COVID-19

Texas oil regulator throws in the towel on supply cut

Scott Tong May 4, 2020
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The sun sets behind smoke rising from a refining plant in Houston. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Texas oil regulator throws in the towel on supply cut

Scott Tong May 4, 2020
The sun sets behind smoke rising from a refining plant in Houston. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Oil price signals suggest global demand is returning and supply cuts are coming, but analysts say prolonged recovery requires the pandemic to be under control — and a COVID-19 vaccine.

This morning the key member of the Texas commission that regulates oil — who favors supply cuts mandated by the state — threw in the towel. Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton told Bloomberg television that the proposal to require all producers to cut production was “dead” and might not even receive a vote at Tuesday morning’s meeting.

To industry analysts, it was clear given public statements of commissioners that Sitton was the only panel member supporting “proration” cuts, so he didn’t have the votes.

In any event, low crude oil prices have already achieved what regulators had sought: to cut state production.

“The market is already there or moving in that direction,” said Mark Finley, energy fellow at Rice University and former economist for BP. “The market wasn’t waiting for the railroad commission to make a decision.”

Now, Finley said, the market has moved on toward price recovery. Driving and flying are restarting in parts of the world, and crude oil prices are creeping up following a collapse in travel and oil demand in April.

“We may have seen the worst of the demand destruction,” Finley said, “as the economy begins to get back into motion here in the U.S. and around the world. And as of last Friday, the biggest coordinated production cuts in the history of the world oil market have taken effect.”

OPEC and non-OPEC producer nations began on May 1 to cut global oil supply dramatically, suggesting the world’s massive oversupply may be shrinking.

Maybe. The virus could surge again in the fall, so the key will be whether stay-at-home rules are lifted — and stay lifted.

“The recovery in demand will be driven by the easing of those containment measures,” said Ann-Louise Hittle, oil research analyst at the energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

The other “if” is whether a COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available next year, giving travelers some assurance to move about the planet.

“Our forecast is based on the assumption that there will be vaccine in the market the second quarter of next year,” Hittle said. “We just made that assumption. That kind of a recovery won’t happen if we don’t see a vaccine developed by then.”

Like so many sectors, the energy business recovery depends strongly on the future of the coronavirus curve. As one analyst told “Marketplace,” the leading economic indicator is the virus.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

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India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

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