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Canadian oil industry will lose $2.1B in 2015, Conference Board predicts

The Conference Board has issued a gloomy outlook for the oil industry, saying Canadian companies will lose $2.1 billion in pretax income this year despite deep cuts in spending.

Group forecasts another 4 years for prices to recover to $70 US a barrel amid slow global growth

The Conference Board says the Canadian oil industry has pulled back - including cutting 35,000 jobs - but will still lose $2.1B this year. (Norm Betts/Bloomberg News)

The Conference Board has issued a gloomy outlook for the oil industry, saying Canadian companies will lose $2.1 billion in pretax income this year despite deep cuts in spending.

Industry revenues will fall by 22 per cent this year and investment levels are expected to be down by 39 per cent since 2014, according to the Canadian Oil Industry Outlook released Wednesday by the think-tank.

It says job opportunities in the oil and gas industry have shrunk by 7.4 per cent.

And while 2015 may be the low point for Canada's oil and gas players, the recovery is unlikely to happen quickly, the report said.

Low crude oil prices, with benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude now below $45 US a barrel, will linger for several years, it predicts. WTI is unlikely to return to the $70 a barrel level until 2019.

Global demand for oil will recover only slowly, it says, in part because of slow economic growth, but also because the world's industries are becoming more efficient. It takes less oil each year to create a unit of economic growth.

There are plenty of wild cards in the outlook for global oil supply – how much will Iran produce, will there be further unrest in the Middle East, will OPEC maintain its current high rate of production.

Nonetheless, much of the growth in oil supply in the next four years will come in Canada and the U.S.

Canadian producers have set operating-costs reduction targets in the 15 to 30 per cent range to try to survive in the low-cost oil environment, the report said.

In addition to cutting investment, they have lowered wages and eliminated jobs – about 25,000 in the oil services sector, and 10,000 in exploration and production according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

But oilsands projects have long lead times and several have gone ahead despite the low prices. Oilsands capacity is expected to reach three million barrels per day by 2019.

"Despite cuts in investment spending, over 840,000 barrels per day of oilsands capacity will be brought online between 2015 and the end of 2019, equivalent to 39 per cent of oil sands production volumes in 2014," the Conference Board report said.

The report predicts rising revenues and a return to profitability in the industry next year, though margins will be razor thin. By 2017, industry pretax profit could rise to $3 billion a year, it said.

There are plenty of unknowns in this equation as well, including government policies.

"Over the coming years, the industry is also bound to face increasing operating costs (and some degree of uncertainty) as the provincial government in Alberta implements various policy initiatives, including higher corporate taxes, stricter and costlier GHG emissions regulations, and a review of the royalty framework," the report said.

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