Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground in a canola field near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. One year after oil prices crashed to their first and only negative close during a perfect storm of energy demand bad news, Canada’s oilpatch is poised to report a first-quarter gusher of cash flow thanks to a dramatic recovery in global demand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground in a canola field near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. One year after oil prices crashed to their first and only negative close during a perfect storm of energy demand bad news, Canada’s oilpatch is poised to report a first-quarter gusher of cash flow thanks to a dramatic recovery in global demand. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

One year after crude turned negative, oilpatch relishes first-quarter profit outlook

Expectations are high for the Canadian oilpatch’s first-quarter results season

One year after oil prices crashed to their first and only negative close during a perfect storm of energy demand bad news, Canada’s oilpatch is poised to report a first-quarter gush of cash flow thanks to a dramatic recovery in global demand.

On April 20, 2020, the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate near-month contract price ended the day down a whopping US$55.90 at an unprecedented –$37.63 per barrel.

The negative close was caused by a mix of technical commodities market factors and concerns about oversupply as storage tanks grew dangerously close to full amid a collapse in demand fuelled by pandemic lockdowns and short-lived price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, said senior commodity analyst Martin King of RBN Energy in Calgary.

“Everyone was very, very negative on oil and oil demand,” he recalled in an interview, adding the remarkable level of stabilization since shows how resilient the oilpatch can be.

“So the market essentially wound up balancing itself out and we had a recovery from the depths of hell to not quite to heaven in terms of current prices, but certainly a very large scale recovery.

“Those two forces of supply and demand were brought back into a much better balance and with the demand recovery we’re seeing this year, we’re seeing inventories worldwide get drawn down to more normal levels.”

On Friday, the WTI price settled at US$63.19 per barrel, a level at which most production in North America, including in the Alberta oilsands, is profitable, said King.

WTI daily spot prices have averaged US$60.46 per barrel so far in the second quarter, up from US$58.13 in the first quarter. Both are a far cry from the US$27.95 per barrel average in the second quarter of 2020.

On Wednesday, the International Energy Agency raised its world oil demand estimate for 2021, pointing to further signs that the global economy is recovering faster than previously expected, particularly in the U.S. and China.

It now expects world oil demand to expand by 5.7 million barrels per day in 2021 to 96.7 million bpd, following a collapse of 8.7 million bpd last year.

Expectations are high for the Canadian oilpatch’s first-quarter results season, which starts Monday after markets close with PrairieSky Royalty Ltd., several analysts who cover the sector said in reports over the past week.

“Emerging from one of the worst cycles in recent memory, we believe the sector is now positioned in some of the healthiest ranks,” says a report from analysts at National Bank Financial.

“The survival mode necessitated and forced companies to reconsider capital spending habits, dividend policies, acquisitions and divestitures, cash cost management, and operational practices. Combined with the much-improved macro backdrop, the sector finds itself in an enviable position to deliver meaningful free cash flow at current price levels.”

RBC analyst Michael Harvey, who covers intermediate-sized oil and gas companies, said in a report that he expects first quarter cash flow per share for oil-weighted producers will be 39 per cent higher quarter-over-quarter, while gas-weighted producers will report a 45 per cent rise, “driven by broad strength in commodity prices.”

The end of Alberta’s mandatory crude quota program in December means that oilsands producers will show a “significant uptick” in production in the first quarter, said CIBC analysts in a report. Canada’s discount to the U.S. benchmark oil price is likely to shrink in April and May, the CIBC report said, as planned maintenance shutdowns take at least 500,000 barrels of western Canadian crude per day offline.

The analysts expect the cash stockpiles to be used for debt reduction and balance sheet repair after a year of COVID-19 induced shock, rather than a rush into capital spending, although they expect a recent consolidation trend to continue.

That’s consistent with the message presented by Alex Pourbaix, CEO of oilsands producer Cenovus Energy Inc., who said earlier this month the company would use expected higher oil prices this year to pay down debt in the wake of its $3.8-billion takeover of Husky Energy Inc.

“We are going to be basically paying all of our free cash onto our balance sheet until we get to $10 billion (in net debt) but ultimately I’d like to get significantly lower … something in the range of $8 billion,” said Pourbaix at an investor symposium.

“As we move from 10 to eight, we’ll start to consider returning cash to shareholders or maybe modest growth.”

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusoil and gas

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The organizers of the annual 39 days of July festival hope to return to live shows in Charles Hoey Park this year, like in this photo taken in 2019, but audiences at the show may be limited to 50 people due to health protocols. (File photo)
39 Days of July hoping for outdoor events in Duncan this summer

Annual music festival will run from June 25 to Aug. 2 this year

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

Oak Bay resident Hugh Thompson died Friday, May 7. (GoFundMe photo)
Oak Bay dad dies mountain biking near Shawnigan Lake

Community rallies around family with online fundraiser

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old bike rider on Vancouver Island already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

Most Read