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

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Bentley Martin (left), Graelynn Roche, and Paisleigh Martin (right) sell iced tea on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Lindsey Roche/Contributed)
Kelowna children raise money for hospital with iced tea stand

Three children in Glenmore set up an iced tea stand to raise money for Kelowna General Hospital

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Danny Fulton receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 27. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
All adults in Rutland, Summerland now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Province expands age range to 18+ for vaccinations in ‘high transmission’ areas

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

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.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Okanagan First Nation band concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, much to dismay of Splatsin First Nation near Enderby

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

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 (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Shuswap shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read