Table of Contents
Is the end of the bear market for oil in sight? Oil continues to set new lows every couple days but the rate of decline has slowed. Friday's dip to $111.34 was likely the result of crude options expiring more than a continued desire to dump crude. Volume in the September contract was the lightest in the last two weeks. Of course that contract expires next Wednesday so a lot of that volume has already moved into the October contract.
On Friday afternoon tropical storm Fay was headed west just south of Cuba and the National Weather Service had it turning north and crossing over Cuba on Monday and heading up the western coast of Florida. That would pose no threat to the oil patch but part of the closing spike in oil was probably related to that storm. Some forecasters were predicting a more westerly path for Fay that could have taken the storm closer to New Orleans. I would not have wanted to be short oil over the weekend to find Fay headed for New Orleans when the futures opened Sunday night. As I update this paragraph on Saturday afternoon the NWS is now forecasting a track with a sharper move north and pretty much right up the center of Florida so it appears any concerns were unfounded.
OPEC updates its 2009 demand growth forecast on Friday and they are projecting the lowest rate of growth in seven years. They estimated growth at +1.03% but raised estimates of daily demand in 2009 by 90,000 barrels to 900,000 bpd over 2008. OPEC now believes demand for 2008 will increase only 1 mbpd over 2007 and 30,000 bpd less than their prior estimate. "Risks to the outlook for the world oil market appear to be on the downside," OPEC said in its report. "The outlook for the world economy has deteriorated further as more evidence of a global slowdown emerged. With current OPEC production well above the expected demand for OPEC crude, there is potential for a sharp build in crude inventories." This is a key statement ahead of the Sept 9th OPEC meeting on production quotas and suggests they will be talking about cuts in production again.
In the weekly Bloomberg survey of 30 analysts 63% said prices would rise through Aug-22nd. It was the most bullish response since Dec-2006. Seven analysts said oil would be unchanged and only four expected a drop in prices. Last week 37% expected a decline and 34% expected an increase.
On Friday Goldman Sachs said oil will remain supported above $105 and is likely to rebound as emerging market demand holds up and production from older fields declines. "Mounting signs of strength in oil fundamentals provide support and suggest significant upside risk to prices in the autumn," according to Goldman. Goldman predicts crude futures on the NYMEX will trade around $143.50 a barrel within three months, at $148.10 within six months and around $147 a year from now.
BP said on Friday they don't know when the BTC pipeline will reopen because they have not finished assessing the damage and cannot predict the time needed to make repairs. This pipeline is capable of moving 1 mbpd but recently has only had volumes of 850,000 bpd. The second pipeline in the area remains offline due to security concerns from the Russian/Georgia conflict. There are some really strange comments coming out of Russia regarding the pipeline. An adviser to the Russian parliament claimed the closed BTC pipeline would not be opened again and declared the line "dead." "The world and countries in the region have seen that not NATO, but Russia is the only one who could secure the energy routes," Alexander Dugin, international politics advisor to the Russia's Duma, told Turkish Cumhuriyet daily. "In this context, regarding Turkey's energy politics, it should be said that the BTC is not running at the moment and it will not run again." If this is the case then we should know very soon and oil prices will rocket higher. Russia has already demonstrated they are capable of cutting off natural gas flows to Europe whenever they feel like it and taking the BTC pipeline offline would make Russian oil more valuable.
BTC/Supsa Pipeline Map
Shell said it was not making any progress on repairing the damaged pipeline in Nigeria. "Repair work is not progressing as much as we want due to security concerns. We are making no real progress," a Shell spokesman reported. Shell has claimed force majeure on output from the pipeline through the end of September. This is a light crude pipeline and continued outage will eventually impact global inventory levels of light crude.
It appears to me we are setting up for a rebound in crude from a fundamental perspective. Russia is claiming the BTC pipeline is dead. Shell is making no progress on repairing the Nigeria pipeline and OPEC is already setting us up for production cuts at the Sept 9th meeting. Demand will return with gasoline at $3.75 simply because the price shock will fade. Drivers will adjust to the new price and the cycle will repeat.
Crude prices have over corrected but they could easily correct further before this cycle ends. The super spike may be over but the oil problem has not gone away. Peak oil theory predicts an "undulating plateau" where shrinking supply growth causes higher prices before the actual peak in production is reached. Those higher prices cause slower demand "growth" and lengthens the time before demand exceeds production. Each price spike is short lived but removes some percentage of demand. Each rebound increases demand until the price spikes higher to repeat the cycle. Eventually underlying demand exceeds available production despite constantly rising prices. The production shortfall can come before the actual permanent peak in production if demand from emerging markets continues to grow at a rate faster than production grows. Peak oil theory does not predict a sudden climax spike in production as the last field comes online and then everything tanks at the same time. We could have increasing production at a very minor rate for years to come just not at a rate sufficient to keep up with rising demand. The end result is the same. Oil prices at double or triple today's prices and a rapidly declining global economy. Once cheap oil turns into expensive oil the economic explosion we have seen over the last 60 years will come to an end.
I profiled the new production coming online in 2009 in a LEAPs newsletter a couple weeks ago. That surge in production should begin in the fourth quarter. If Russia is determined to take the BTC pipeline out of service then the new production will only offset the lost production from the Caspian that flows through that pipeline. In 2009 when the new Saudi field comes online there is no guarantee it will come to market. OPEC has tasted $145 oil and that makes $113 oil today a bitter pill to swallow. If they actually start planning production cuts at the September meeting then I would not expect the new Saudi production to make any difference. They are going to manage the price of oil as they always have and I don't see any prolonged dips under $110. Barron's was predicting $50 oil last week and I think we can all agree that writer was on drugs when he penned that piece.
I hesitate to add any new oil plays with oil still falling. Even though I think we are very close to a bottom I thought that at $122 as well. It may be different this time thanks to Russia and the coming OPEC meeting but we need to see the trend change rather than anticipate it. I doubt we are going to see another spike this year contrary to what Goldman is predicting. I believe prices will remain high, possibly in the $120-$130 range but I would not be surprised to see that bottom number as low as $110. We need to remember that $110 oil is still expensive oil. The oil companies are still going to be making piles of money and the drillers are still going to be backlogged for years to come. Once the shock of the price drop has eased there will be a new wave of investment into energy companies. No other sector will have as reliable a source of income as energy. We just need for that price drop shock to pass before conditions normalize and investing can begin again.
Well, there has been a nice little pullback in the price of natural gas. When reading the transcripts of conference calls with the major natural gas producers, there seems to be a difference of opinion as to how much gas and how fast the new areas of discovery will generate. The market has obviously concluded: A lot!
I am focused on another point. There seems to be general agreement that about 30-40% of gas produced has come from wells that are "new." They also seem to agree that the depletion rate of some of these newer wells is close to 40%. This is what I call a self-governing gas price principle. At $8.00, sharp reduction in wildcatting and combined with 40% depletion means a lot less gas. Correct? Len
Len, you are absolutely correct. We are seeing an explosion of new gas today with the Haynesville Shale starting to be drilled and other shale plays starting to be explored. The very high depletion rate for new wells makes this seem like a sudden abundance of supply but as I have pointed out in the past it is only a temporary condition.
One of my sons works on a gas rig drilling in western Colorado. Every 26 days they complete a new 12,000 ft hole. He has a new "walking" rig that moves around on the pad and they can drill up to 20 horizontal wells without taking down the rig and moving to a new location. When the rig does move and the production crews move in to complete the wells and connect them to the pipeline the initial production is huge. All of these new wells come online at once and there is an immense burst of new gas. Multiply this by the 1,586 working gas rigs in the U.S. and the amount of new gas is huge. Obviously only a few are the new walking rigs but even with a single well rig the concept is the same. BHI said there were 395 working oil rigs last week in addition to those gas rigs. On a side note the total active U.S. rigs was 1,990. That is still a far cry from the peak of 4,350 in 1981.
For every gas well that drops 40% in the first year another one needs to be drilled to offset that drop. Remember demand is rising faster than ever and with the new push by Boone Pickens to switch to nat gas for autos it will grow even faster a couple years from now. Basically the gas sector is enjoying an embarrassment of riches right now with the new shale plays. Everybody has heard about the Barnett Shale in Dallas/Ft. Worth for years. That play is already coming to an end. They will still be drilling wells there for years to come but not at the current pace. Every new gas play is a flash in the pan as they used to say. Sudden discovery, rapid acquisition of leases, even more rapid drill out and then on to the next play. 50% of the gas in a new field is produced in the first five years and then the long depletion cycle settles in for the rest of the deposit. The advent of horizontal drilling and multiple wells from the same pad only helps to produce the new gas faster and accelerate the depletion curve.
I listen to the various gas companies like Chesapeake and marvel at the sudden boom in production. What you don't hear in the news is the construction of new utility plants. They seem to go unnoticed except for the city they are serving. The new shale plays appear to have reversed the decline in North American production. Previously the peak in gas for North America was thought to be in 2004. Well counts had doubled in the last five years but production continued to decrease. That may have changed today with a new peak date ahead but the future outcome has not changed. Gas will continue to be a fuel with rapidly expanding demand and eventually the depletion monster will win the battle. We are already seeing declining crude production targets in the Canadian oil sands because they are running out of natural gas to run the plants. The Canadians claim burning the remaining supplies of gas to produce oil is like burning $100 bills to produce $60 oil. The marginal cost of a barrel of oil sands crude is $60.
The U.S. natural gas drilling sector is hot and it is a victim of its own success. Produce more gas in record amounts and the price of gas declines along with profits. They are drilling more and enjoying it less. Falling gas prices increases demand and the cycle repeats until eventually the final peak appears and the drillers have nowhere else to drill. That may not be for 5-7 years in the U.S. but like night follows day the peak will come.
(I am going to try and make this a weekly feature. Send me your email questions and I will try to answer. Jim @ OptionInvestor.com)
September Natural Gas Futures Chart - Daily
September Gasoline Futures Chart - RBOB Daily
Changes in Portfolio
Portfolio Listing & Top Picks
If you are looking to add another position these are my top picks for this week. The target prices listed would be the ideal entry points for these stocks today. There is no assurance any stock will ever return to these support levels and you will need to make your own decision about an entry point above these levels. I believe these stocks have the best potential this week. The list will change from week to week based on technicals, fundamentals, crude prices and market action. The list is not sorted in any particular order.
I strongly urge readers to be patient on new entries. We could see $110 or even $100 before the correction is over.
Most Recent Plays
None this week.
XLE $70.80 -.18 - Energy Select SPDR
Support at $70 still holding.
The XLE is a group of 36 companies in the energy sector. Exxon is the largest component and Tesoro the smallest. See the complete list here.
Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (the Fund) seeks to provide investment results that correspond to the price and yield performance of the Energy Select Sector of the S&P 500 Index (the Index). The Index includes companies that primarily develop and produce crude oil and natural gas, and provide drilling and other energy-related services. The Fund utilizes a passive or indexing investment approach to invest in a portfolio of stocks that seek to replicate the Index. The Funds investment advisor is SSgA Funds Management, Inc.
Breakdown trigger: $72.00, hit 8/04
Position: Dec $80 Call XTG-LB @ $3.00
FLR $71.36 - $4.96 Fluor *** Stopped ***
Fluor shot up to $83 in after hours trading on Monday and analysts could not say enough good things about Fluor. Fluor's profits more than doubled to $1.13 per share compared to 53 cents. Revenue from the oil and gas business jumped +53%. They raised full year guidance by 10% over analyst's estimates.
Tuesday morning Lehman upgraded them with a price target of $103 saying Fluor was the only E&C company with enough diversity across the various sectors. Citigroup cut FLR to hold from buy. Obviously the Citigroup downgrade carried more weight than Lehman's upgrade. FLR plunged to $67.10 on the downgrade. Although it rebounded the next day it was enough to stop us out at $69.
Breakdown trigger: $76, hit 8/04
Position: 2010 $90 LEAP Call LLF-AR @ $14.60, exit $11.30 8/12
PBR $48.72 -2.34 Petrobras *** Closed ***
PBR is in trouble. Despite monster investments by institutions and funds and being the number three deepwater driller on the planet there is trouble offshore. The nationalism flu has infected the Brazilian government. They are suddenly talking about forming another company to "manage" the offshore oil reserves. Currently anybody who finds the oil gets to control it and pay royalties to Brazil. The government is thinking about changing the rules to where Brazil controls the oil and pays companies a percentage of production. Instead of the individual companies reaping the benefits of their hard earned discoveries the government reaps the benefits and pays a fee for production through what is known as a production-sharing model.
I sent an email on Thursday laying out all the big players like Fidelity at 125 million shares and Marisco at 54 million and many others. Many of them bought into Petrobras with expectations of benefiting from the Tupi discovery. If the government announces they are taking away the rights to offshore oil these companies will leave in a hurry. I suggest we exit now that support at $50 has broken and avoid the rush.
Breakdown trigger: $50, hit 8/05
Position: 2010 $60 LEAP Call YMO-AL @ $8.20, exit 8/17 $6.30
UPL $64.26 -.28 - Ultra Petroleum
No change. The Ultra CFO was on CNBC last week and you would have thought he was a professional pitchman. Business is booming, days to drill a well have fallen from 60 to 22 over the last year and production is exploding. Unfortunately gas prices are imploding. Until gas prices find a bottom I would expect Ultra to be dormant but remain above support at $60. Our stop is $58.
Ultra reported earnings on 8/05 that more than doubled the comparison quarter on a 125% increase in revenue. Production rose +23% and the average sales price of gas was $8.06 per mcf. They get less for their gas because of their location in Wyoming. Once the pipeline is finished to the east coast their profits will again accelerate sharply. They have no downside risk with an active hedging program and no offshore or out of country assets.
Breakdown trigger: $65, hit 8/05
Position: 2010 $80 LEAP WSS-AP @ $13.50
APC $57.61 +3.83 - Anadarko Petroleum
APC was the second best performer for the week. There appears to be signs of an uptrend in process. A move over $60 would be strong. On Wednesday APC announced it had terminated talks with Iraq over development of the Luhais oil field in southern Iraq. They gave no reason for pulling out but the market rewarded the announcement with a strong gain.
No change. Stop at $49.
Breakdown trigger: $55, hit 8/04
Position: 2010 $70 LEAP Call YPC-AN @ $7.60
BHP $65.22 -.55 BHP Billiton
Still holding on support despite a sector drop on Friday that knocked -$4 off Thursday's high. On Wednesday APC announced it had terminated talks with Iraq over development of the Luhais oil field in southern Iraq. They gave no reason for pulling out but the market rewarded the announcement with a strong gain.
Breakdown trigger: $65, hit 8/05
Position: 2010 $80 LEAP Call LPH-AP @ $9.50
COP $77.66 -3.25 - ConocoPhillips
Surprise, Warren Buffett sold his entire 17.51 million share position in COP. The news broke on Thursday morning just as COP was starting to pressure resistance at $83. The news knocked $5 off Conoco's price. There was no mention of why he sold. Rumor has it he is afraid of Russia nationalizing Conoco's 20% ownership in Lukoil after watching the fight BP is having. Our stop is $76 so we may be out this week as well.
Earnings July 23rd, $3.50 per share
Position: 2010 $90 LEAP YRO-AR @ $11.35
ENER - $70.07 +7.08 Energy Conversion Devices
A strong move by ENER after catching an upgrade on Monday from UBS to a buy. The SunPower news on Friday just added to the sector gains.
Breakout trigger: $68.50 hit 6/16
Position: 2010 $80 LEAP Call KYU-AP @ 23.10
CRR $56.00 +4.25 - Carbo Ceramics
Zacks reiterated it had added CRR to its strong buy list on Thursday and that helped to power CRR to a strong gain. The rally in the solar sector didn't hurt either.
Breakout trigger: $48 Hit 5/12
Position: Dec $50 Call CRR-LJ @ $5.80
RIMM $128.80 -$4.95 Research in Motion
RIMM pulled back slightly as the market makers pinned it to the $130 strike on Friday but I believe it is only temporary.
There were some concerns that HSBC would ditch the BlackBerry for the 3G iPhone in what would amount to an order for 200,000 units. If HSBC took the plunge it could start a stampede. However, cooler heads may prevail. Given the 50% dropped call rate in fringe areas, the limited choice of carriers worldwide and no carriers at all in some countries. There are growing security concerns about the Apple platform and the text entry capability is proving to be less than optimal. There is also a lack of a scaled support and service structure. It appears the HSBC questions may be a tool to get some price breaks from RIMM more than a play to downgrade to the iPhone.
Another news item reported that the first phone based on the Google Android operating system would go on sale by early October on the T-Mobile system. A video appeared on YouTube showing a phone with the Apple style touch screen but also a flip open keyboard for easier test entry. Such a phone on an open source operating system and open network could be a major challenge to Apple and even the BlackBerry network. It would be a while before it gained anywhere near the acceptance of those two brands but assuming it had the Google power behind it there would be some stiff competition.
The various news items attracted a few sellers but Apple declined as well so who knows what was the real reason for the selling. I prefer to think of it as a buying opportunity.
RIMM is a combo play this time around to offset the extreme cost of the call option. We bought the call for $27.50 and sold the $110 put for $20.90 for a net debit of $6.60. In theory the call will continue to appreciate as RIMM moves higher and the put will continue to decline as it gets farther out of the money.
Breakout trigger: $125, hit 8/06
Long 2010 $140 LEAP Call YKD-AH @ $27.50
Leaps Trader Watch List
Current Watch List
HP - Helmerich & Payne
Helmerich & Payne, Inc. is primarily engaged in contract drilling of oil and gas wells for others. The contract drilling business accounts for almost all of the Company's operating revenues. It is also engaged in the ownership, development and operation of commercial real estate. It is organized into two separate operating entities: contract drilling and real estate. The Company's contract drilling business consists of three business segments: U.S. land drilling, offshore platform drilling and international drilling. The Company's U.S. land drilling is conducted primarily in Oklahoma, California, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, and North Dakota, and offshore from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, California, Trinidad and Equatorial Guinea. During the fiscal year ended September 30, 2007, the Company's international land segment operated in seven international locations: Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Tunisia and Chile.
Breakout trigger: dropped
Breakdown trigger: $50
Buy 2010 $60 LEAP Call LQB-AL
HES - Hess Corp
Hess Corporation (Hess) is a global integrated energy company that operates in two segments: Exploration and Production (E&P) and Marketing and Refining (M&R). The E&P segment explores for, develops, produces, purchases, transports and sells crude oil and natural gas. These exploration and production activities take place principally in Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Denmark, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Norway, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The M&R segment manufactures, purchases, transports, trades and markets refined petroleum products, natural gas and electricity. As of December 31, 2007, the Company owned a 50% interest in a refinery joint venture in the United States Virgin Islands, and another refining facility, terminals and retail gasoline stations located on the East Coast of the United States.
Breakdown trigger: $90 ** New trigger **
Buy 2010 $100 LEAP Call WHS-AT
VLO - Valero
Valero Energy Corporation (Valero) owns and operates 17 refineries located in the United States, Canada and Aruba that produce conventional gasolines, distillates, jet fuel, asphalt, petrochemicals, lubricants and other refined products. The Companys principal products include conventional and California Air Resources Board (CARB) gasolines, reformulated gasoline blendstock for oxygenate blending (RBOB), ultra-low-sulfur diesel, and oxygenates and other gasoline blendstocks. Valero also produces a substantial slate of middle distillates, jet fuel, and petrochemicals, in addition to lube oils and asphalt. Valero markets branded and unbranded refined products on a wholesale basis in the United States and Canada through a bulk and rack marketing network. It also sells refined products through a network of approximately 5,800 retail and wholesale branded outlets. Effective July 1, 2007, the Company completed the sale of the Lima, Ohio refinery to Husky Energy Inc.
Breakdown trigger: $32 *** New trigger ***
Buy 2010 $40 LEAP Call YPY-AH
Breakout trigger: dropped
USO - US Oil Fund
I am targeting worst case here with crude falling to $100. That would take the USO to $80 and very strong support. This is a hail Mary play where we could do very good if triggered but odds of getting triggered are slim.
United States Oil Fund, LP (USOF) is a commodity pool that issues limited partnership interests or units that may be purchased and sold on the American Stock Exchange (the AMEX). The Company invests in futures contracts for light, sweet crude oil and other types of crude oil, heating oil, gasoline, natural gas and other petroleum-based fuels that are traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), International Currency Exchange (ICE) Futures or other United States and foreign exchanges (collectively, Oil Futures Contracts). It holds interests in other oil-related investments such as cash-settled options on Oil Futures Contracts, forward oil contracts, and oil-based over-the-counter transactions. As of December 31, 2007, USOF held 4,754 Oil Futures Contracts traded on the NYMEX and 300 Oil Futures Contracts traded on the ICE Futures. The Company operates under full management control of its sole General Partner, Victoria Bay Asset Management, LLC (the General Partner).
I am not using LEAPS because I view this as a short-term trade.
Breakdown trigger: $82
Buy DEC $90 Call UNA-AL
AAPL - Apple Computer
Despite my comments in the RIMM play description I think Apple is primed to explode when Best Buy begins selling the iPhone. This is a great entry into the mass market and 986 Best Buy stores and it will all happen in about three weeks.
Apple Inc. designs, manufactures, and markets personal computers, portable digital music players, and mobile communication devices and sells a variety of related software, services, peripherals, and networking solutions. The Company sells its products worldwide through its online stores, its retail stores, its direct sales force, and third-party wholesalers, resellers, and value-added resellers. In addition, the Company sells a variety of third-party Macintosh (Mac), iPod and iPhone compatible products, including application software, printers, storage devices, speakers, headphones, and various other accessories and peripherals through its online and retail stores. The Company sells to education, consumer, creative professional, business and government customers.
I am using shorter-term calls rather than LEAPS because of the extreme premium for LEAPS of $35 or more. If you have the money to play you can buy the $150 call and sell the $200 put for a net debit of about $5 and a move to $225-$250 as many analysts expect would be very profitable. The risk is 2:1 because a falling stock price increases your short put premium while your long call premium shrinks. You lose on both sides. However, if Apple rises you win big on both sides. It would not be a play for timid traders.
Breakout trigger: $182
Buy Jan 2009 $200 Call APV-AT
Breakdown trigger: $165
Buy Jan 2009 $190 Call APV-AR
FLS - Flowserv
I am going to keep running this play until we get it right. Outstanding earnings, rising backlogs, no end in sight for the drilling sector.
Flowserve Corporation (Flowserve) is a manufacturer and aftermarket service provider of flow control systems. The Company develops and manufactures precision-engineered flow control equipment, such as pumps, valves and seals, for critical service applications. Flowserve offers a range of aftermarket equipment services, such as installation, advanced diagnostics, repair and retrofitting. The Company sells its products and services to more than 10,000 companies, including engineering and construction firms, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), distributors and end users. The Company operates through three business segments: Flowserve Pump Division (FPD) for engineered pumps, industrial pumps and related services; Flow Control Division (FCD) for engineered and industrial valves, control valves, actuators and controls and related services, and Flow Solutions Division (FSD) for precision mechanical seals and related products and services
Breakdown trigger: $120
Buy Jan 2009 $140 Call FLS-AH
PCP - Precision Cast Parts
Similar to Flowserve but different. PCP appears to have made a bottom at $92 and a break over $104 would be strong.
Precision Castparts Corp. is a manufacturer of complex metal components and products, provides investment castings, forgings and fasteners/fastener systems for critical aerospace and industrial gas turbine (IGT) applications. The Company also provides investment castings and forgings for general industrial, automotive, armament, medical and other applications; nickel alloys and product forms, as well as cobalt alloys, for the aerospace, chemical processing, oil and gas, pollution control and other industries; fasteners for automotive and general industrial markets; specialty alloys, waxes and metal processing solutions for the investment casting industry; refiner plates, screen cylinders and other products for the pulp and paper industry; metal-injection-molded and ThixoFormed parts for automotive and other markets; low-pressure sewer systems; gas monitoring systems for the power generation industry, and metalworking tools for the fastener market and other applications.
Breakdown trigger: $93
Buy Jan 2010 $120 LEAP Call YAM-AD
Breakout trigger: $105
Buy Jan 2010 $120 LEAP Call YAM-AD
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