FACTS: Sellers to gain from rising oil, LNG prices

Judy Clark
Senior Associate Editor

HOUSTON, Feb. 16 -- Oil prices have risen permanently to a new plateau, and natural gas prices will rise even more radically within the next decade, contends analyst Fereidun Fesharaki in a February oil and gas price forecast.

Fesharaki, president of Fesharaki Associates Consulting & Technical Services Inc. (FACTS Inc.), Honolulu, said that cycles will still be seen but from a much higher base than in the past.

"If nothing dramatic changes the equation, we expect Brent [crude oil] prices in the range of $35-45/bbl in 2005," when incremental demand is expected to slow to 1.5-2 million b/d from 2.6 million b/d, supply from nonmembers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries might grow by 1.2-1.8 million b/d, and the market will be less tight than in 2004.

But barring a severe recession and weak gross domestic product growth rate, he said, West Texas Intermediate crude likely will sell for $70-100/bbl after 2008. The continuing supply problem will keep pressure on oil prices, with non-OPEC annual supply growth averaging only about 400,000-500,000 b/d through 2010 and supply peaking globally in 2010-15.

Oil supply issues
The natural oil production decline rates in some OPEC countries are accelerating, Fesharaki said. "OPEC's decline rate is 1-1.5 million b/d per annum. . . . In a 5-year period, OPEC will likely have 6 million b/d of natural decline."

Even with 2-3 million b/d of non-OPEC incremental supply, the expected 7.5 million b/d of demand "translates to a need for OPEC to add over 10 million b/d of new capacity in 5 years—a very unlikely scenario," he added.

With only a moderate demand growth of 1.5 million b/d, supply would begin to falter by late in this decade and fall far behind after 2010, Fesharaki said. Because the supply will not be there, "prices must rise to slow down the demand growth," he said. "The price has to rise some 50-100% above current levels."

"The higher prices will reduce demand, encourage alternative energy sources, and result in lower equilibrium prices. Prices may end up in the $50-70/bbl WTI range."

Gas, LNG prices
Higher oil prices also will mean higher natural gas prices, also predicated on a supply problem as US gas production faces a permanent decline.

"Supplies from Canada face a natural decline too," he added, "while massive gas use to generate hydrogen for tar sands conversion to synthetic oil, will negatively impact Canadian gas supplies to the US."

The US likely will become the second largest LNG importer after Japan by 2010 and surpass Japan after 2015. LNG prices will rise and cause the market to become very tight, Fesharaki said.

As with oil, a slight gas production increase is expected in 2005, "but the trend is clearly towards a flat or declining output." Although US gas demand growth currently is weak, Fesharaki said, "We strongly believe the demand will come back.

"Petrochemical producers who want to switch from gas to naphtha will face an even more expensive feedstock. Electric power producers, who had set their economics at $3.50/MMbtu gas, will find low-sulfur fuel oil just as expensive. Unless they can switch to coal, they have no choice," he said.

Price convergences
The prices of oil and gas are converging, as are prices in global gas markets, Fesharaki said, with US gas prices at Henry Hub and European gas prices much closer to Asian LNG prices.

"The trend is unmistakable. First, gas prices might well rise to say, $7-10/MMbtu Henry Hub on a delivered basis before the end of this decade. Second, the worldwide prices of gas will converge, with the weaker Asian prices having to move upwards," he said.

New seller's market
China and India also are preparing for massive LNG imports, as is South Korea. The Asian LNG market already is becoming a seller's market, Fesharaki said.

"In late summer 2004, Iran offered India an fob price of $2.20/MMbtu. India declined, demanding $1.80/MMbtu. But on Jan. 8, 2005, India signed for fob price of effectively $3.10/MMbtu. In 4 months the markets exhibited the signals of a transition to a seller's market.

"Within 24 months, we expect the tables to be fully turned, with sellers refusing to accept price ceilings, insisting on price reviews, and refusing to be content with shorter duration contracts of 10-15 years. Many will want to leave some LNG for spot sales, which may prove very lucrative," he said.

Chinese and Indian consumers, not yet addicted to gas, will find coal a better buy, as will the power sector, limiting demand until affordability rises and new gas resources can be converted to production, concluded Fesharaki.

Contact Judy Clark at judyrc@ogjonline.com

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