have declined in December, falling 200,000 bpd to 1.45 mb/d, becau se of some of these issues. But if those problems can be overcome, Nigeria has latent production capacity that could come back online at some point.

And in a sign that there is not a lot of room on the upside, a kerfuffle in the Persian Gulf over the weekend did nothing to affect oil prices. A U.S. Navy destroyer fired three warning shots towards Iranian ships, an incident that in the past would have led to a sharp, even if brief, rally in crude prices. Instead, the markets shrugged off the incident – WTI and Brent sank on the first trading day after the event, on unrelated news. “The market is overbought and under a lot of downward pressure,” Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA Inc., told Bloomberg. “The shots fired at the Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz didn’t do anything to the market. A few years ago that would have added a couple dollars to the price.”

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Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019

 

Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at www.sanlam.com.