Very few non-OPEC oil projects have been financed in recent years, although market prices have risen from $20/bbl to $100/bbl. This is because oil companies and banks assumed that current prices would fall back to $40/bbl, or even lower, within 3 – 5 years.
But a new reality has been dawning, summed up by Total’s CEO last year, when he commented that major production increases from today’s $85mbd ‘would be difficult’ to achieve. Now BP have also reacted. Under new CEO Tony Hayward, they will now test projects against an assumption of $60/bbl. This 50% increase reflects a growing sense that the oil price will stay higher, and for longer, than oil companies had previously expected.
Futures markets still regard this price as too low. WTI for 2009 delivery is trading today at $85/bbl, and for 2016 delivery at $88/bbl. Buyers at these prices are aware that history would suggest oil prices should tumble in a US/western recession. But they also know that most demand growth is now taking place in Asia, and this is less price-sensitive due to subsidies.
Will the change in BP’s assumptions lead to more oil appearing? BP will certainly now invest more money, but construction costs have more than doubled in recent years. So the net effect will not be large. But at least they are investing. This was something that never appealed to Hayward’s predecessor, Lord Browne. His priority was always share buy-backs rather than investment.