Oil Prices Reach Pre-Pandemic Level

Front-month WTI oil futures rallied over 2% to a 13-month high at $60.95.

A flaring up in the Yemeni civil war boosted crude prices, in addition to reflation-trade positioning, which is being aided by the ongoing tumble in world-wide positive Covid test results (now one third the January peak), alongside optimism about vaccination programs and prospects of big stimulus spending in the U.S. and EU.

Crude oil reaches $61 per barrel

Taking step back, the question is how much higher can oil prices go in a sustained manner.

Crude markets are now well into pre-pandemic ranges, yet global demand is not likely be restored for a considerable time.

OPEC lowers demand forecast

OPEC last week cut its 2021 oil demand projection by about 100 M barrels per day due to more severe than anticipated lockdowns in major economies in the first half of the year.

This forecast still assumes a global economic recovery in the latter half of the year on the back of successful vaccination programs. This puts the focus on supply, leaving aside the impact of a softening dollar, which is only a part of the story and is in any case a partial by-product of the demand for oil and other assets in the global reflation trade.

Higher oil prices justify shale production

The OPEC+ group are limiting quotas, which are being reviewed on a monthly basis.

Saudi Arabia unilaterally complemented this regime with an additional two-month output cut, which took effect this month and which has more than offset rising supply out of Libya and Iran.

Without talking numbers, this supply restraint is evidently proving effective given the oil price rise and the recent corresponding draw downs in global crude inventories.

But, U.S. shale oil production, which is viable again after the surge in oil prices, is rising and will have increasing impact — the rig count is already up 70% since the 2020 lows.

This is something the EIA forecasted in its February oil market report.

Then there is there question of continued OPEC discipline.

Saudi Arabia is unlikely to extend its unilateral supply reduction beyond March, as it won’t want to give up market share.

Discipline among the OPEC+ nations will be a factor going forward, and is more likely to weaken than strengthen.

The Saudi-Russian price war last year illustrated how quickly the dam of quota curtailment can burst, although a repetition of that episode seems highly unlikely.

Overall, market sentiment remains strongly bullish.

JPM in a recent note forecast an “epic systemic short squeeze” will unfold over the next month, and a GS note mooted $150.0 as an upside target.

Analysts are less optimistic, being skeptical of the bullish supply gap hypothesis.

The oil industrial is well positioned, in terms of known and unexploited reserves, to respond to any sustained demand increases, while demand-quelling factors, such as the new trend for working from home, and alternative electrical powered transport is increasingly available.

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Chesapeake Energy may file for bankruptcy

Chesapeake Energy slides as company considers bankruptcy, strategic alternatives

Shares of Chesapeake Energy (CHK) are tumbling after the company warned that it might not be able to stay in business amid low commodity prices caused by a global price war and depressed demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chesapeake is near bankruptcy

EVALUATING STRATEGIC ALTERNATIVES:

On Monday, Chesapeake Energy announced that it filed its Form 10-Q for the three-month period ended March 31, 2020 and, in light of the unprecedented market environment, has withdrawn the financial outlook it previously provided on February 26, 2020.

The company also reinstated a “going concern” warning. “Fluctuations in oil and natural gas prices have a material impact on our financial position, results of operations, cash flows and quantities of oil, natural gas and NGL reserves that may be economically produced.

Historically, oil and natural gas prices have been volatile; however, the volatility in the prices for these commodities has substantially increased as a result of COVID-19 and the OPEC+ decisions […]

Historical oil prices represented in 2020 dollar, Stockwinners

If the current depressed prices persist, combined with the scheduled reductions in the leverage ratio covenant and an expected significant reduction in our borrowing base in our scheduled determination, then our liquidity and our ability to comply with our financial covenants during the next 12 months will be adversely affected,” Chesapeake said in the filing.

Boom to bust for CHK

“Based on our current forecast, we do not expect to be in compliance with our financial covenants beginning in the fourth quarter of 2020. Failure to comply with these covenants, if not waived, would result in an event of default under our revolving credit facility, the potential acceleration of outstanding debt thereunder and the potential foreclosure on the collateral securing such debt, and could cause a cross-default under our other outstanding indebtedness.

As a result of the impacts to the company’s financial position resulting from declining industry conditions and in consideration of the substantial amount of long-term debt outstanding, the company has engaged advisors to assist with the evaluation of strategic alternatives, which may include, but not be limited to, seeking a restructuring, amendment or refinancing of existing debt through a private restructuring or reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

However, there can be no assurances that the company will be able to successfully restructure its indebtedness, improve its financial position or complete any strategic transactions. As a result of these uncertainties and the likelihood of a restructuring or reorganization, management has concluded that there is substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

REVERSE STOCK SPLITs NEVER WORK:

Chesapeake stock has lost about 50% of it’s value since a 1-for-200 reverse stock split took effect after the close of trading on April 14, 2020.

The company had implemented the reverse split to raise its share price enough to regain compliance with listing standards, but it was viewed as validation of investor concerns as the company struggled with falling commodities prices, high debt levels and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the author added.

The company lost its way after Aubrey McClendon, a founder and former chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, died in a fiery car crash in 2016, a day after he was charged with conspiring to rig bids for oil and natural gas leases. Many believe he committed suicide.

Aubrey McClendon

McClendon — a key player in the U.S. shale boom — co-founded Chesapeake in 1989 and stepped down from the company in 2013. Chesapeake used to be the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States.

PRICE ACTION: In afternoon trading on Tuesday, shares of Chesapeake have dropped almost 22% to $10.13.

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