Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shell Divests, BP Invests and Libya Implodes!

Earlier on Monday, oil giant Shell announced its intentions to sell most of its African downstream businesses to Swiss group Vitol and Helios Investment Partners for US$1 billion adding that it will create two new joint ventures under the proposed deal.

The first of these JVs will own and operate Shell's existing oil products, distribution and retailing businesses in 14 African countries, most notably in Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar.

The second JV will own and operate Shell's existing lubricants blending plants in seven countries. The move is in line with Shell’s policy of divesting its non-core assets. It sold US$7 billion of non-core assets in 2010. While Shell was divesting in Africa, BP was investing in India via a strategic oil & gas partnership with Reliance Industries.

Both companies will form a 50:50 joint venture for sourcing and marketing hydrocarbons in India. The agreement will give BP a 30% stake in 23 oil and gas blocks owned by Reliance including 19 off the east coast of India. Market feedback suggests the deal is heavily weighted towards gas rather than the crude stuff.

In return for the stake, BP will invest US$7.2 billion in the venture and a further US$1.8 billion in future performance-related investments. The combined capital costs are slated to be in the region of US$20 billon with local media already branding it as the largest foreign direct investment deal in India by a foreign company.

Switching focus to the Middle Eastern unrest, what is happening from Morocco to Bahrain is having a massive bearing on the instability premium factoring in to the price of crude. However, the impact of each country’s regional upheaval on the crude price is not uniform. I summarise it as follows based on the perceived oil endowment (or the lack of it) for each country:

• Morocco (negligible)
• Algeria (marginal)
• Egypt (marginal)
• Iran (difficult to gauge at the moment)
• Tunisia (negligible)
• Bahrain (marginal)
• Libya (substantial)

Of these, it is obvious to the wider market that what is happening in Libya is one of concern. More so as the unrest has become unruly and the future may well be uncertain as the OPEC member country accounts for around 2% of the daily global crude production.

Italian and French oil companies with historic ties to the region are among those most vulnerable, though having said so BP also has substantial assets there. Austria’s OMV and Norway’s Statoil are other notable operators in Libya. A bigger worry could be if Iran erupts in a similar unruly way. Given the international sanctions against Iran, oil majors are not as involved there as they are in Libya. However, the question Iran’s crude oil endowment and its impact on the oil markets is an entirely different matter.

Finally, the ICE Brent crude forward month futures contract stood at US$108.25 per barrel, up 5.6% in intraday trading last time checked. I feel there is at least US$10 worth of instability premium in there, although one city source reckons it could be as high as US$15. The "What if" side analysts (as I call them) are having a field day - having already moved their focus from Iran to Saudi Arabia.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Vintage Shell gasoline pump, Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma, March 2010

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