Saturday, May 21, 2016

ExxonMobil's Ghost Building in Houston

On the way to business meetings on Louisiana and Bagby Street in downtown Houston, Texas, earlier this week, the Oilholic cut across Bell Street passing by number 800, which of course was once ExxonMobil’s downtown office, with the top two floors being the dining space for the Petroleum Club of Houston (PCOH).

Alas no more, as all former occupants of the building have moved to the oil giant's sprawling campus in Spring, TX close to The Woodlands north of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. That’s excluding the PCOH which is now at the nearby Total Plaza.

According to the Houston Chronicle’s archives, Shorenstein Properties closed on the property for anundisclosed amount in the first quarter of 2013 with plans for making changes and improvements following ExxonMobil’s departure.

However, the oil giant has since leased back the entire building and not much has happened. Plans to move local government agencies into the building or other private tenants for that matter haven’t quite worked out either.

Shame the city and the building’s owners can’t work out what to do with the historic offices built in 1963 which ExxonMobil occupied until recently (see right). Downtown area of the oil and gas capital of the world could well do without another ghost building, having had one nearby left behind by Enron's collapse until Chevron moved in years later. That’s all for the moment from Houston folks; keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo 1: 800 Bell Street, Houston, Texas, USA in 2016. Photo 2: The building's exterior in 2010. © Gaurav Sharma.

Friday, May 20, 2016

It’s about the ‘crude’ bid/ask differential stupid!

That there are distressed oil and gas assets stateside is pretty obvious. The damage was done, or rather the distress was caused, long before the crude oil price started lurking in its current $40-50 per barrel range, with no guarantees and only calculated guesses on where it is going next.

Actually, nowhere but the current range, as some, including the Oilholic, say. We’d agree that the high yield debt market is in the doldrums, and pretty much since the oil price slump began in 2014 we are told private equity players are sizing up the level of distress and waiting for a timely swoop for assets armed with billions of dollars. 

There is only one problem – the bid/ask differential. Some, not all, sellers of distressed assets are still in denial and holding out for a better price. Buyers themselves, to be read as private equity buyers, are no mugs either and won’t buy any old asset at any old price. It then bottles down to the buying the right asset at the right price in a high stakes game, to quote not one but several of this blogger’s friends who addressed the Baker & McKenzie Oil & Gas Institute.

Then again other industry contacts, whom yours truly interacted with at the Mergermarket Energy Forum, say there is evidence of the bid/ask differential narrowing considerably relative to last May because some sellers literally have no choice and are desperate.

But now the PE guys want ‘quality’ distressed assets and some, as has become apparent in the Oilholic’s discussions with no less than 20 industry contacts and having participated in three oil and gas events (and counting) since Monday.

Anecdotes go something like this – some PE firms no longer want to buy an asset from a distressed oil and gas firm in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, but rather wait for it to actually go bust and then go for the target asset on much better terms, despite the obvious risk of losing out on the deal should another suitor emerge during the game of brinkmanship.

The debate will rumble on for much of 2016 with close to 70 US oil and gas firms having filed for bankruptcy this year alone! You get a sense in Houston that PE firms have the upper hand, but aren’t having it quite their own way, just as plenty of zombie small to mid-sized oil and gas companies that do not deserve to survive continue to muddle along. That’s all for the moment from Houston folks; keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Oil pump jacks in Texas, USA © National Geographic Society.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gauging crude sentiments in Houston Town

The Oilholic is back in Houston, Texas for a plethora of events and another round of crude meetings. The weather in the oil and gas capital of the world at the moment seems to be mirroring what’s afoot in the wider industry, for there's rain, clouds, thunderstorms and the occasional ray of sunshine.

The industry’s mood hasn’t progressively darkened though; in fact it’s a bit better compared to when yours truly was last here exactly 12 months ago. Dire forecasts of $20 per barrel have not materialised, and forecasts of shale players in mature viable plays surviving at $35+ per barrel are appearing to be true. Additionally, the oil price is sticking in the $40-50 range.

That’s not to say another round of hedging will save everyone; bankruptcies within the sector continue to rise stateside. On the plus side US oil exports are now permitted and the speed with which President Barack Obama did away with a decades old embargo came as a pleasant surprise to much of the industry both within and beyond Houston. 

Finally, the US Energy Information Administration's recently released International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 48% between 2012 and 2040.

Most of this growth will come from countries that are not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including countries where demand is driven by strong economic growth, particularly in Asia, says the Department of Energy’s statistics arm. Non-OECD Asia, including China and India, account for more than half of the world's total increase in energy consumption over the projection period. 

Plenty of exporting potential for US oil then! That’s all for the moment from Houston folks; keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Downtown Houston, Texas, US © Gaurav Sharma.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Adios Ali: Saudi oil minister retires

Alas all 'crude' things in life come to an end, with King Salman replacing Ali Al-Naimi – Saudi Arabia’s oil minister who has been a regular feature at OPEC for over 20 years – with Khalid Al-Falih, chairman of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco.

It seems Al-Naimi’s outing to OPEC in December 2015 was the eighty-year old industry veteran’s last. For over two decades as oil minister, and a professional career extending well beyond that, Al-Naimi witnessed the oil price soar to $147 per barrel and plummet as low as $2, and by his own admission everything that needed to be seen in the oil markets in his service to Riyadh.

Every single OPEC minister’s summit the Oilholic has attended since 2006 has almost exclusively revolved around what Al-Naimi had to say, and with good reason. For the mere utterance of a quip or two from the man, given the Saudi spare capacity, was enough to move global oil markets. 

Since 2014, he doggedly defended the Saudi policy of maintaining oil production for the sake of holding on to the Kingdom’s market share in face of crude oversupply. Both under, King Fahd and King Abdullah, Al-Naimi near single-handedly conjured up the Saudi oil policy stance. But King Salman has gone down a different route.

The new oil minister Al-Falih will undoubtedly draw the biggest crowd of journalists yet again at OPEC given the Saudi clout in this crude world. However, Al-Naimi leaves behind some big running shoes to fill, and perhaps his predecessor’s signature pre-OPEC power walk (or was it a jog) on Vienna’s ring road with half of the world’s energy journalists in tow chasing him around the Austrian capital!

For the Oilholic it has been an absolute joy interacting with Al-Naimi at OPEC. Somehow things will never be the same again at future oil ministers' meetings, and that’s just for the scribes to begin with. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. File photo: Ali Al-Naimi, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia © Gaurav Sharma.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Refreshing take on tackling a downturn

Does the thought of a recession spook you? Are memories of the last economic downturn in the wake of the US subprime mortgage crisis fairly raw? It might well be hard to avoid an economic downturn, but your chances of escaping unscathed and managing the situation depend on your tenacity and desire to rethink life as you know it, according to economist Jason Schenker.

Hammering home this central theme is his book – Recession-Proof: How to Survive and Thrive in an Economic Downturn released earlier this year by Lioncrest Publishing – which makes you sit up and take notice of both the obvious and the not so obvious when it comes to your career, investment and lifestyle choices versus the evolving macroeconomic climate.

The engaging tone of Schenker’s work spread out over 200 pages split by 11 chapters stands out. The book is full of practical suggestions, a pragmatic dose of stating of what’s evident (which some of us tend to ignore at our peril), a gentle nudge towards constructive soul searching and last, but not the least, one of the most refreshing elucidation of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis that the Oilholic has read in recent years.

To quote the author, “a recession is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. It happens partly because we think it’s going to happen. But that doesn’t make it any less real, or any less inevitable…It’s like that famous line in Dirty Harry: “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” When people are feeling lucky, there’s growth. When people aren’t feeling lucky, there’s contraction.”

And being prepared for all eventualities is what is required in this day and age of turbulence where fear and greed are seen to be driving markets, Schenker adds. Instead of feeling sorry in the event of a recession be bold, or better still spot economic turbulence before its hits your company, life and finances, all three of which are intertwined in more ways than one.

Schenker explains how he went about staying more than just afloat in previous downturns, and how you can too. All chapters are fascinating, but if the Oilholic was asked to pick his favourite passages, one would say Chapters Two (What does your personal recession look like?), Five (Dig In) and Seven (Run) would be among the most riveting ones.

This book is not some run-of-the-mill self-help guide. Rather parts of it might well jolt you into action. But perhaps that’s the jolt you need in life to be recession proof and the lessons Schenker learnt from challenges in his own life that form part of the subject matter strike a chord.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the Oilholic has known Schenker in a professional capacity for over ten years, since his days at Wachovia and one’s own at a CNBC Europe production team; and can personally testify that he never sits on the fence in any deliberation of any sort whether we’re discussing central banks, forex or OPEC's oil production quota.

His knack for plain-speaking is reflected in the narrative of the title. But Schenker’s book appeals to this blogger not because he’s an old friend, but because his work makes one sit up and take notice of things we often subconsciously ignore whether it comes to career or investment choices or for that matter which industry conference to attend!

The Oilholic is happy to recommend this title to the young and old alike, those starting out in professional life to those looking forward to retirement. Recession Proof, for this blogger at least, transcends a typical readership profile.

This book is not only about financial survival, it’s not only about career security, not just about investment management; rather it’s about all of the above, along with the right dosage of prudence and practical advice from an old industry pro sprinkled in for good measure. Everyone could do with that! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Front Cover - Recession-Proof: How to Survive and Thrive in an Economic Downturn By Jason Schenker © Lioncrest Publishing 2016

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