Oil

NioCorp Developments Ltd. has successfully produced high-purity 99.9% commercial grade Scandium Trioxide from its Elk Creek, Ne., Superalloy Materials Project and the company has finalized plans for a proposed scandium purification circuit there.

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Niocorp also announced that it anticipates public release of the results of its Elk Creek Feasibility Study in the second calendar quarter of 2017. Following the release of the study, the company intends to intensify efforts to secure government permits and obtain project financing to prepare for the launch of construction operations in Nebraska.

NioCorp’s successful production of a high-purity commercial grade scandium, an element used to make superstrong and light alloys used in both the automotive and aerospace industries, was conducted at SGS Mineral Services lab in Lakefield, Ont., Canada. This is a major milestone in Niocorp’s plans to become one of the world’s largest producers of the high-value metal. A 99.9% purity level, otherwise known as 3Ns or “three nines” scandium, meets or exceeds the purity needed for the additive’s use in virtually all of its mainstream commercial applications, including ultra-high-performance aluminum-scandium alloys for the aerospace and automotive industries, in the solid oxide fuel cell industry, and in other defense and non-defense applications.

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NioCorp said in a news release that the test showed its scandium product meets or exceeds the purity specifications of all potential customers with whom it has been in discussions.

OPEC Output Cut Threatened: Saudi Arabia Demands Iranian Cut

Saudi Arabia may demand that Iran, which is allowed a slight rise in output under the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ deal with member-states and non-members such as Russia, commit to an output reduction as a condition of continuing the cuts, people familiar with the kingdom’s thinking told S&P Global Platts.

President Donald Trump said today that his administration has approved the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to block the oil transportation project.

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Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump officially announced the approval shortly after the State Department issued TransCanada‘s permit, making good on one of his campaign promises. The approval greenlights the Canadian company to complete construction on the pipeline that will funnel crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The American Petroleum Institute praised the approval.

“Today’s action to approve the Keystone XL pipeline’s cross-border permit is welcome news and is critical to creating American jobs, growing the economy, and making our nation more energy secure,” said API President and CEO Jack Gerard. “This critical infrastructure project has been studied longer than any pipeline project in U.S. history with exhaustive reviews by the State Department concluding that the project is safe for the environment and the best option for transporting domestic crude and Canadian oil to U.S. refineries.”

The 1,179-mile addition to existing pipelines that will stretch from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast is estimated to create 42,000 construction jobs but only 35 full-time, maintenance positions once it’s completed.

Lopez Allows Suspended Mines to Ship Out Stockpiled Nickel Ore

The Philippines’ environment ministry, led by Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Regina Lopez, has allowed eight suspended nickel ore miners to ship out stockpiles of mined ore, sources told Reuters, temporarily boosting supply from the world’s top exporter of the raw metal after a major crackdown.

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More than half of all the mines in the Philippines have been ordered to permanently shut to protect watersheds in an eight-month campaign led by Lopez.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have done the U.S. oil industry a massive favor, and they are probably ruing the day they tried to squeeze America’s shale industry out of existence.

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The collapse in oil prices that ensued after Saudi Arabia-led OPEC opened the spigots two years ago forced American companies, and their many subcontractors, to innovate in a way that would never have happened so fast or gone so far without the imminent threat of survival forcing the pace.

Oil Prices Allow Reopening of Old Wells

Now, U.S. shale producers have achieved economies of scale that allow them to return to previously closed wells in fields like Eagle Ford and achieve 30% returns even at $40 a barrel. U.S. explorers may be making hay in the domestic market, but huge potential exists for these same firms to take their technology abroad. Read more

Just a few weeks ago, the future looked bright for the oil price. Back in November, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and a number of non-OPEC producers agreed to cutbacks intended to reign in surplus global oil stocks and, in so doing, support the oil price.

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Initially, the agreement met with considerable success. Hedge funds and speculative investors went long on oil and the price rose. But, this week several comments and statistical reports coincided to remove some of that optimism and resulted in steep price falls. The West Texas Intermediate benchmark fell under $50 for the first time since December while Brent Crude was also down to $52.41 a barrel, its lowest level since November.

Source: The Financial Times.

According to the Financial Times, Wednesday’s decline came after the Energy Information Administration said inventories of U.S. crude stocks climbed by 8.2 million barrels, far more than analysts expected, as refinery oil purchases declined. If the rise in inventory was solely down to refineries slowing or delaying purchases, the impact would not have been as dramatic but the fear among investors is U.S. shale production is roaring back.

Reshalience Explained

Even Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, is quoted as saying OPEC’s agreement and the corresponding price increase has helped the U.S. shale market to recover and, perversely, undermined efforts to stabilize crude prices. U.S. shale producers have responded to low crude prices by innovating and cutting costs. Breakeven for many is now $40 a barrel, with some said to be as low as $25. Rig counts have doubled since the Spring of last year and output has continued to rise, contributing to the increase in WTI inventories.

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The oil price faces two major headwinds the FT reports. The first is little or no evidence the global oil market is really coming into balance as signatories to the agreement continue to cheat, and the second is an overhang of speculative length in the futures market. Part of this week’s price falls are said to be due to speculators bailing out of long positions after the realization that the market may not be coming back into balance as hoped late last year.

Where to, Brent?

Where the oil price goes from here is anyone’s guess but with even Saudi Arabia threatening not to renew the cutback agreement in the summer if global inventories do not fall back as expected — if other members of the agreement continue to cheat — the probability is the market overhang could get worse in the second half of the year.

U.S. shale oil producers appear to be enthusiastically ramping up production which will likely add do U.S. oil inventories and further depress the price. The oil price has a level which realistically reflects supply and demand but it’s almost certainly below $50 a barrel in today’s market.

Reuters reported that U.S. stock index futures rose to record intraday highs on Tuesday as oil prices surged and investors assessed earnings from top U.S. retailers.

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The theory is share prices are being driven higher by a strong oil price and retailers who are reporting better than expected store sales. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Macy’s, and Home Depot sales are all up on robust consumer demand. If stock prices were supported on consumer confidence alone, we could see an argument for this bull run in share prices to continue.

Stocks are up

Stock prices continue to rise thanks to strong retail sales and oil prices. Source Adobe Stock/Tiagozr.

There is plenty of optimism around. Donald Trump’s much-vaunted infrastructure projects are expected to create significant demand and have an inflationary impact on the economy… when they eventually see the light of day. 2018 At the earliest is our expectation since few are shovel-ready and all will have to get past Congress first. Meanwhile, though, the economy is adding jobs at a steady rate and unemployment is low.

Oil Supply

However, if Reuters is right and shares are being driven higher in part due to the oil price, we have a few concerns. The oil price was driven higher by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries‘ production cap agreement last year, an agreement to which both major OPEC producers and 11 non-OPEC countries like Russia signed up to in an effort to reduce excess production and bring the market into balance by the summer. Read more

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Tuesday, paving the way for an infrastructure project that has been surrounded by protest and controversy.

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Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army, announced the decision to Congress, saying he was ready to offer the pipeline’s owner a 30-year easement on a disputed patch of land.

In the decision, Speer said he would halt the preparation of an environmental impact statement meant to assess the effects of the pipeline, adding that he had sufficient information to support approval. The pipeline had already passed environmental review and a federal judge found for the pipeline after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe flied a lawsuit, based on the tribe’s water supply and sacred lands, against it before then-President Obama halted the project last November. No part of the proposed route goes through tribal lands.

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The easement will allow for the completion of the last mile and a half of the 1,172-mile project, connecting oil production areas in North Dakota to a crude oil terminal near Patoka, Ill. The pipeline is owned by Energy Transfer Partners. In a statement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said, “Today’s announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers brings this issue one step closer to final resolution — and delivers the certainty and clarity I’ve been demanding.”

OPEC’s oil output fell by more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) January, a Reuters survey recently found, pointing to a strong start by the exporter group in implementing its first supply cut deal in eight years.

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to cut its output by about 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 to prop up oil prices and reduce a supply glut.

North Dakota Senator John Hoeven (R.) said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to provide the easement necessary to build the final leg of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe.

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Hoeven said he spoke with acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer and Vice President Mike Pence Tuesday.

The Army Corps issued a statement Wednesday saying it had initiated the steps outlined in President Donald Trump’s directive to complete the 1,172-mile crude oil pipeline but that no permit has been granted. A decision will be made “once a full review and analysis is completed” in accordance with the directive, Malcolm Frost, a spokesman, said in the statement.

U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, also said that the Army Corps had notified Congress of its plan to grant the easement. A spokesman for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others that have fought against its construction, said Tuesday that it will challenge any suspension of the federal environmental review that previously held up the pipeline. However, the Tribe lost a previous challenge in federal court when a judge approved the final eight miles of the route, noting that the proposed route does not go through tribal lands.

Navarro: Germany Takes Advantage of Undervalued Euro

Peter Navarro, the head of President Trump’s new National Trade Council, recently gave an interview to the Financial Times. The economist told the FT that Germany is using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the U.S. The euro has weakened against the dollar over the past two years.

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He also told the FT that one of the administration’s trade priorities is unwinding and repatriating the international supply chains on which many U.S. multinational companies rely, “It does the American economy no long-term good to only keep the big box factories where we are now assembling ‘American’ products that are composed primarily of foreign components,” he said. “We need to manufacture those components in a robust domestic supply chain that will spur job and wage growth.”

President Donald Trump is expected to take executive action Tuesday to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines Trump told reporters before a meeting at the White House this morning. The president is scheduled to sign orders at the White House later today.

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Former President Barack Obama stopped TransCanada Corp.‘s proposed Keystone XL pipeline in late 2015, declaring it would have undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was a centerpiece of his environmental legacy, a deal that Trump has said he will pull the U.S. out of.

The pipeline would run from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf Coast. The U.S. government needed to approve the pipeline because it crossed the border with its northern neighbor. Read more

The International Energy Agency recently upgraded its estimate for rising U.S. shale production this year, projecting output will increase by 500,000 barrels per day by the end of 2017, which will translate to an increase of 170,000 bpd averaged over the year.

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Benchmark crude prices subsequently fell in London. In the first week of January, U.S. crude production rose to 8.95 million bpd, the highest level since April. Oil-rig use expanded to 529 in the prior week, a 67% increase from the 2016 low of 316.

Japanese Steel Officially Worried About Trump

Japan’s steel industry is concerned over the risks of a U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and reform of the North American Free Trade Agreement by the incoming Trump administration, a Japanese industry official said on Friday.

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“We are worried about the risks of the Trump administration taking protectionism actions or policies,” Kosei Shindo, chairman of the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, told a news conference.