Job cuts slowing as oil rout end in sight

CHALLENGER, Gray & Christmas says the US oil industry has started slowing down the pace of planned payroll cuts and layoffs, just as financial services firm Fat Prophets called the bottom in oil despite Saudi Arabia "clearly wanting to push the price lower".
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The global outplacement consultancy reported that first quarter job cuts in the US were dominated by the energy sector, where employers announced 37,811 job cuts in the first three months of this year. The three-month total is up 3900% compared to a year ago, when fewer than 1000 energy cuts were reported.

"Oil companies are not the only energy-related firms who are getting hit this year. Coal mine closings in West Virginia and elsewhere around the country are also costing jobs," CGC said.

The good news, the consultancy said, was that the pace of energy sector job cuts appeared to be slowing. Only 1279 job cuts were announced by energy firms last month - 92% fewer than the 16,000 announced in February.

While energy and retail topped the year-to-date job-cut tallies in the US, the heaviest job cutting in March occurred among industrial goods manufacturers, whose payroll reductions totalled 9383 during the month, which brought the sector's 2015 total to 17,738, which ranked third among all industries.

"Oil prices impacted energy firms directly at the end of 2014 up until February," CGC said. "Now, peripheral manufacturers are losing contracts and laying off workers in an effort to limit major losses."

There is hope, though, according to the bulls at Fat Prophets, who said Saudi Arabia has bluffed its opponents - mainly the US - into thinking they were not holding a winning hand by lifting crude production to flood the market and force down oil prices.

In doing so, many energy projects have been cancelled and mothballed while the US expansion in shale gas production has halted and is now facing a decline.

Saudi Arabia recently boosted its crude production to the highest level in three decades during March, with Bloomberg reporting the surge as being "equal to half the daily output of the Bakken formation in North Dakota".

Also last month, the world's largest crude producer, Saudi Arabia, increased daily output by 658,800 barrels to 10.294MMbpd - yet oil prices have since rallied by about 16%, the opposite of what the Saudis expected.

Yet Fat Prophets believe the "game of blind man's bluff" may soon be over.

"A market rising on supposedly bad news is always bullish," Fat Prophets said.

"We think the fact that oil is now moving higher against prevailing negative sentiment is no exception to this rule.

"The Saudis have succeeded in curtailing supply. But markets always look forward and price in where demand/supply is likely to be in 12 to 18 months' time.

"We are therefore growing in confidence that energy prices have bottomed."

Fat Prophets has increased its exposure to the oil sector in recent weeks, adding Woodside Petroleum to its Australian Share Income Portfolio and the US-listed Energy Services Vector ETF to the Global Opportunities Portfolio.

"Technically, West Texas Intermediate has broken out to the upside ending a sharp one year downtrend," Fat Prophets said.

"With the path of resistance now upwards we believe a target of $75/bbl is achievable in the months ahead."

WTI isn't the only one to be "breaking out", with Woodside doing so last week and holding ground following a sharp fall in prophets, while Royal Dutch Shell is also looking "technically more bullish" having launched an "opportunistic" $90 billion bid for rival BG Group earlier this month.


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