The Oil Industry Is Climbing Out Of A Hole

Since early November the oil industry — which some had declared dead after the crushing losses earlier in the year — has gone on an impressive rally. ExxonMobil shares are up 27% in one month. Chevron has risen 37%. Royal Dutch Shell shares are up 60%. ConocoPhillips is up 49%.

The catalyst for this rally was news that effective Covid-19 vaccines are on the way, spelling a potential end to this pandemic. That news sent oil prices up by about 20% over the past month, which in turn lifted the entire energy sector.

The oil industry has been on a wild ride over the past year. The year started out promising for the oil industry, but then oil companies were hit with a double whammy. Russia and Saudi Arabia had a disagreement over production cuts that initially sent oil prices down, and then the growing Covid-19 pandemic sent oil prices plunging all the way into negative territory for the first time ever.

Now that conditions seem to be improving, let’s take a look at where certain oil industry measures stand today versus where they were a year ago.

First, oil prices a year ago were close to $60 a barrel (bbl). Today they are about $45/bbl. The primary reason for that is demand that was reduced as people cut travel due to the pandemic.

According to the Petroleum Status Report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 0verall demand for petroleum products a year ago was 21.1 million BPD. Today, that number is 19.2 million BPD. Year-to-date, oil demand has been 12.4% lower than it was in 2019.

The hardest-hit petroleum product has been jet fuel. Many people have avoided unnecessary travel during this pandemic, and that has translated into a 40.1% decline in jet fuel demand.

The collapse in oil product demand led to the collapse in oil prices. That, in turn, led to a sharp decline in oil production. A year ago, U.S. oil production was at an all-time high of 12.9 million BPD. Today, production stands at 11.0 million BPD. Year-t0-date, domestic oil production is 5.7% lower than in 2019.

On a positive note, lower demand for oil products has also led to lower imports of crude oil and oil products. A year ago, the U.S. was importing 6.0 million BPD of oil per day and exporting 2.9 million BPD of oil. Imports today have fallen to 5.3 million BPD, but year-to-date oil exports have actually increased. Net imports of crude oil year-over-year have fallen by 29%.

Thus, despite the rally over the past month, the oil industry is still in a lot worse shape than it was a year ago. That’s why the share prices of companies across the oil industry are sharply down over the past year. ExxonMobil is down 41%, Chevron is down 22%, Shell is down 39%, and ConocoPhillips is down 29% over the past 12 months.

The outlook is definitely improving, but these companies are still in a hole. At least at this point, there is hope that they will climb out of it in 2021.

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