The U.S. shale response to Saudi attacks? Not much, says IHS Markit


WASHINGTON - The initial 15% oil price jump resulting from the attacks in Saudi Arabia will not have any impact on the trajectory of 2019 U.S. shale production, IHS Markit says.

“Looking ahead, any effect on 2020 growth will also be muted unless prices are sustained above the mid-$70s level,” said Raoul Leblanc, executive director, IHS Markit.

This price surge is coming at a time when U.S. producers have been battered by financial markets for their profligate spending. As a result, expect shareholders to see the lion’s share of any price windfall.

The 15% surge in prices was one of the largest on record. But it came from a relatively weak base. Prices are still roughly $8 lower than last year for West Texas Intermediate (WTI).

To gauge the impact on the shale patch, IHS Markit has modeled the impact on production and cash flow of a $5/bbl and $10/bbl price increase from a base case around $62/bbl for 2020.

The base case assumes relatively conservative capital management, anticipating that producers will run a 10% cash surplus in 2020. IHS Markit estimates that for up to a $10/bbl price increase, 25% of the windfall would be reinvested to lift growth, while 75% would be used to return money to shareholders via debt repay, dividends and buybacks.

In this base case:

  • Any price uplift would have a relatively muted effect on U.S. shale output. Our base case price assumption delivers entry-to-exit growth in 2020 of around 480,000 b/d. A $5/bbl uplift only delivers an extra 50,000-75,000 b/d of growth (using the assumption of 25% reinvestment).
  • A $10/bbl price increase is more significant, lifting growth from the base by around 200,000 b/d to nearly 700,000 b/d.  Nevertheless, this is still much slower growth than 2018 and would likely constitute the deciding factor for global supply/demand balances. 

“This is a zero-sum game between re-investment for growth and returning cash to shareholders,” said Leblanc. “Last time producers faced this choice as oil prices rose in early 2018, they ended up spending a large portion of that windfall, causing production to surge and eventually aiding the collapse of oil prices and their equity values. Expect things to be different this time around because investors are forcing them to respond differently.”

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