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Oil and gas after COVID-19: The day of reckoning or a new age of opportunity?

he oil and gas industry is experiencing its third price collapse in 12 years. After the first two shocks, the industry rebounded, and business as usual continued. This time is different. The current context combines a supply shock with an unprecedented demand drop and a global humanitarian crisis. Additionally, the sector’s financial and structural health is worse than in previous crises. The advent of shale, excessive supply, and generous financial markets that overlooked the limited capital discipline have all contributed to poor returns. Today, with prices touching 30-year lows, and accelerating societal pressure, executives sense that change is inevitable. The COVID-19 crisis accelerates what was already shaping up to be one of the industry’s most transformative moments.

While the depth and duration of this crisis are uncertain, our research suggests that without fundamental change, it will be difficult to return to the attractive industry performance that has historically prevailed. On its current course and speed, the industry could now be entering an era defined by intense competition, technology-led rapid supply response, flat to declining demand, investor scepticism, and increasing public and government pressure regarding impact on climate and the environment. However, under most scenarios, oil and gas will remain a multi-trillion-dollar market for decades. Given its role in supplying affordable energy, it is too important to fail. The question of how to create value in the next normal is therefore fundamental.

To change the current paradigm, the industry will need to dig deep and tap its proud history of bold structural moves, innovation, and safe and profitable operations in the toughest conditions. The winners will be those that use this crisis to boldly reposition their portfolios and transform their operating models. Companies that don’t will restructure or inevitably atrophy.

A troubled industry enters the crisis

The industry operates through long megacycles of shifting supply and demand, accompanied by shocks along the way. These megacycles have seen wide swings in value creation.

After the restructurings of the early 1980s, the industry created exceptional shareholder value. From 1990 to 2005, total returns to shareholders (TRS) in all segments of the industry, except refining and marketing companies, exceeded the TRS of the S&P 500 index. Oil and gas demand grew, and OPEC helped to maintain stable prices. Companies kept costs low, as memories from the 1980s of oil at $10 per barrel (bbl) were still acute. A new class of supermajor emerged from megamergers; these companies created value for decades. Similarly, the “big three” oil-field service equipment (OFSE) companies emerged. Political openings and new technologies created opportunity for all.

From 2005 to January 2020, even as macro tailwinds such as strong demand growth and effective supply access continued, the global industry failed to keep pace with the broader market. In this period, the average of the oil and gas industry generated annual TRS growth about seven percentage points lower than the S&P 500 (Exhibit 1). Every subsegment similarly underperformed the market, and independent upstream and OFSE companies delivered zero or negative TRS. The analysis excludes companies that were not listed through this period (including some structurally advantaged national oil companies, and private companies).

Exhibit 1

In the early years of this period, the industry’s profit structure was favorable. Demand expanded at more than 1 percent annually for oil and 3 to 5 percent for liquefied natural gas (LNG). The industry’s “cost curves”—its production assets, ranked from lowest to highest cost—were steep. With considerable high-cost production necessary to meet demand, the market-clearing price rose. The same was true for both gas and LNG, whose prices were often tightly linked to oil. Even in downstream, a steep cost curve of the world’s refining capacity supported high margins.

Encouraged by this highly favorable industry structure and supported by an easy supply of capital seeking returns as interest rates fell, companies invested heavily. The race to bring more barrels onstream from more complex resources, more quickly, drove dramatic cost inflation, particularly in engineering and construction. These investments brought on massive proved-up reserves, moving world supplies from slightly short to long.

Significant investment went into shale oil and gas, with several profound implications. To begin with, shale reshaped the upstream industry’s structure. As shale oil and gas came onstream, it flattened the production-cost curve (that is, moderate-cost shale oil displaced much higher-cost production such as oil sands and coal gas), effectively lowering both the marginal cost of supply and the market-clearing price (Exhibit 2).

More: https://www.mckinsey.com

About the authors: Filipe Barbosa is a senior partner, Scott Nyquist is a senior adviser, and Kassia Yanosek is a partner, all in McKinsey’s Houston office. Giorgio Bresciani is a senior partner in the London office, where Pat Graham is a partner.

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AI, Robots, and Ethics in the Age of COVID-19

Before COVID-19, most people had some degree of apprehension about robots and artificial intelligence. Though their beliefs may have been initially shaped by dystopian depictions of the technology in science fiction, their discomfort was reinforced by legitimate concerns. Some of AI’s business applications were indeed leading to the loss of jobs, the reinforcement of biases, and infringements on data privacy.

Those worries appear to have been set aside since the onset of the pandemic as AI-infused technologies have been employed to mitigate the spread of the virus. We’ve seen an acceleration of the use of robotics to do the jobs of humans who have been ordered to stay at home or who have been redeployed within the workplace. Labor-replacing robots, for example, are taking over floor cleaning in grocery stores and sorting at recycling centers. AI is also fostering an increased reliance on chatbots for customer service at companies such as PayPal and on machine-driven content monitoring on platforms such as YouTube. Robotic telepresence platforms are providing students in Japan with an “in-person” college graduation experience. Robots are even serving as noisy fans in otherwise empty stadiums during baseball games in Taiwan. In terms of data, AI is already showing potential in early attempts to monitor infection rates and contact tracing.

No doubt, more of us are overlooking our former uneasiness about robots and AI when the technology’s perceived value outweighs its anticipated downsides. But there are dangers to this newfound embrace of AI and robots. With robots replacing more and more job functions in order to allow humans to coexist as we grasp for some semblance of normalcy, it’s important to consider what’s next. What will happen when humans want their former jobs back? And what will we do if tracking for safety’s sake becomes too invasive or seems too creepy yet is already an entrenched practice?

A New Normal Comes Racing In

After a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed (we hope) and the pandemic retreats, it’s hard to imagine life returning to how it was at the start of 2020. Our experiences in the coming months will make it quite easy to normalize automation as a part of our daily lives. Companies that have adopted robots during the crisis might think that a significant percentage of their human employees are not needed anymore. Consumers who will have spent more time than ever interacting with robots might become accustomed to that type of interaction. When you get used to having food delivered by a robot, you eventually might not even notice the disappearance of a job that was once held by a human. In fact, some people might want to maintain social distancing even when it is not strictly needed anymore.

We, as a society, have so far not questioned what types of functions these robots will replace — because during this pandemic, the technology is serving an important role. If these machines help preserve our health and well-being, then our trust in them will increase.

As the time we spend with people outside of our closest personal and work-related social networks diminishes, our bonds to our local communities might start to weaken. With that, our concerns about the consequences of robots and AI may decrease. In addition to losing sight of the scale of job loss empowered by the use of robots and AI, we may hastily overlook the forms of bias embedded within AI and the invasiveness of the technology that will be used to track the coronavirus’s spread.

More: https://sloanreview.mit.edu

About the Authors

Ayanna Howard (@robotsmarts) is the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Professor and Chair of the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. She also serves as director of the Human-Automation Systems (HumAnS) Lab in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Jason Borenstein is the director of graduate research ethics programs and associate director of the Center for Ethics and Technology within the School of Public Policy and Office of Graduate Studies at Georgia Tech.

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ANTI-COVID-19 – Cluster anti-crisis shield

The Baltic Sea and Space Cluster has launched the BSSC ANTI-COVID-19 anti-crisis shield. This is a special website on the Cluster’s website www.bssc.pl, where members of the Cluster inform about their activity during the pandemic and offer for other maritime business participants. The portal is also available to other companies and institutions related to maritime economy, education and research of the sea.

Many institutions and enterprises operating in the maritime economy have not slowed their activity despite the pandemic. It changed the forms of operation, implemented security procedures, switched to remote work or activities in smaller teams. Ports and shipyards are still active on the international market. Additional requirements arise, as the clients of these enterprises are often people from outside Poland. The initiative works under the slogan: BSSC Anti-crisis Shield.

The main mission of the BSSC Cluster is to integrate maritime business, science, administration and the community. Cluster BSSC promotes cooperation, commercialization and positioning of our members on international markets. Therefore, the information is in both Polish and English. Members operate under the slogan: We help people and Maritime Business. Photo: Marek Grzybowski

More info: https://glosgdyni.eu/klaster-na-pandemie-anty-covid-19-klastrowa-tarcza-antykryzysowa/

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A leader’s guide: Communicating with teams, stakeholders, and communities during COVID-19

COVID-19’s speed and scale breed uncertainty and emotional disruption. How organizations communicate about it can create clarity, build resilience, and catalyze positive change.

Crises come in different intensities. As a “landscape scale” event, 1 the coronavirus has created great uncertainty, elevated stress and anxiety, and prompted tunnel vision, in which people focus only on the present rather than toward the future. During such a crisis, when information is unavailable or inconsistent, and when people feel unsure about what they know (or anyone knows), behavioral science points to an increased human desire for transparency, guidance, and making sense out of what has happened.

At such times, a leader’s words and actions can help keep people safe, help them adjust and cope emotionally, and finally, help them put their experience into context—and draw meaning from it. But as this crisis leaps from life-and-death direction on public health and workplace safety to existential matters of business continuity, job loss, and radically different ways of working, an end point may not be apparent. While some may already be seeking meaning from the crisis and moving into the “next normal,” others, feeling rising uncertainty and worried about the future, may not yet be ready for hope.

COVID-19’s parallel unfolding crises present leaders with infinitely complicated challenges and no easy answers. Tough trade-offs abound, and with them, tough decisions about communicating complex issues to diverse audiences. Never have executives been put under such an intense spotlight by a skeptical public gauging the care, authenticity, and purpose that companies demonstrate. Leaders lack a clear playbook to quickly connect with rattled employees and communities about immediate matters of great importance, much less reassure them as they ponder the future.

Against this frenzied backdrop, it would be easy for leaders to reflexively plunge into the maelstrom of social-media misinformation, copy what others are doing, or seek big, one-off, bold gestures. It is also true that crises can produce great leaders and communicators, those whose words and actions comfort in the present, restore faith in the long term, and are remembered long after the crisis has been quelled.

So we counsel this: pause, take a breath. The good news is that the fundamental tools of effective communication still work. Define and point to long-term goals, listen to and understand your stakeholders, and create openings for dialogue. Be proactive. But don’t stop there. In this crisis leaders can draw on a wealth of research, precedent, and experience to build organizational resilience through an extended period of uncertainty, and even turn a crisis into a catalyst for positive change. Superior crisis communicators tend to do five things well:

  1. Give people what they need, when they need it. People’s information needs evolve in a crisis. So should a good communicator’s messaging. Different forms of information can help listeners to stay safe, cope mentally, and connect to a deeper sense of purpose and stability.
  2. Communicate clearly, simply, frequently. A crisis limits people’s capacity to absorb information in the early days. Focus on keeping listeners safe and healthy. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
  3. Choose candor over charisma. Trust is never more important than in a crisis. Be honest about where things stand, don’t be afraid to show vulnerability, and maintain transparency to build loyalty and lead more effectively.
  4. Revitalize resilience. As the health crisis metastasizes into an economic crisis, accentuate the positive and strengthen communal bonds to restore confidence.
  5. Distill meaning from chaos. The crisis will end. Help people make sense of all that has happened. Establish a clear vision, or mantra, for how the organization and its people will emerge.

Give people what they need, when they need it

Every crisis has a life cycle, and emotional states and needs vary with the cycle’s stages. In a recent article, our colleagues framed the COVID-19 crisis in five stages: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination, and reform. These stages span the crisis of today to the next normal that will emerge after COVID-19 has been controlled. The duration of each stage may vary based on geographic and industry context, and organizations may find themselves operating in more than one stage simultaneously (exhibit).

MORE: https://www.mckinsey.com/Business%20Functions

About the authors: Ana Mendy is a partner in McKinsey’s Southern California office, Mary Lass Stewart is an expert in the Chicago office, and Kate VanAkin is an expert in the London office.

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Reaction, Rebound, Recession, and Reimagination

There is opportunity in adversity in every business. It may seem callous to stress opportunity in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, but leaders have an obligation to look ahead, to anticipate and meet new customer needs, to evolve their strategies and organizations, and in so doing sustain the prosperity of their enterprises.

We should not expect that the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a return to a 2019 reality. For example, SARS is credited with being one of the accelerators for the adoption of e-commerce in China and the rise of Alibaba. Many organizations are understandably focused on reacting to and coping with the short-term challenges presented by the unfolding epidemic. (See Exhibit 1.) But in addition to reaction, they need to focus on three more important Rs: rebound, recession, and reimagination. Beyond individual companies, there is also an opportunity for society as a whole to reimagine norms, behaviors, and platforms for coordination and collaboration.

rebound of demand is inevitable, and using high-frequency data proxies for the movement of goods and people, production, and confidence, we can see that it is already beginning to happen in China. (See Exhibit 2.) Given the complexity of rebooting companies and supply chains at different speeds in different places, the time to begin preparing a rebound strategy is now. Over the past 100 years, epidemics have only temporarily deflected the economic cycle with short, sharp shocks. Of course, this time could be different. A bear market (technically, a 20% decline) does not guarantee a recession but indicates a high probability of one. The most recent expansionary cycle has been one of the longest in recent economic history, and signs of vulnerability were already showing in trade relations, political instability, corporate debt, and other areas. The shock to demand and confidence could easily tip the global economy into a recession.

Prudent companies will prepare for this possibility. Our analysis shows that 14% of companies across all sectors actually grow top and bottom lines during recessions and downturns. Those that flourish share the common traits of preparation, preemption, growth orientation, and long-term transformation. They take a long-term view and place growth bets when competitors are retrenching. And even after the epidemic recedes, and even in the case of recession, there will be opportunities and needs to reimagine business and operating models and also the portfolio of offerings. For the average company, the first casualty of a crisis is imagination. But those that shape and benefit from the future will be those that can imagine it.

More: https://www.bcg.com/pl-pl/

Authors:  Martin Reeves, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Chairman of the BCG Henderson Institute, San Francisco; Lars Fæste, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Hong Kong; Kevin Whitaker, Economist, New York;  Mark Abraham, Managing Director & Senior Partner, Seattle