May 23, 2019

The shale boom has become a check on the market's long-term volatility

The array of producers in the U.S. oil patch is pretty much the opposite of a cartel, but a new report distills a key reason why companies' individual decisions have together become such a powerful market force.

Reproduced from Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Chart: Axios Visuals

Driving the news: "The emergence of U.S. shale production seems to be playing a large role in anchoring long-term oil prices," notes the Dallas Fed analysis.

  • A big takeaway is that shale now acts as a check on long-term volatility.
  • Shale producers "represent strong forces that should keep long-dated futures prices from rising too high or falling too low," per the report.

Why it matters: The trajectory and range of oil prices is important for many reasons, like: consumer costs at the pump, planning decisions for crude oil buyers, and analyses of future energy demand and emissions.

What they did: The report explores the reduction in the price point for drilling profitable new wells in recent years, called breakeven prices, and their link to oil futures' markets.

  • It looks at breakevens in the Kansas City Fed and Dallas Fed regions, which together include Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and other producing areas.

What they found: Shale and other U.S. production can sand down the market's volatile edges over time, because small price increases spur a lot of new production, even at a modest price. That's because shale wells can be drilled and brought online really fast compared to conventional projects.

  • "[S]hale production means there is a much larger amount of supply that can be called into action given a much smaller price increase than in the past," the report notes.
  • “There’s a significant number of projects that can be called upon in this $50-$60 [per barrel] range,” economist and co-author Kunal Patel tells me.

By the numbers: The average breakeven price in the Dallas Fed region, which includes the surging Permian Basin, has come down 4% over the past year to $50-per-barrel, although there's lots of variation.

  • Costs have been falling for offshore and non-shale onshore wells too.

The big picture: The U.S. is now the world's largest oil producer at over 12 million barrels per day, and the shale boom is a big reason why, with roughly a third of that production coming from the Permian Basin alone.

What's next? Look for U.S. shale to keep influencing the market even as OPEC and Russia collaborate on production levels.

  • The International Energy Agency projects that the U.S. will account for the largest share of global production increases over the next 5 years.

Go deeper: A closer look at the oil boom's climate effect

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Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.