Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eni’s Rating Downgrade & Other News

Moody's Investors Service lowered the long-term senior unsecured ratings of Eni S.p.A. (Eni) and its guaranteed subsidiaries to Aa3 from Aa2 and the senior unsecured rating of Eni USA Inc. to A1 from Aa3. In a note on Monday, it said the outlook for all ratings is stable.

Eni qualifies as a Government-Related Issuer (GRI) under Moody's methodology for such entities, given its 30.3% direct and indirect ownership by the Italian state. The downgrade reflects Moody's expectation that deleveraging process initiated by Eni management and recovery in the group's credit metrics will be gradual and unlikely to restore sufficient headroom to help underpin its business case analysis within the Aa range.

In other news, the U.S. EIA has cut its forecast for global oil demand in light of lower forecasts for global growth. EIA now expects global oil consumption to rise by 1.4 million barrels per day in 2011 against last month's projection of 1.5 million barrels. The consumption growth forecast for 2010 was unchanged at 1.6 million barrels per day.

On the pricing front, the EIA expects spot West Texas Intermediate crude prices to average US$77 a barrel in Q4 2010, down from its previous forecast of US$81. It added that crude prices are likely to climb to US$84 by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, as you know, BP published its internal report into the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and the resultant oil spill last week. Given the ol’ day job of mine, I wanted to read it cover to cover – all 193 pages of it – before blogging about it. Having finally read it, goes without saying the oil giant is stressing on the fact that a "sequence" of failures caused the tragedy for which a "number of parties" were responsible. (To be read as Transocean and Halliburton)

In the report, conducted by BP's head of safety Mark Bly, the oil giant noted eight key failures that collectively led to the explosion. Most notably, BP said that both its staff as well and Transocean staff interpreted a safety test reading incorrectly "over a 40-minute period" which should have flagged up risks of a blowout and action could have been taken on the influx of hydrocarbons into the well.

BP was also critical of the cementing of the well - carried out by Halliburton - and the well’s blowout preventer. The report also notes that improved engineering rigour, cement testing and communication of risk by Halliburton could have identified flaws in cement design and testing, quality assurance and risk assessment.

It added that a Transocean rig crew and a team working for Halliburton Sperry Sun may have been distracted by "end-of-well activities" and important monitoring was not carried out for more than seven hours as a consequence.

Furthermore, BP said that there were "no indications" Transocean had tested intervention systems at the surface as was required by its company policy before they were deployed on the well. Crew may have had more time to respond before the explosion if they had diverted escaping fluids overboard, the report added.

BP’s outgoing Chief Executive Tony Hayward said, “To put it simply, there was a bad cement job and a failure of the shoe track barrier at the bottom of the well, which let hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the production casing. The negative pressure test was accepted when it should not have been, there were failures in well control procedures and in the blowout preventer; and the rig's fire and gas system did not prevent ignition.”

So there we have it – the oil giant is not absolving itself of the blame, but rather spreading it around. It came as no major surprise that both Halliburton and Transocean criticised and dismissed the report - though not necessarily in that order. The story is unlikely to go away as a national commission is expected to submit a report to President Barack Obama by mid-January 2011 followed by a Congressional investigation. The U.S. Justice department may yet step in as well if evidence of criminal wrongdoing of some sort emerges.

Away from the BP spill saga, French energy giant Total said last week that it could sell its 480 petrol stations in the UK as part of a strategic review of its British downstream operations as it refocuses on its core upstream strength and well something had to give.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: US Oil rig © Rich Reid / National Geographic Society

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