Dallas Fed survey: Outlook, capex plans pop on price gains

Sept. 27, 2023
Nearly half of exploration and production executives say they will ramp up spending in 2024 versus this year.

The oil and gas industry business activity compiled every 3 months by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has turned up quarter over quarter for the first time since the spring of 2022. More growth may be on the way: Exploration and production (E&P) executives told the Fed’s researchers that they are adding to capital budgets and have ramped up spending plans for 2024.

Other top-level findings from the latest installment of the Dallas Fed Energy Survey: Boosted by higher prices, about 84% of industry executives in Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana are maintaining or growing production this quarter, their overall outlook has jumped to its most positive level since mid-2022, and more than half of respondents think the year-end price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate will be $85-95.

The optimism and price momentum is feeding into spending plans: The third-quarter survey’s highest single data point among E&P firms’ was their expected 2024 capex relative to this year’s. In June, nearly 27% of executives said they planned to boost their budgets next year (OGJ Online, June 22, 2023). But responses to the Fed’s survey last week showed that number has jumped to 49% while the number of firms planning to trim spending had fallen to 13%, nearly half its second-quarter reading.

Given the strong price trend for crude oil—futures prices have climbed nearly 40% since mid-year—that number could lead others to also add to spending plans, said one respondent.

“Capital discipline will be tested among operators if the oil price remains consistently over $90/bbl,” the executive said.

Executives answering the Fed’s survey aren’t sure that $90 price level will be held, though. Their average Dec. 31 target was $88/bbl, with responses ranging from $70 to $120. But the higher activity being reported and forecast looks set to keep costs at an elevated level: The third-quarter survey showed costs rising for the eleventh consecutive quarter and responses to the employee compensation, development costs, and lease operating expenses all remained firmly in ‘increasing’ territory.