Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crude M&A activity, Majors' profits & more

As we approach the end of the year, the Oilholic is convinced that 2011 will see M&A activity in the oil & gas sector returning to, or perhaps even exceeding pre-crisis deal valuation levels. Research for Infrastructure Journal by this blogger suggests that while the year still has a little over two months left the deal valuation figure for acquisition of oil & gas infrastructure assets, using September 30th as a cut-off date, is well above the total valuation for 2008, the year that the global credit squeeze meaningfully constricted capital flows.

In fact, back in 2008, Infrastructure Journal noted 23 oil & gas M&A corporate finance transactions valued at US$19.33 billion. Deal valuation then declined to US$18.14 billion and US$16.70 billion in 2009 and 2010 while the number of transactions first fell to 19 and then rose to 32. In fact 2009 would have been a wretched year in relative terms, had it not been for a US$6.3 billion transaction concerning the acquisition of Stogit & Italgas. Big ticket deals were largely absent in 2010 and while the number of transactions rose, valuation declined. IJ analysts have so far noted 21 transactions and a deal valuation to the tune of US$27.11 billion (and counting) in 2011. (Click on graph to enlarge © Infrastructure Journal)

Michael Byrd, Houston-based partner at Baker & McKenzie feels that conditions for making an oil & gas asset acquisition are quite conducive, more so for upstream assets. “Opportunities exist in all three – Downstream, Midstream and Upstream projects, but in case of the latter, projects in remote offshore and onshore basins have become more economical due to new technologies and more favourable oil prices (long-term),” he said in recent webinar which makes for compelling listening, caveats and all, if asset acquisition is on your mind. You could possibly download a recording here.

Alternatively, Baker & McKenzie have another one of these webinars coming-up on November 16 under their Global Energy Webinar Series. This one would discuss the full cycle of tax planning and compliance issues around permanent establishments for major energy and power projects.

Moving away from IJ’s figures and Baker & McKenzie webinars, financial advisers Ernst & Young’s research on a related note suggests that increases in M&A of London-based AiM-listed oil & gas firms are to be expected following substantial falls in their market valuation.

The firm’s quarterly index shows the value of AiM-listed oil and gas companies fell 26% in the three months to September. The index has been in decline since the start of 2011. Additionally, fundraising by AiM-listed oil and gas companies totalled £168.7 million during the third quarter - a fall of 48% on the same quarter last year.

Jon Clark, oil & gas partner at Ernst & Young, said, "Those companies with weaker balance sheets and particularly those with development projects will be looking towards larger, better capitalised acquirers. The slowdown in the global economic recovery and the market turbulence created by issues including the US credit downgrade and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis will continue to turn investors off riskier assets. This doesn't bode well for the fourth quarter."

All-in-all, the remainder of 2011 would be a good time to swoop for an asset or even an entire mid-cap company. Concurrently, the oil majors are queuing up to announce decent profits. The third quarter’s current cost of supply net income at Shell doubled to US$7.2 billion, compared with US$3.5 billion during the same period a year ago. ExxonMobil saw its quarterly profits rise by 41% to US$10.3 billion.

Earlier in the week, BP said its operations were “regaining momentum” and that it had “turned a corner” reporting third quarter profits of US$5.14 billion, a near tripling of the US$1.85 billion replacement cost profit it made in the same period a year ago. The firm is also increasing its asset selling programme from US$30 billion to US$45 billion.

Meanwhile, the British Energy and Climate Change Select Committee of MPs has criticised the UK Treasury's move earlier this year to increase a levy on the oil & gas industry calling it an "opportunistic raid". On the back of recent good news from the North Sea – they said in a report that the way in which the £2 billion hike was announced may have undermined investor confidence.

The report notes: "If the (UK) government is serious about maximising production from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), it needs to consider the long-term impact of changes to the tax regime on investment. The evidence on the impact of 2006 increase in the supplementary tax charge on oil and gas production in the North Sea is inconclusive, but there is a clear need to sustain investor confidence by avoiding surprises, such as the further increase announced in the 2011 Budget. It is not sensible to make opportunistic raids on UKCS producers." Powerful stuff – well delivered!

Finally, in Thursday intraday trading the crude oil price registered a strong rebound of over 2%, accompanied by a rally in the equity markets following the positive vibes from the European leaders’ summit overnight where an agreement to raise the European rescue fund to €1 trillion was finally reached.

Sucden Financial research expects further gains in crude oil prices, as the market seems relieved after the European Summit. The stronger euro provides further support, while most commodity prices enjoying a strong rally. WTI crude oil has further upside potential toward US$95/$96 per barrel, while Brent oil might find modest resistance near the US$115 per barrel area, Sucden analysts note further.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Graph: Corporate Finance infrastructure M&A deals 2008-2011 (year to date) © Infrastructure Journal, October 10, 2011. Photo: Shell Gas Station © Royal Dutch Shell

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