• 5 hours Russia Approves Profit-Based Oil Tax For 2019
  • 9 hours French Strike Disrupts Exxon And Total’s Oil Product Shipments
  • 11 hours Kurdistan’s Oil Exports Still Below Pre-Conflict Levels
  • 13 hours Oil Production Cuts Taking A Toll On Russia’s Economy
  • 15 hours Aramco In Talks With Chinese Petrochemical Producers
  • 16 hours Federal Judge Grants Go-Ahead On Keystone XL Lawsuit
  • 18 hours Maduro Names Chavez’ Cousin As Citgo Boss
  • 1 day Bidding Action Heats Up In UK’s Continental Shelf
  • 1 day Keystone Pipeline Restart Still Unknown
  • 1 day UK Offers North Sea Oil Producers Tax Relief To Boost Investment
  • 1 day Iraq Wants To Build Gas Pipeline To Kuwait In Blow To Shell
  • 2 days Trader Trafigura Raises Share Of Oil Purchases From State Firms
  • 2 days German Energy Group Uniper Rejects $9B Finnish Takeover Bid
  • 2 days Total Could Lose Big If It Pulls Out Of South Pars Deal
  • 2 days Dakota Watchdog Warns It Could Revoke Keystone XL Approval
  • 2 days Oil Prices Rise After API Reports Major Crude Draw
  • 3 days Citgo President And 5 VPs Arrested On Embezzlement Charges
  • 3 days Gazprom Speaks Out Against OPEC Production Cut Extension
  • 3 days Statoil Looks To Lighter Oil To Boost Profitability
  • 3 days Oil Billionaire Becomes Wind Energy’s Top Influencer
  • 3 days Transneft Warns Urals Oil Quality Reaching Critical Levels
  • 3 days Whitefish Energy Suspends Work In Puerto Rico
  • 3 days U.S. Authorities Arrest Two On Major Energy Corruption Scheme
  • 3 days Thanksgiving Gas Prices At 3-Year High
  • 3 days Iraq’s Giant Majnoon Oilfield Attracts Attention Of Supermajors
  • 3 days South Iraq Oil Exports Close To Record High To Offset Kirkuk Drop
  • 4 days Iraqi Forces Find Mass Graves In Oil Wells Near Kirkuk
  • 4 days Chevron Joint Venture Signs $1.7B Oil, Gas Deal In Nigeria
  • 4 days Iraq Steps In To Offset Falling Venezuela Oil Production
  • 4 days ConocoPhillips Sets Price Ceiling For New Projects
  • 6 days Shell Oil Trading Head Steps Down After 29 Years
  • 6 days Higher Oil Prices Reduce North American Oil Bankruptcies
  • 6 days Statoil To Boost Exploration Drilling Offshore Norway In 2018
  • 7 days $1.6 Billion Canadian-US Hydropower Project Approved
  • 7 days Venezuela Officially In Default
  • 7 days Iran Prepares To Export LNG To Boost Trade Relations
  • 7 days Keystone Pipeline Leaks 5,000 Barrels Into Farmland
  • 7 days Saudi Oil Minister: Markets Will Not Rebalance By March
  • 7 days Obscure Dutch Firm Wins Venezuelan Oil Block As Debt Tensions Mount
  • 7 days Rosneft Announces Completion Of World’s Longest Well
Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is a freelance writer on oil and gas, renewable energy, climate change, energy policy and geopolitics. He is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

More Info

Could Falling Oil Prices Spark A Financial Crisis?

Could Falling Oil Prices Spark A Financial Crisis?

The oil and gas boom in the United States was made possible by the extensive credit afforded to drillers. Not only has financing come from company shareholders and traditional banks, but hundreds of billions of dollars have also come from junk-bond investors looking for high returns.

Junk-bond debt in energy has reached $210 billion, which is about 16 percent of the $1.3 trillion junk-bond market. That is a dramatic rise from just 4 percent that energy debt represented 10 years ago.

As is the nature of the junk-bond market, lots of money flowed to companies with much riskier drilling prospects than, say, the oil majors. Maybe drillers were venturing into an uncertain shale play; maybe they didn’t have a lot of cash on hand or were a small startup. Whatever the case may be, there is a reason that they couldn’t offer “investment grade” bonds. In order to tap the bond market, these companies had to pay a hefty interest rate.

Related: What Low Oil Prices Mean For The U.S. Economy

For investors, this offers the opportunity for high yield, which is why hundreds of billions of dollars helped finance companies in disparate parts of the country looking to drill in shale. When oil prices were high and production was relentlessly climbing, energy related junk bonds looked highly profitable.

But junk bonds pay high yields because they are high risk, and with oil prices dipping below $70 per barrel, companies that offered junk bonds may not have the revenue to pay back bond holders, potentially leading to steep losses in the coming weeks and months.

The situation will compound itself if oil prices stay low. The junk bond market may begin to shun risky drilling companies, cutting off access to capital. Without the ability to finance drilling, smaller or more indebted oil companies may not have a future. The Wall Street Journal profiled a few fund managers who are beginning to steer clear of smaller oil companies. Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the oil and gas sector on November 25 to a “negative” outlook because of falling oil prices.

If oil prices stay at $65 per barrel for three years, 40 percent of all energy junk bonds could be looking at default, according to a recent JP Morgan estimate. While that is a long-term and uncertain scenario, the pain is being felt today. The FT reported that a third of energy debt issued in the junk-bond market is currently in “distressed” territory.

That begs the question; could a shakeout of the oil industry spark a broader financial crisis? Banks and other financial institutions could be overly exposed to energy debt. The Telegraph paints a dire scenario in which the debt bubble bursts because of low oil prices, leading to a cascading 2008-style financial collapse, at least in the junk bond market.

Such a scenario may be a bit overblown. Persistently low interest rates keep demand for junk bonds high, meaning oil companies will probably be able to restructure their debt and continue to access capital. Also, drillers will not immediately face an existential crisis because many have hedged themselves, locking in prices for a certain amount of production.

Related: The 2014 Oil Price Crash Explained

But a junk bond crisis could become more likely if oil prices stay low for an extended period of time. Once a few companies begin to default, the problem could quickly spread. Another variable is how quickly the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, which could significantly affect the attractiveness of the junk bond market.

Local and regional banks could be highly exposed as well, especially if energy loans make up a large share of their lending portfolio. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that banks like Oklahoma-based BOK Financial – with 19 percent of its loan portfolio made up of energy loans – could be the most vulnerable. Moreover, an economic downturn in regions that depend heavily on energy, such as Texas or North Dakota, could see a broader decline in demand for loans of all kinds. That could add to the pain for local banks.

Low oil prices are not just a problem for oil companies. Investment funds, hungry for yield in a low interest rate environment, have poured money into oil and gas. To be sure, we are far from a crisis at this point, but if oil prices don’t rebound, a lot of people are going to lose a lot of money.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:




Back to homepage


Leave a comment

Leave a comment




Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News