Despite a crude price that has come off cyclical lows, Canada's oil industry is expected to lose money as a whole in 2017, the Conference Board of Canada said Monday.
"Global demand is expected to increase in coming years, suggesting that prices will continue the upward trajectory that began late last summer," board economist Carlos A. Murillo said. "Despite recent positive developments, however, we do not expect the industry's bottom line to return to positive territory until the fourth quarter of this year given that it started from such a weak position."
All in, the board forecasts that Canadian oil companies will lose a cumulative $1.1 billion Cdn before taxes in 2017. That's better than the $8.6 billion lost in 2016, but still solidly in the red.
After hovering around $40 US for much of last year, oil prices have recovered and been over $50 a barrel for most of 2017. The board expects that to continue, with an average price of $55 per barrel for the year. That figure is also forecast to tick up to $71 a barrel by 2021.
That's good news for the industry, and a big reason many oil companies are starting to dip their toes back into expansion plans, after spending 2015 and 2016 largely on the sidelines.
All in, the board expects capital investment from the oil companies to hit $22 billion this year. That's barely a third of the $62 billion Cdn that capital spending peaked at in 2014.
The board expects global oil demand to increase by two million barrels a day this year, outpacing an expected growth in supply of 1.3 million barrels. Oil prices dropped in 2014 because of huge oversupply, so demand outpacing supply this year should go a long way toward getting oil prices back to a level where the oil companies have sustainable profits.
Pipeline developments are also an encouraging sign for oil companies, the board noted, singling out Enbridge's Line 3 replacement and Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain expansion projects as good news for the sector. The two projects alone should add a million barrels a day of capacity to Canada's pipeline network, which would help producers get their product to market.
While they are much less certain, the Keystone XL and Energy East projects would add another two million barrels of capacity on top of that.
"While approval of these projects is good news for the industry, the reality is that new capacity is needed now, and the benefits of increased market access and better prices for the industry will take time to materialize," Murillo said. "What is more, these projects are unlikely to be all needed at the same time."