Don’t worry about falling oil prices — for now

Oil prices have been in the midst of a very bad run, falling about 25% since mid-June. Today, Brent crude oil was near $86 a barrel and WTI crude was around $83 a barrel.

A week ago, the news was especially bleak: The International Energy Agency cut global oil demand estimates for 2014 and 2015, the estimated demand for OPEC crude was cut by 200,000 bpd, a Reuters survey said U.S. crude stocks had risen the previous week, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted rising shale oil output in November would add over 100,000 bpd from October.

The big drop in oil prices has pummeled oil service issues. In our monthly WorkBoat Composite Index, every operator except Cal Dive lost ground during September, with Hornbeck Offshore Services, Tidewater and Gulfmark Offshore among the biggest percentage losers. The PHLX Oil Service Sector Index lost 29 points, about 10%. The slide for energy and oil service stocks has continued in October.

But we have dealt with oil price fluctuations before. Remember in 2004 when oil companies were making record profits at $35 a barrel? Then by September 2005, prices had more than doubled.

Even at today’s “distressed” prices, oil companies can still be profitable.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, told the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 13 that global oil prices above $80 a barrel could sustain all production projects. “Globally, when we look at oil prices today, I believe there is not one single drop of which cannot be produced for commercial reasons with today’s prices,” Birol told the WSJ.

“I don’t think we’re in a lull right now that’s going to prevent companies from getting financing” for oil and gas projects, Moody’s Analytics senior economist Chris Lafakis said in an interview with Politico.com. “But when we start talking about $70 a barrel, that will present significant challenges.”

And when looking at historical data, the recent fall in crude oil prices does not mean that it’s cheap.

“It’s not $80 oil that is unusual — $100 oil was unusual,” Edward Chow, a senior fellow in the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Politico. “The fact that there is a cyclical decline should not surprise anyone. The precise timing always surprises everyone.”

Despite these recent developments, I maintain a positive long-term outlook, especially for the domestic deepwater market.

About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.

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