Showing posts with label Baker McKenzie Oil Gas Institute. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baker McKenzie Oil Gas Institute. Show all posts

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Crude talk in H-Town

As the Oilholic prepares to say yet another goodbye to Houston, one cannot but help wondering why the new found pragmatism here over the possible direction of the oil price is not reflected elsewhere in the oil market.

Brent is currently within touching distance of $80 per barrel, while the West Texas Intermediate is firming up above $71 per barrel. 

Having spent a whole week deliberating with market participants out here in America's oil capital, including physical traders, few seem to think the oil price can sustain three figures, even if it gets there.

The sentiment was echoed by several delegates at the Baker McKenzie Oil & Gas Institute 2018 with most there, including leading legal and financial advisers, dismissing a sustainable return to a three-figure oil price. In fact, most are advising their clients not to get carried away, and mark a return to the profligacy of the sort we saw in the US oil patch when the price was last in three figures back in 2014.

Their clients, i.e. representatives of leading oil companies and project sponsors also share the sentiment, and while appreciative of relatively higher oil prices, are in no mood to get carried away.

Yet with Venezuelan production heading to a historic dive below 1 million barrels per day, US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the general geopolitical malaise in the Middle East, hedge funds and money managers are piling in to the futures market in the hope of extending a rally largely supported by OPEC's output cuts.

Plenty of food for thought, but the oil market is in real danger of overstretching itself! And on that note, that's all from Houston folks. Time for the ride home to London. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: View of downtown Houston, Texas, USA from Burnett Street on the outer edge of town. © Gaurav Sharma, May 2018.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thoughts From Baker McKenzie’s Oil & Gas Institute 2018

Earlier today, the Oilholic was delighted to attend the Baker McKenzie 2018 Oil & Gas Institute; an event that grows bigger by the year, and has become a true 'crude' fixture in Houston.

From Big Oil getting to grips with Big Data to capital raisings in mature jurisdictions, emerging market legal considerations to mergers and acquisitions - there was plenty on the agenda to for everyone. Of course lurking in the background to it all is the direction of the oil price and US President Donald Trump's re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, the Israeli-Iranian tussle in Syria, OPEC and all the rest. It's pushed Brent crude above $77 per barrel and WTI above $71. 

While every US shale player would gladly accept the current prices; quite like the Oilholic, few at the Institute felt the elevated prices would last. Given there are several variables in the equation - including, but not limited to, what OPEC would do next month, what sort of levels US producers are likely to record, how many Iranian barrels are likely to be knocked off the market, etc. - getting carried away by the bulls would not be a good idea. 

To quote, Jim O'Brien, Chair of Baker McKenzie's Global Energy, Mining & Infrastructure Practice Group and one of the architects of the Institute, the US oil patch is "feeling good" about itself at the moment, but at the same time there is a fair degree of realism that a return to $100 prices is unlikely.

In fact, one of the key takeaways from the Institute was how oil and gas players, both large and small, were aiming to achieve breakeven at prices as low as $30. 

Underpinning that drive would be digitisation across the board enabled by big data, AI, automation and robotics coming together to bring about the kind of process efficiencies capable of making a tangible difference to the operating expenditure of oil and gas companies. Touching on this very subject was a keynote speech by Paulo Ruiz Sternadt, boss of Siemens-owned Dresser-Rand. (Full Forbes report here)

Representatives of Baker McKenzie, BP, Accenture, Shell and many others also touched on the topic. LNG, employment diversity and private equity in the business were other subjects under discussion, as was the topic of investing in Mexico (Forbes post here) and the latest developments in Saudi Arabia. All in all, another interesting afternoon of deliberations. But that's all for the moment from Houston folks. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Delegates at the Baker McKenzie 2018 Oil & Gas Institute in Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma 10 May, 2018.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Onto blockchains and barrels in Houston Town

Greetings dear readers, the Oilholic is back in Houston, the oil and gas capital of the world, with OPEC soundbites from far afield having ensured Brent is back above $50 and on track to end the week higher than where it began. 

Meanwhile here, upstream innovations helping the US oil patch in this era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices are the talk of the town, but among the digitisation platforms the crude world has started taking to with increased ferocity – the subject of blockchains – keeps propping up.

Don’t worry, yours truly was bit foxed too at the start, wondering what on earth is a blockchain, let alone its platform deployment in an industry thatm let’s face it, lags others in digitisation. 

So in simple terms, a blockchain is akin to a digitally distributed ledger that can be replicated and spread across many nodes in a peer-to-peer network, thereby minimising the need for oversight and governance of a single ledger. 

Each transaction on the ledger is recorded and added to the previous one. These additions result in a growing 'chain' of information. 

At the 2017 Baker & McKenzie Oil & Gas Institute, it was a much discussed subject, albeit included in the wider discussion on digitisation in the sector.

Here’s the Oilholic’s full report on the deliberations for IBTimes UK, which is well worth reading. While nothing is foolproof, there is growing consensus within the industry that blockchain ledgers can help fight fraud and corruption. 

As if that wasn’t enough for you on the subject of ‘crude’ digitisation, Shell’s top lawyer David Brinley also told institute delegates the oil major’s technology hub in Bangalore, India has never been more integral to its business than it is now.

"From automation to 3D printing of project prototypes, to an app on how to locate your car in a car park – Shell would like to be at the forefront of inexorable technological changes we are seeing in the 21st century." 

Away from crude chatter, the Oilholic leaves you with a glimpse of a refreshing pint at The Richmond Arms pub, which tasted even better after yours truly cheered on Manchester United to the UEFA Europa League final. 

If you happen to be in Houston, and need to watch English Premier League clubs in play, or European football (er...called socccer here) there’s no better place to watch in The Galleria area for starters, and in the whole city in some ways too.  

That’s all for the moment from Houston folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2017. Photo 1: Chevron Towers, Downtown Houston. Photo 2: Pint at the Richmond Arms Pub, Houston. Texas, USA. © Gaurav Sharma 2017.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On non-OPEC distress & the road ahead

Having spent the entire week gauging the oil market mood in Houston, Texas, several key themes seem to be emerging. US shale oil exploration has come to symbolise non-OPEC production rises over the past three years and how it performs over the coming years would go some way towards providing an indication on when the market rebalances and where the oil price goes from here.

In that respect, the Oilholic’s third outing at the Baker & McKenzie Oil & Gas Institute provided some invaluable insight. Delegates at the Institute and various panels over the course of the event invariably touched on the subject, largely opining that many fringe shale players might well be on life support, but the industry as a whole is not dead in the water (see above left).

The problem is the paucity of high-yield debt for the oil & gas sector, where private equity (PE) firms were supposed to step into the breach vacated by big banks, but it is something which is not (currently) being meaningfully reflected in the data. 

One got a sense, both at the Institute and via other meetings across town, that PE firms are not quite having it their own way as buyers, and at the same time from sellers’ perspective there is also a fair bit of denial in a cash-strapped shale industry when it comes to relinquishing asset, acreage or corporate control.

Sooner, rather than later, some struggling players might have little choice and PE firms might get more aggressive in their pursuit of quality assets over the coming months, according to Mona Dajani, partner at Baker & McKenzie.

“You must remember that the PE market is quite cyclical. The way I view it, now would be as good a time as any for a PE firm to size-up and buy a mid-sized exploration and production (E&P) company as the oil price gradually creeps upwards. Jury is mixed on bid/ask differentials narrowing, but from what I see, it is happening already,” she added. 

William Snyder, Principal at Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics, said, “To an extent hedge positions have protected cashflow. Going forward, PE is the answer right now, for it will be a while before high-yield comes back into the oil & gas market.”

The Deloitte expert has a point; most studies point to massive capital starvation in the lower 48 US states. So those looking to refinance or simply seeking working capital to survive currently have limited options. 

Problem is the PE community is cagey too as it is embarking on a learning curve of its own, according to John Howie, Managing Director of Parallel Resource Partners. “Energy specific funds are spending time working on their own balance sheets, while the generalists are seeking quality assets of the sort that have (so far) not materialised.”

Infrastructure funds could be another option, Dajani noted. “These (infrastructure) funds coming in at the mezzanine level are offering a very attractive cost of debt, and from a legal perspective they are very covenant light.”

Nonetheless, given the level of distress in the sector, the Oilholic got a sense having spoken to selected PE firms that they are eyeing huge opportunities but are not willing to pay barmy valuations some sellers are coming up with. The thinking is just as valid for behemoths like BlackRock PE and KKR, as it is for boutique energy PE specialists from around the US whom Houston is playing host to on a near daily basis these days. 

There are zombie E&P companies walking around that should not really be there, and it is highly unlikely that PE firms will conduct some sort of a false rescue act for them at Chapter 11 stage. Better to wait for the E&P company to go under and then swoop when there is fire-sale of assets and acreage. 

Nonetheless, while we are obsessing over the level of industry distress, one mute point is getting somewhat lost in the ruckus – process efficiencies brought about by E&P players in a era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices, according to John England, US Oil & Gas Leader at Deloitte (see right, click to enlarge). 

Addressing the Mergermarket Energy Forum 2016, England said, “Of course, capital expenditure cuts have triggered sharp declines in rig counts globally except for the Middle East. However, production decline has not been as steep as some in the industry feared. 

“This has been a tribute to the innovations and efficiencies of scale across North America, and several other non-OPEC oil production centres. A sub-$30 per barrel oil price – which we recently saw in January – drives innovation too; for a lower oil price environment motivates producers to think differently.”

Over nearly twenty meetings spread across legal, accounting, financial and debt advisory circles as well as industry players in Texas, and attendance at three industry events gives one the vibe that many seem to think the worst is over.

Yet, the Oilholic believes things are likely worsen further before they get better. Meanwhile, Houston is trying to keep its chin up as always. That’s all from the oil & gas capital of the world on this trip, as its time for the plane home to London. Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma, 2016. Photo I: Panel at the Baker & McKenzie Oil & Gas Institute 2016 © Lizzy Lozano, Baker & McKenzie. Photo II: John England of Deloitte addresses the Mergermarket Energy Forum 2016 © 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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

US oil production decline much less than feared

As the latest visit to Houston, Texas nears its conclusion, the Oilholic walked wistfully past a petrol station in the Lone Star state. What European motorists wouldn’t give for US$2.49 (£1.61) per US gallon (3.79 litres) to fill up their cars. That was the price was this morning (see left)!

Ditching wistfulness and moving on to price of the crude stuff, the latest energy outlook report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) sees Brent averaging $61 per barrel in 2015, with WTI averaging around $55. The EIA also expects a decline in crude oil production stateside from June onwards through to September.

However, there is little anecdotal evidence here on the ground in Houston to suggest the Eagle Ford is slowing down if activity elsewhere is. Furthermore, feedback from selected attendees at two events here – Baker & McKenzie’s 2015 Oil & Gas Institute 2015 and the Mergermarket Energy Forum – alongside most experts this blogger has spoken to since arrival, point to the said production decline being much less than feared.

On average, most opined that we’d be looking at a decline of between 35,000 to 45,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year. It would imply that US production would still stay within a very respectable 9.1 to 9.3 million bpd range with much of the drop coming from North Dakota. As if with eerie timing, American Eagle’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, following its inability to service debt on plays in North Dakota (and Montana), provided a near instant case in point.

Overall picture is less clear for 2016. If the oil price stays where it is, we could see a US production decline in the region of 60,000 to 100,000 bpd. EIA has estimated the decline might well be towards the upper end of the range. 

It comes after analysts at Goldman Sachs labelled the recent oil prices “rally” as being a bit ahead of itself. Or to quote their May 11 email to clients in verbatim: “While low prices precipitated the market rebalancing, we view the recent rally as premature.

“The oil market focus has dramatically shifted over the past month, from fearing a breach of US crude oil storage capacity to reflecting a well under way oil market rebalancing. We view this shift in sentiment and positioning as excessive relative to still weak fundamentals.”

The Oilholic has repeatedly said over the past six weeks that both benchmarks are likely to stay within the $50-75 barrel range, as the decline in the number of operational oil rigs stateside was not high enough (yet) to trigger persistently lower US production. EIA data and feedback here in Houston supports such conjecture.

Meanwhile, the front page of the Financial Times loudly, but bleakly, declared on Tuesday that “more than $100 billion of projects” were on ice with Canada hit the hardest. According to the newspaper’s research, Shell, BP, Statoil and ConocoPhillips have all led moves to curtail capital spending on 26 major projects in 13 countries.

Speaking of ConocoPhillips, its CEO Ryan Lance has joined an ever increasing chorus stateside of oil industry bosses calling on the US government to lift its 40-year plus ban on crude exports

At a conference in Asia, Lance told Bloomberg that the Houston-based oil and gas producer had sufficient production capacity stateside to cater the global market and ensure stable domestic supply. Right, so there’s no danger to Houstonians paying $2.49 per gallon to fill up their cars then?

To be fair, the ConocoPhillips boss is not alone in calling for a lifting of the ban. Since last July, the Oilholic has counted at least 27 independents, many mid-tier US-listed oil and gas producers including Hess Corp and Continental Resources, and almost all of the majors voicing a similar opinion.

They can say what they like; there won’t be any movement on this front until there is a new occupant in the White House. That’s all from Houston on this visit folks, its time for the big flying bus home. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Price display board at a Shell Petrol Station in Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, May 2015.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Talking Russia, China, shale 'debt' & more in Texas

The Oilholic finds himself in Houston, Texas for Baker & McKenzie’s 2015 Oil & Gas Institute. When yours truly was last in Texas back in February, the mood was rather sombre as leading oil futures benchmarks were still on a downward slide.

That was then, what we have now is stagnancy in the US$50-75 per barrel price range which probably encompasses both the WTI and Brent. We are not getting away from the said range anytime soon as one noted in a column for Forbes last Friday before flying out here.

Given the nature of such discourse, some delegates here at the Institute agreed and others disagreed with the Oilholic’s take on the short-term direction of the oil markets, especially as a lot is going on in this ‘crude’ world that such industry events are particularly sound in bringing to the fore.

The 2015 instalment of this particular Baker & McKenzie event had a great array of speakers and delegates – from Shell to Citigroup, Cameron International to Chevron. The legal eagles, the macroeconomists, the internationalists, the sector specialists, the industry veterans, and of course the opinionated, who never sit on the fence on matters shaping the direction of the market, were all there in good numbers.

(L to R) Louis J. Davis, Greg McNab, Natalie Regoli, James Donnell and David Hackett of Baker & McKenzie discuss the North American Market in wake of the oil price decline
The situation in Russia propped up fairly early on in proceedings. Alexey Frolov, a legal expert from Baker & McKenzie’s Moscow office, was keen to point out that it was not just the sanctions that were hurting Russia’s oil & gas industry; related macroeconomics of the day was sapping confidence away as well.

But Frolov also pointed to a degree of resilience within Russian confines, and a more flexible domestic taxation regime which was helping sustain high production levels unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It does remain unclear though how long Russia can keep this up.

Meanwhile, Cameron International’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Brad Eastman flagged up something rather interesting. “We see Chinese companies continue to back rig building projects, even if they are being mothballed elsewhere in the world given the current market conditions. Chinese companies wish to continue their march in to the rig-building industry.”

Here’s China indulging in something that is really bold, some say unusual. So even if no one is exactly queuing up to buy or lease those Chinese rigs, it is another example that China operates on a whole different level to rest of the natural resources players and participants.

As for US shale, people say there is distressed debt out there and the end might be supposedly nigh for some small players. Well hear this – based on the Oilholic’s direct research here in Texas of looking into 37 independent US players, sometimes known as mom n’ pop oil & gas firms, and another 11 mid-sized companies; a dollar of their debt would fetch between 83 cents to 92 cents if hypothetically sold by their creditors.

That’s hardly distressed debt even at the lower end of the range. On hearing the Oilholic’s findings, Louis J. Davis, Chair of Baker & McKenzie’s North America Oil & Gas Practice, said: “An 8 to 17 cents discount does not constitute as distressed. Rewind the clock back to 2008-09 and you’d be looking at 35 to 40 cents to the dollar on unprofitable plays – that’s distress. This is not.”

Quite simply, creditors and investors are keeping the faith. But to curb the Oilholic’s enthusiasm, alas Davis added the words “for now”.

“You have to remember that many players [both large and small] would be coming off their existing oil price hedges by the end of the current calendar year. That’s when we’ll really know who’s in trouble or not.

“However, blanket assumptions that US shale, and by extension some independents are dead in the water, is a load of nonsense. Usual caveats apply to the Bakken players, but nothing I know from clients large or small in the Eagle Ford suggest otherwise,” Davis concluded.

As with events of this nature, the Oilholic of course wears several hats – most notably for Sharecast / Digital Look and Forbes. Hence, it’s worth flagging up other interesting slants and exclusive soundbites mined for these publications by this blogger.

The subject of oil & gas mergers and acquisitions in the current climate dominated the Institute’s morning session, as one wrote on Forbes earlier today. How to deal with the prospect of Iran’s possible return to the crude oil market also came up. Click here for one’s Sharecast report; treading carefully was the verdict of experts and industry players alike.

Separately, a Pemex official described in some detail how UK-listed oil and gas companies were sizing up potential opportunities in Mexico. Lastly, yours truly also had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Ka Tse Hung, a Tokyo-based partner at Baker & McKenzie, for Sharecast on the subject of the LNG industry facing a buyers’ market.

Hung noted that the market in Asia had completely turned on its head for Japanese utilities, from the panic buying of natural gas at a premium in wake of the Fukushima tragedy in 2011, to currently asking exporters to bid for supply contracts as competition intensifies and prices fall. That’s all for the moment from Houston folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: A panel session at the Baker & McKenzie 2015 Oil & Gas Institute, Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, May 2015.

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