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My expectation for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices for July is unchanged from June. That is, WTI should range from $75 to $95 per barrel. A narrower range is from $77.50 to $87.50 per barrel. This is the fourth month in a row where my expectations have been unchanged.

On Friday, June 21, WTI finished the day at about $80.50. A month ago on May 20, WTI traded for about $79.50, a dollar less per barrel. Yet many oil equities were trading about 5 to 10 percent higher.

Several Canadian oil and gas investors on X (formerly Twitter) attributed this fall in value to the upcoming June 25 deadline for increased capital gains taxes. Canadian taxpayers who have more than CA$250k (about US$182k) in capital gains will have their inclusion rate increased from one-half to two-thirds. In other words, two-thirds of capital gains in excess of CA$250K will be taxed. For further information, please see the Canadian government document “Fair and Predictable Capital Gains Taxation.”

This tax rate increased created an incentive for Canadians to sell their oil and gas holdings that have increased substantially from the lows during the COVID period. The question is whether this taxation selling is the primary cause for oil equities residing at lower values today than a month ago. I will show that the answer is no, the lower oil equity valuations are not attributable to the capital gains tax increase.

Please note that I will use US, as opposed to Canadian, stock prices and will use adjusted stock prices that compensate for stock splits and dividends.

Looking at the correlation table below, we see that correlations are strong for all pairs of oil equities. The equities are Chevron, Canadian Natural Resources, Devon, MEG Energy, Suncor, and Exxon.

A linear correlation table from May 20 to June 21, 2024, for CVX, CNQ, DVN, MEGEF, SU, and XOM.

Table 1: Linear Correlation Table

The highest correlation is between CNQ and SU at 0.959. This result is not surprising because both are large, integrated Canadian oil sands producers.

Below is a scatterplot of CNQ versus SU.

A scatterplot of CNQ versus SU from 05/20/24 to 06/21/2024.

Figure 1: Scatterplot of CNQ vs SU

The lowest correlation is between MEGEF and XOM at 0.825, which is still high. This result is expected because MEGEF is a midcap oil sands company producing bitumen, and Exxon is a large integrated company.

A scatterplot of MEGEF versus XOM from 05/20/24 to 06/21/2024.

Figure 2: Scatterplot of MEGEF vs XOM

The correlation between MEGEF and DVN, Canadian and American midcaps, is higher at 0.912.

A scatterplot of MEGEF versus DVN from 05/20/24 to 06/21/2024.

Figure 3: Scatterplot of MEGEF vs DVN

And finally, the correlation between two large integrated companies CNQ, Canadian, and XOM, American, is 0.877.

A scatterplot of CNQ versus XOM from 05/20/24 to 06/21/2024.

Figure 4: Scatterplot of CNQ vs XOM

The correlations between any two of these six companies are high, regardless of whether the companies are American, Canadian, or a mixture. While Canadian investors might have some influence on Canadian companies, they will have negligible influence on large-cap American companies.

If smaller Canadian retail investors wanted to reset their cost basis, they could have sold and immediately repurchased their shares. If a larger Canadian investor with a large number of shares wanted to sell and repurchase her shares, she could have engaged in a combination trade. Let us walk through an example. Say an investor has 100,000 shares of CNQ, which closed at US$34.48 that she wanted to sell and repurchase for nearly the same price. Dumping 100k shares on the market immediately would likely affect the stock price. So as last Friday came to a close, she could have executed the following combination trade, where both parts are executed simultaneously, for a credit of $34.93:

  • Sell 100,000 shares of CNQ
  • Sell 1,000 CNQ put contracts for June 21 with a $35 strike

Selling the 100k shares is understandable. When the investor sells 1,000 June 35 puts, she provides the counterparty or market makers with the right, but not the obligation, to sell 100k shares of CNQ at $35. The credit of $34.93 provides the market maker with a $0.07 per share incentive to execute the trade. Typically, the market maker will likely require $0.05 to $0.10 per share to execute the trade. The net effect for our imaginary investor is that she gave up $0.07 per share to sell and repurchase her shares on Friday.

If she entered the trade earlier in the day and wanted to ensure that the puts would be in-the-money at the trading close, she could have chosen the $36.25 strike instead of the $35 strike. In that case, the credit would be $36.18, again just $0.07 per share less than the strike price.

As far as the increase in Canadian capital gains taxes are concerned, they were not a major contributing factor in driving oil equity valuations lower. The correlations between any two oil equities in table 1 are high. Furthermore, Canadian investors could have easily sold and repurchased their shares through put assignments during the last several weeks and months. The reason for oil equities trading lower with oil prices at current levels remains a mystery.

Away from Canadian capital gains taxes and back to the original topic of oil prices, there have been no fundamental changes that have caused a reevaluation of my WTI range. While there were announcements by OPEC+, IEA, and EIA during the early June, nothing has fundamentally changed. So my outlook stays the same.

Disclosure: long and short CNQ puts; long and short DVN calls and puts; long SU stock, and long and short SU calls and puts; and long and short XOM calls and puts.


Oil Update—May 2024

My expectation for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices for June is unchanged from May. That is, WTI should range from $75 to $95 per barrel. A narrower range is from $77.50 to $87.50 per barrel. This is the third month in a row where my expectations have been unchanged.

As I compose this blog entry, WTI is hovering around $77.25 per barrel, which is slightly below my narrower range. I expect WTI prices to strengthen in June.
Over the past month, nothing material has changed. Concerns about China’s recovery and growth remain. The wars in the Middle East and in Ukraine also remain. The US central bank is still worried about inflation.

A couple of months ago when oil was higher, many of the oil cognoscenti were suggesting that OPEC+, when it meets in the next few days, may need to add more oil into the market. According to a Reuters new article on May 31 “OPEC+ working on complex production cut deal for 2024-2025, sources say,” some are now suggesting that a deeper cut cannot be ruled out:

LONDON, May 31 (Reuters) – OPEC+ is working on a complex deal to be agreed at its meeting on Sunday that will allow the group to extend some of its deep oil production cuts into 2025, three sources familiar with OPEC+ discussions said on Thursday.

OPEC+ has made a series of cuts since late 2022 amid rising output from the United States and other non-members, and worries over the demand outlook as major economies grapple with high interest rates to tame inflation.

“We would not entirely rule out a plot twist – in the form of a deeper cut – given (Saudi energy minister) Prince Abdulaziz’s (bin Salman) penchant for Hollywood twist endings,” said Helima Croft from RBC Capital Markets.

A May 31 Bloomberg article “Key Oil Ministers Head to Riyadh as OPEC+ Plans Change Again” (subscription required, though the article can be found from other free sources) stated that the cuts will be extended to yearend and possibly into 2025:

Major OPEC+ producers will gather in Riyadh this weekend to debate oil output cuts after the Saudi-led group revised its meeting plans for a second time.

Top officials from Kazakhstan, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are among those due to convene in the Saudi capital on Sunday, according to officials. They’ll discuss prolonging supply curbs to the end of this year — and potentially into 2025, said delegates, asking not to be named because the information was private.

My own personal view is that the cuts will be maintained to at least yearend with more emphasis on compliance with the voluntary cuts. As the northern hemisphere moves further into summer with the driving season in full swing, oil prices will strengthen.


Oil Update—April 2024

My expectation for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices for May is unchanged from April. That is, WTI should range from $75 to $95 per barrel. A narrower range is from $77.50 to $87.50 per barrel.

When I provided my update last month, many seemed optimistic that current prices just above $80 per barrel were a way station on the path to imminent higher prices. I was more cautious, believing that there are geopolitical and economic forces at play that may damp a rapid escalation of prices. China may enter the picture to restrain oil prices. And, of course, there are wars in Ukraine and Israel, and central banks are still fighting inflation.

Nothing has materially changed from last month to change my outlook. I keep hoping for a breakthrough in the war in Israel, not because of its effect upon oil prices but because it would be good for humanity.

Usually, I have an article to reference to bolster my position, but not today. My quick take is that oil markets are still settling out from the OPEC+ cuts.

Eric Nuttall, whom I greatly respect, has a more bullish outlook than I do. Even when you disagree or have a slightly different viewpoint than others, you should always consider their opinions. So I will leave you with his eight-minute YouTube.


Oil Update—March 2024

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices for April should range from $75 to $95 per barrel, an increase of $5 per barrel from March. A narrower range is from $77.50 to $87.50 per barrel.

During the last two months, oil prices have slowly been grinding higher. Last month, I expected prices to stay in the high $70s and low $80s. Oil prices closed on Thursday, March 28 at about $83 dollars per barrel.

Now that oil prices have cracked above $80 per barrel, some analysts are calling for $100 per barrel or greater by the end of summer. I am reluctant to be as bullish as they are. When I think about oil prices at these levels, I wonder where OPEC+ wants to stabilize prices. Of course, OPEC+ does not target prices. Instead, it manages oil deficits and surpluses, which many of us view as is just another way of managing prices.

Because 2024 is an election year in the United States, OPEC+ may be more cautious about letting prices rise too high. Just like the central banks, OPEC+ does not want to be seen as affecting the election. It will need to work with the government that Americans elect in the fall.

Furthermore, central banks around the world have raised rates to damp inflation, and they have been successful. If oil prices continue their ascent, that may threaten inflation targets once again, causing central banks to pump the brakes on rate decreases and, in turn, slowing economies around the world.

And, according to Dr. Anas Alhajji, who frequently reminds his paid subscribers on his Energy Outlook Advisors Substack website, China may use its inventories to damp oil prices too.

As WTI oil prices rise above $80 and Brent prices approach $90, I grow increasingly cautious.

How confident am I of my outlook? Not very, because the geopolitical situation can change in a heartbeat, the Saudis may want higher prices than I believe, and China may not be interested in stabilizing the market.

Like many others, I am curious how OPEC+ reacts to these higher prices.


Oil Update—February 2024

For March, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil prices should range between $70 and $90 per barrel. This is an increase of $5 per barrel from last month. A narrower range is between $75 and $85 per barrel.

For most of last month, prices were tightly packed between the low- and high $70s. As the month wore on, prices crept higher. For March, I expect more of the same, just slightly higher prices.

Because of my prior work experience with Syncrude many years ago when I was part of the team that created the oil sands generic fiscal regime and because I invest in oil equities, I have always have an active interest in oil sands developments. One article that caught my attention last month was a Bloomberg article “The $10 Billion Mistake That Will Revive Canadian Oil” (subscription required) by Javier Blas. One paragraph in particular stood out:

Despite its colossal cost, TMX had two advantages that may compensate for the financial folly. One is that it’s likely to narrow the differential between Canadian and US crude, leading to higher revenue for everyone involved in the petroleum industry — and that includes provincial governments which take royalties. How much the discount would narrow is hotly debated. On average, it has averaged minus $17 a barrel between 2010 and 2024. The consensus is, that’s going to trend now toward minus $10 a barrel. Crucially, TMX probably means that the differential will no longer suffer from its perennial blowouts, when it has widened to as much as minus $40 and even minus $50 a barrel. Second, it should facilitate investment in new production, leading to higher tax revenue.

Canadian heavy oil, known as Western Canadian Select (WCS), sells at a discount to WTI. As seen from the quoted paragraph, this differential can vary widely over time.

Intuitively, higher WCS prices for producers is a good thing. But what if that producer is an integrated producer?

Integrated producers upgrade their crude bitumen to synthetic crude oil (SCO), which typically trades at or near the same prices as WTI. Alberta royalties are assessed against bitumen prices. If bitumen prices rise, then so, too, do royalties. An integrated producer, however, does not enjoy increased revenues because its revenues are dependent upon its final product, SCO. In other words, its intermediate product, crude bitumen, has increased in value and requires a higher royalty payment, while its final product still sells for WTI prices.

For those wanting more information on oil sands royalty framework, I refer you to the Alberta government website: “Oil sands royalties – Overview.”

WCS is different from crude bitumen in that diluent has been added to crude bitumen. The end result, though, is that bitumen is more valuable than it was before the change in differentials.

A non-integrated producer or bitumen only producer will have higher revenues, royalties, and profits. Integrated operations, though, will have higher royalties, same revenues, and thus lower profits.

Returning to the main topic, I expect WTI prices to stay generally within $75 to $85 per barrel, with an additional $5 on either side for any minor excursions.