Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

WTI, the benchmark U.S. oil future, traded Wednesday morning at its highest since early March — highlighting how the worst of shale's crisis is seemingly over, though more bankruptcies likely lie ahead.

Why it matters: Its price at the time — $43 — is still too low for many producers to do well, though it varies from company to company.

  • HSBC analysts, in a note this week, said $50 is a key price point.
  • "The current price environment is leading to shut-in production being brought back on, but it is not nearly high enough to stimulate a meaningful recovery in new activity in the majority of U.S. shale acreage," they note.

The big picture: "America’s most prolific shale drillers are accepting a fate once anathema to an industry obsessed with growth: Drilling just to ward off production drops," Bloomberg reports.

What's next: Going forward, the picture remains difficult, in part because the country does not have a handle on the pandemic.

  • While some shut-in wells are returning to production, total U.S. output is expected to remain far below the pre-pandemic peaks for quite a while.
  • The HSBC note this week sees only a "temporary boost" and that "more declines are coming" due to the drilling drop off. Reminder: New shale wells decline very fast.
  • They see a potential output rise this month and next, but then: "[T]his period of growth will be short-lived and will not be able to offset the collapse in oilfield activity for long."

What they're saying: Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, in an interview with Bloomberg TV this week, points out that the recovery in oil demand has "stalled a little bit" with the growth of COVID-19 cases.

  • "I think it is going to take until the middle of 2021 for that excess [oil] inventory to be worked off. You are going to have a very challenging energy industry and oil market, probably for the next 6-12 months depending on how the virus proceeds and how demand recovers," he said.

Catch up fast: The latest round of earnings reports provide a look at how the sector is dealing with the pandemic and its financial toll.

  • The big U.S. producer Pioneer Natural Resources posted a $439 million net loss on Tuesday afternoon that reflects the price collapse but also, as Reuters notes, how spending cuts helped "cushion the blow."
  • While Pioneer has largely restored output, the company is still keeping some of its production offline due to the "current commodity price environment."
  • Another large producer, Devon Energy, yesterday afternoon posted a $670 million net loss, with earnings beating estimates, and announced further spending cuts.

What we're watching: More large producers — EOG Resources and Marathon Oil — report later this week, and the huge independent Occidental's earnings come Monday, while several others have already reported substantial Q2 losses.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Sep 24, 2020 - Economy & Business

The American economic paradox

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's the rebound economists didn't see coming.

Why it matters: America did nothing that should have been necessary to really get the economy moving again. We didn't get the coronavirus under control, and we gave up on fiscal stimulus after a single short-lived round of it. Nevertheless, we're about to close out by far the strongest quarter of economic growth in American history.

Updated 45 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 32,881,747 — Total deaths: 994,821 — Total recoveries: 22,758,171Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 a.m. ET: 7,079,909 — Total deaths: 204,503 — Total recoveries: 2,750,459 — Total tests: 100,492,536Map.
  3. States: New York daily cases top 1,000 for first time since June — U.S. reports over 55,000 new coronavirus cases.
  4. Health: The long-term pain of the mental health pandemicFewer than 10% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Business: Millions start new businesses in time of coronavirus.
  6. Education: Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect.

Durbin on Barrett confirmation: "We can’t stop the outcome"

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that Senate Democrats can “slow” the process of confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett “perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at the most," but that they "can’t stop the outcome."

Why it matters: Durbin confirmed that Democrats have "no procedural silver bullet" to stop Senate Republicans from confirming Barrett before the election, especially with only two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voicing their opposition. Instead, Democrats will likely look to retaliate after the election if they win control of the Senate and White House.

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