Showing posts with label Exxon Mobil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exxon Mobil. Show all posts

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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

When BP met…er…nobody!

It’s good to be back in Houston, Texas although the Oilholic could have done without the very British weather we’re having here. Before getting down to cruder brass tacks and gaining market insight in wake of the oil price slump, one decided to probe the ongoing chatter about BP being sized up suitors.

To being with, this blogger does not believe ExxonMobil is going to takeover BP, has said so quite openly on broadcasting outlets back in England. That sentiment is shared by a plethora of senior commentators the Oilholic has met here in Houston over the past 48 hours. Both financial and legal advisers along with industry insiders remain unconvinced. Hell, even BP employees don’t buy the slant.

For starters if you are ExxonMobil, why would you want a company that has quite a lot of baggage no matter how attractive a proposition it is in terms of market valuation. Let us face it BP’s valuation is pretty low, but a damn sight better than 280p circa it was fetching in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

However, the valuation is where it is for a reason. BP has scored a few legal victories, but the protracted tussle in US courtrooms resulting from the spill's fallout will continue for sometime yet. Secondly, its 19% stake in Russia’s Rosneft, while widely deemed as a positive move in Houston back in 2012, isn’t look all too attractive right now. BP’s latest financial data bears testimony to that.

Now if you were Rex Tillerson that’s not the most attractive partner out there to put it mildly, say Houston contacts who’ve advised the inimitable ExxonMobil boss on the company's previous forays. There are also regulatory hurdles. A hypothetical ExxonMobil takeover would create an oil and gas major with a cumulative revenue base that’d beat the GDP of a basket of mid-tier economies (using World Bank’s data on economic performance).

Finally, you can’t put monetary value on reputational risk. BP’s brand is considerably less toxic with boss Bob Dudley & co working real hard to mend it. Yet, the toxicity would take a while yet to dissipate. It’s not easy to forget the events of April 2010. Any suitor for BP, not just ExxonMobil, would be only too aware of that.

Another strange theory doing the rounds is that Shell might make an approach. This has been visited several times over the years, not least directly by BP’s former boss Lord Browne. The reason it hasn’t taken off is because the Dutch half of Royal Dutch Shell does not want its influence diluted further, which is guaranteed to happen were Shell and BP to merge.

Moving away from the improbable and the lousy, to something more credible - a theory doing the rounds that BP might find a credible white knight in the shape of Chevron. Such a tangent does make ears prick in Houston and gets the odd nod for experts who have seen many a merger and the odd mega merger. 

The only problem is that in more ways than one, Chevron and BP’s North American ventures overlap which isn’t a problem to such an extent in the case of ExxonMobil and Shell. So a BP and Cheveron merger does stack up in theory. However, there would plenty of regulatory hurdles and both parties would need to divest substantially for the merger to be approved by regulators in more than one jurisdiction.

While everything is possible on the BP front, nothing is worth getting excited about. In the interim, an odd investment banker (or two or possibly more) in New York or London will keep pedalling BP’s vulnerability.  But consider this, were a suitor or suitors turn up for BP, it wont hurt your prospects if you happen to be a BP shareholder!

That’s all for the moment folks from Houston, where there are a few strikes, some trepidation and a whole lot of realism in the air! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo 1: Logo of BP © BP Plc. Photo 2: ExxonMobil office signage, Downtown Houston, USA © Gaurav Sharma.

Friday, June 01, 2012

BP to call time on 9 years of Russian pain & gain?

After market murmurs came the announcement this morning that BP is looking to sell its stake in Russian joint venture TNK-BP; a source of nine years of corporate pain and gain. As the oil major refocuses its priorities elsewhere, finally the pain aspect has made BP call time on the venture as it moves on.

A sale is by no means imminent but a company statement says, it has “received unsolicited indications of interest regarding the potential acquisition of its shareholding in TNK-BP.”

BP has since informed its Russian partners Alfa Access Renova (AAR), a group of Russian billionaire oligarchs fronted by Mikhail Fridman that it intends to pursue the sale in keeping with “its commitment to maximising shareholder value.”

Neither the announcement itself nor that it came over Q2 2012 are a surprise. BP has unquestionably reaped dividends from the partnership which went on to become Russia’s third largest oil producer collating the assets of Fridman and his crew and BP Russia. However, it has also been the source of management debacles, fiascos and politically motivated tiffs as the partners struggled to get along.

Two significant events colour public perception about the venture. When Bob Dudley (current Chief executive of BP) was Chief executive of TNK-BP from 2003-2008, the Russian venture’s output rose 33% to 1.6 million barrels per day. However for all of this, acrimony ensued between BP and AAR which triggered some good old fashioned Russian political interference. In 2008, BP’s technical staff were barred from entering Russia, offices were raided and boardroom arguments with political connotations became the norm.

Then Dudley’s visa to stay in the country was not renewed prompting him to leave in a huff claiming "sustained harassment" from Russian authorities. Fast forward to 2011 and you get the second incident when Fridman and the oligarchs all but scuppered BP’s chances of joining hands with state-owned Rosneft. The Russian state behemoth subsequently lost patience and went along a different route with ExxonMobil leaving stumped faces at BP and perhaps a whole lot of soul searching.

In wake of Macondo, as Dudley and BP refocus on repairing the company’s image in the US and ventures take-off elsewhere from Canada to the Caribbean – it is indeed time to for the partners to apply for a divorce. In truth, BP never really came back from Russia with love and the oligarchs say they have "lost faith in BP as a partner". Fridman has stepped down as TNK-BP chairman and two others Victor Vekselberg and Leonard Blavatnik also seem to have had enough according to a contact in Moscow.

The Oilholic’s Russian friends reliably inform him that holy matrimony in the country can be annulled in a matter of hours. But whether this corporate divorce will be not be messy via a swift stake sale and no political interference remains to be seen. Sadly, it is also a telling indictment of the way foreign direct investment goes in Russia which is seeing a decline in production and badly needs fresh investment and ideas.

Both BP and Shell, courtesy its frustrations with Sakhalin project back in 2006, cannot attest to Russia being a corporate experience they’ll treasure. The market certainly thinks BP’s announcement is for the better with the company’s shares trading up 2.7% (having reached 4% at one point) when the Oilholic last checked.

From BP to the North Sea, where EnQuest – the largest independent oil producer in the UK sector – will farm out a 35% interest in its Alma and Galia oil field developments to the Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) subject to regulatory approval. According to sources at law firm Clyde & Co., who are acting as advisers to KUFPEC, the Kuwaitis are to invest a total of approximately US$500 million in cash comprising of up to US$182 million in future contributions for past costs and a development carry for EnQuest, and of KUFPEC's direct share of the development costs.

Away from deals and on to pricing, Brent dropped under US$100 for the first time since October while WTI was also at its lowest since October on the back of less than flattering economic data from the US, India and China along with ongoing bearish sentiments courtesy the Eurozone crisis. In this crudely volatile world, today’s trading makes the thoughts expressed at 2012 Reuters Global Energy & Environment Summit barely two weeks ago seem a shade exaggerated.

At the event, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said he was worried about high oil prices posing a serious risk putting at stake a potential economic recovery in Europe, US, Japan and China. Some were discussing that oil prices had found a floor in the US$90 to US$95 range. Yet, here we are two weeks later, sliding down with the bears! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: TNK-BP Saratov Refinery, Russia © TNK-BP

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Talking to Deloitte, Kentz and Baker & McKenzie

As Day three ends, the Oilholic had the pleasure of great chats with friends at Deloitte, Kentz Engineers & Constructors and Baker & McKenzie here at the 20th WPC. Starting with the latter first – B&M – who have taken the initiative to discuss NOCs and IOCs from a different angle.

While the age old debate about NOCs versus IOCs is history, new opportunities for synergies and investment are emerging between the two and the Chicago-headquartered law firm wants to discuss these over a seminar here at the Congress. Let’s face it, NOCs overtook IOCs ages ago and most IOCs now seek partnerships with NOCs. Furthermore, since now would be a good time for asset acquisition; it is worth talking about the opportunities that exist for NOCs.

The Oilholic has been kindly invited by B&M to moderate the seminar wearing his Infrastructure Journal’s writer as well as this humble blog author’s hat. In sunny Qatar – its two hats better than one. Details on how it all went to follow when the seminar is over.

Since, the hot weather makes one thirsty, a parched Oilholic also had the pleasure of a few dwinkys with friends at Kentz. A chance and pleasant meeting with CEO Dr. Hugh O'Donnell courtesy Reuters’ very own resident oilholic Tom Bergin, author of the splendid book Spills & Spin, was deeply appreciated.

Dr. O'Donnell sees huge regional opportunities here in the Middle East and feels Asia Pacific and Australia would be good bet for investment in the oil & gas sector in this macroclimate for his firm. Sorry the conversation was off record at a social setting so it would not be appropriate to reveal more.

Last but certainly not the least, met several friends (new and old) from Deloitte, including Carl D. Hughes, the advisory firm’s global head of energy and resources. Like Dr. O’Donnell, Hughes sees potential in looking East. The Oilholic and Deloitte colleagues were in agreement about the challenges faced by the refining sector in Western jurisdictions and why new build in India is necessitated by demand.

Shale invariably had to creep in to the discussion – who would have thought that at the 20th Congress the US delegation would be heading here as the world’s leading producer of gas? By the way, got up close to an F1 McLaren car at ExxonMobil's stand! Pretty cool methinks! (See photo above left & click to enlarge). More later; keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: 20th World Petroleum Congress exhibition floor & entrance © Gaurav Sharma 2011.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Spills, spin, morals & a trusty correspondent!

A corporate scandal, disaster or an implosion always creates an appetite for literature on the subject. Amid a cacophony of books – some hurried, some scrambled and some downright rubbish – you often have to wait for a book that is the real deal. The Oilholic is delighted to say that if BP, its culture, the mother of all oil spills and its underlying causes are of interest to you, then Reuters correspondent Tom Bergin’s book – Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP – is the real deal and was well worth the wait.

Perhaps for many potential readers of this book, the author - a former oil broker turned newswire correspondent - would be a familiar name; Bergin’s wire dispatches have been flickering on our Reuters monitors for some time. However, if you were a shade worried that so networked a man as the author would give some within BP an easy ride, then that worry gets smashed to pieces a few pages into the book.

The Oilholic can safely say that in the energy business there are no moral absolutes. On reading Bergin’s account, the “pre-spill” BP it seems lost sight of morals full-stop. In a book of just under 300 pages, split by ten chapters banking on his experience as an oil correspondent, the author notes that what transpired when Deepwater Horizon went up in flames was not some isolated incident. Via a fast paced and gripping narration, he provides an account as well as his conjecture about all things BP and where did it all start to go wrong.

In order to contextualise what led up to the Gulf of Mexico spill and its aftermath, Bergin first examines BP’s history and its trials in some detail, then the transformative impact – for better or for worse – of John Browne, his successor Tony Hayward and corporate decisions throughout their time which transformed a once troubled part player into a big league major.

For over a decade and more, accompanying this transformation was what the author describes as the most sophisticated PR machine of all times which failed miserably when the company faced its biggest modern day crisis thereby making the CEO at the time of the spill – Tony Hayward – the most hated or the most farcical man in America; some say both.

Browne’s ego, his protégés, advertising group WPP-devised “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, safety bungle after safety bungle from Texas to Alaska and boardroom politics are all there warts and all. It would be unfair to pick a component of the book and single it out as your favourite, for the whole book is. However, if one may take the liberty of doing so then Chapter 3 - "There's no such thing as Santa Claus" is the best passage of the book. Maybe the Oilholic is biased in favour of these few pages, for as a CNBC researcher working in the wee hours of the morning I had a firsthand feel of the "PR drive" Bergin refers to in that passage.

Lastly, if you thought a British, excuse me – an Irish writer (as he confesses to announcing himself when Stateside in the days of perceived anti-British sentiment) – may give former CEO Tony Hayward an easy ride then you are being unkind. In the spirit of journalistic integrity, Bergin gives Hayward – a man whom he often had unique access to – what we scribes describe as the “full treatment.”

When I met the author a few days prior to book’s release, he told me his work was not a damnation of a company based on a solitary incident, no matter how horrendous the Gulf spill was. Au contraire, Bergin notes the story of that spill itself did not begin on the night of April 20, 2010 but 20 years ago when a determined John Browne set out to create the largest corporation in the world followed by his successor Hayward’s own determination to succeed and then outdo his mentor.

Having read the book cover to cover and seen the author deliver on his promise, the Oilholic’s overriding thoughts are that Bergin’s Spills and Spin could in the fullness of time be as definitive a book on BP in wake of Macondo as Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s Smartest Guys in the Room was in wake of the Enron collapse.

This blogger is happy to recommend the book to fellow oilholics, students of the energy business, those interested in corporate history as well as the horrendous spill itself. Last but not the least, some from the PR industry might wish to read it as well; albeit as a lesson on what to omit from the PR playbook!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Front Cover – Spills and Spin © Random House Group

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Exxon 1 – BP 0 (Ref: Putin, Retired Hurt: Markey)

One has to hand it to ExxonMobil’s inimitable boss – Rex Tillerson – for successfully forging an Arctic tie-up with Rosneft so coveted by beleaguered rival BP. On August 30, beaming alongside Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Tillerson said the two firms will spend US$3.2 billion on deep sea exploration in the East Prinovozemelsky region of the Kara Sea. Russian portion of the Black Sea has also been thrown in the prospection pie for good measure as has the development of oil fields in Western Siberia.

The US oil giant described the said deal as among the most promising and least explored offshore areas globally “with high potential for liquids and gas.” If hearts at BP sank, so they should, as essentially the deal has components which it so coveted.

The Oilholic is pretty stumped too for harbouring the belief that BP's Arctic deal with Rosneft – originally agreed in January but scuppered by a legal challenge from Russian co-investors in BP's existing Russian joint venture TNK-BP – would be revived. It seems what BP could not manage, ExxonMobil did, and successfully fought off Shell in the process as well if the City rumour mill is to be believed. Some won, some lost, some got stumped but one looked like a moron or hypocrite or possibly both. That is none other than US Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Remember when BP first announced its proposed tie-up Rosneft back in January? At the time Markey quipped "BP once stood for British Petroleum. With this deal, it now stands for Bolshoi Petroleum." Bolshoi actually means “big” in Russian so it seems while Markey had right context for the slur, he ended up choosing the wrong word.

As the news of the Exxon-Rosneft tie-up emerged, Eben Burnham-Snyder, Markey's spokesman, told the Associated Press that the Congressman's office is looking into the Exxon-Rosneft deal. But he said the deal doesn't appear to involve the same ownership issues that were involved in the BP-Rosneft stock swap. Tut, tut, sir! Of course they don’t – after all this time it is an American firm that’s gone fishing.

As if with impeccable timing, barely a day after Exxon-Rosneft deal was inked, Russian Bailiffs raided the offices of BP in Moscow, seeking documents on its failed deal with Rosneft. According to RIA Novosti, the raid was conducted in line with a ruling by an arbitration court in the Siberian region of Tyumen, which is hearing a case over the Rosneft deal that collapsed in May.

Minority shareholders are claiming that TNK-BP suffered losses of US$3 billion as a result of the wrangling over the now failed BP-Rosneft joint venture. In a statement, BP confirmed that its Russian offices in Moscow were raided by the Russian bailiff's service in relation to an order from the court in Tyumen.

The company said there was no "legitimate basis" for the court case against BP or the raid. The legal entity searched in the raid - BP Exploration Operating Company Ltd - had “no connection to the Tyumen process,” the statement read. Let the games begin! Maybe this time Markey can be the referee!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: ExxonMobil office exterior, Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, March 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Valero, BP, Crude price & the week that was!

The seven days that have passed have been ‘crudely’ interesting to say the least. First off, early May saw one of the biggest market sell-offs in recent memory as commodities of all descriptions did a mini battle with price volatility. Brent crude for its part fell nearly 6% before recovering and stabilising above US$110 per barrel.

Macroeconomic factors aside many in the City believe the ongoing conflict in Libya no longer appears to be a key driver of oil prices as the loss of Libyan oil exports were fully discounted by the market some time ago. The profit takers agree! Société Générale CIB analysts noted in a report to clients that they estimate:

“the fair value for the Brent price would be about US$100 if no MENA risk premium were included. It is difficult to see the MENA risk premium rising much further near-term unless significant unrest emerges in countries with substantial oil exports such as Algeria and Saudi Arabia.”

That is not happening and Syria is of peripheral importance from near term instability premium perspective. Société Générale CIB analysts further note that the Brent crude oil price may correct lower over coming weeks as speculative traders may be tempted to take some profit on long positions as:
  • recent significant events in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) have been limited to countries with little oil exports

  • tentative signs of demand destruction in the US, and

  • growing concerns of a bumpy or hard landing in China.
Moving away from the crude price, heads of the big five oil firms Shell, Exxon, Conoco, BP America and Chevron and some Democrats on the Senate finance committee squared up to each other on May 6th over the age-old issue of tax subsidies for oil companies. The latter want the tax subsidies removed, but big oil contests that they are benefitting from the subsidies like any other US business does and furthermore they are heavily taxed already.

That same day BP’s shares rallied in the UK following news that an arbitral panel has issued a consent order permitting BP and the AAR consortium to assign an Arctic opportunity to TNK-BP, subject to consent from Russian state-controlled firm Rosneft. The long drawn out saga may finally be reaching a favourable conclusion for BP.

Also last week ratings agency Moody’s changed US refiner Valero Energy's rating outlook to stable from negative and at the same time affirmed Valero's existing Baa2 senior unsecured note ratings. It said the stabilisation in the rating outlook reflects the expectation that Valero's cash flow will remain strong over the short term due to rising industrial activity pushing modest growth in demand for distillates and the expectation of supportive light/heavy spreads.

The stable outlook also reflects the assumption that Valero will maintain investment grade leverage metrics over the next 12-18 months as it continues to pursue organic growth and acquisition opportunities.

Additionally Moody's expects Valero's earnings to remain highly cyclical, and noted that the 2010 sale of the company's secularly weaker US East Coast refining assets, willingness and financial capacity to idle underperforming assets, as well as its recent cost reduction efforts should enhance the company's ability to withstand the inherent cyclicality of the sector. Moody's also expects that Valero will remain acquisitive. In March of this year, Valero announced the purchase of Chevron's Pembroke refinery in the UK for US $1.7 billion.

Rounding off - the Oilholic turned 33 years young today, last seven of which have been a ‘crude’ affair ;-) Thanks for all the birthday messages!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Alaska Pipeline with Brooks Range in background © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

North Sea murmurs, Q1 profits & Bin Laden

To begin with good riddance to Bin Laden! The tragedy of 9/11 still feels like yesterday. I can never forget that morning as a junior reporter watching the BBC when initial reports began trickling in and we were asked to vacate the Canary Wharf building I was at. Miles away across the pond a great tragedy was unfolding – this brings closure to the many who suffered, many known to me.

Being mechanical, there is a near negligible impact on the wider market or crude market despite brave efforts of the popular press to find connections. How markets fluctuated since morning has no direct connection with Bin Laden being killed and instability premium reflected in the price of crude remains untroubled. The threat of Al-Qaeda remains just as real in a geopolitical sense and a Middle Eastern context.

Moving away from today’s news, ratings agency Moody’s noted last week that sharply higher prices for oil and natural gas liquids have boosted business conditions for the independent exploration and production (E&P) industry, and should remain high well into 2012, offsetting persistently weak natural gas prices. In the same week, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell reported appreciable rises in Q1 profits.

ExxonMobil posted quarterly profits of US$10.7 billion, up 69% over the corresponding quarter last year. It also announced a spend of US$7.8 billion over the quarter on developing new energy supplies and said its shareholders had benefited to the tune of US$7 billion in Q1 dividends.

Shell for its part reported quarterly profits of US$6.9 billion on a current cost of supply basis, up 41% on an annualised basis. It said cost saving measures as well as higher oil prices had contributed to its Q1 profitability. Earlier, BP reported first quarter profits of US$5.5 billion, down marginally from the corresponding period last year. Its production over the quarter was also down 11% after asset sales to help pay for the cost of Macondo clean-up.

Finally, unhappy murmurs about rising taxation amid the North Sea oil & gas producers are growing. In his Budget tabled in March, UK Chancellor George Osborne raised supplementary tax on production from 20% to 32%. Reports in the British media this morning suggest the owner of British Gas Centrica says it might shut one of its major gas fields because of increased UK taxes. It is closing three fields in Morecambe Bay for a month of maintenance, may not reopen one of them.

A fortnight ago, Chevron warned of possible "unintended consequences" from the UK Budget decision to raise North Sea taxes. Its Chairman John Watson told the Financial Times, “When you increase taxes every few years, particularly without consulting with industry, there will be unintended consequences of that in terms of where we choose to invest."

In 2010, Chevron received UK government’s permission to drill an exploration well to evaluate a major prospect - the deep-water Lagavulin prospect - is 160 miles north of Shetland Islands. All this comes after a report published on April 8th by Deloitte’s Petroleum Services Group noted that North Sea offshore drilling activity fell 25% over Q1 2011.

The North West Europe Review, which documents drilling and licensing in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), reveals just five exploration and four appraisal wells were spudded in the UK sector between January 1 and March 31; compared to a total of 12 during the fourth quarter of 2010.

Analysts at Deloitte’s Petroleum Services Group said while the drop cannot be attributed to the recent Budget announcement, which proposed increased tax rates for oil and gas companies, it could set the pattern for activity in the future.

Graham Sadler, managing director of Deloitte’s Petroleum Services Group said, “It is important to clarify that we are talking about a relatively small number of wells that were drilled during the first quarter of the year - the traditionally quieter winter months - so this is not, in itself, an unexpected decrease. The lead-in time on drilling planning cycles can be long – even up to several years - so any impact from the recent changes to fiscal terms are unlikely to be seen until much later in the year.”

“What is clear is that despite the decrease in drilling activity towards the end of last year, and during the first months of 2011, the outlook for exploration and appraisal activity in the North Sea appeared positive. The oil price continued to rise and there were indications that this, combined with earlier UK government tax incentives, was encouraging companies to return to their pre-recession strategies. Since the Budget, a number of companies have announced that they intend to put appraisal and development projects on hold and we will have to wait to see the full effect of this change on North Sea activity levels over the coming months,” he concluded.

Deloitte’s review shows that the Central North Sea has seen the highest level of drilling activity, with the region representing 55% of all exploration and appraisal wells spudded on the UKCS during the first quarter of this year.

It also showed that the price of Brent Crude oil has experienced sustained growth throughout the period, rising 20% between December 2010 and March 2011 to a monthly average of US$114.38. This increase in price is a continuation of a trend that started in 2010, however, so far this year, the rate and pattern of growth has been much more constant with regular increases rather than the rise and dip pattern seen during 2010.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: ExxonMobil plaque outside its building, Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, March 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

1500 Louisiana Street's journey: Enron to Chevron

If you happen to be in downtown Houston, can you afford to miss 1500 Louisiana Street? It is not as if the building is the tallest in town. In fact, I am reliably informed that it is the 17th tallest.

Quite simply the infamy that Enron came to signify for corporate America in general and the energy business in particular has given the building a place in history that it neither craves at present nor ever sought in the past.

In fact prior to its collapse, Enron wanted 1500 Louisiana Street to be its headquarters but never actually occupied it in wake of its corporate scandal in October 2001. Following Enron’s collapse, the building’s leasing company touted it to quite a few including ExxonMobil next door but to no avail. Finally, in 2005 ChevronTexaco bought the building and moved its Houston offices there.

The Oilholic couldn’t but help note with a wry chuckle this morning when an “out of towner” like him enquired of a rather irritated Chevron security guard whether the building was where Enron used to be.

Enron never formally entered the building, but it seems the ghost of Enron never left. That’s judging by number of people outside clicking photos away in the three mornings that I have walked past it since arriving in Houston! So here's mine in keeping with that spirit.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: 1500 Louisiana Street, Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, March 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

ETFs, Brent's Strength & ExxonMobil's Russian Deal

There seem to be more backers of the theory that Brent is winning the crude battle of the indices. I certainly believe Brent provides a much better picture of the global oil markets over WTI. Back in May 2010, I blogged that David Peniket, President and COO of Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) Futures Europe, gave Brent his backing. SocGen joined the ever-growing chorus last week. In a note to clients, the French banking major noted that Brent is a much better barometer of the global oil markets, where both crude and product demand have been strong.

Regarding premium between Brent and WTI, SocGen analysts note: “First, preliminary Euroilstock data showed a 4.2 Mb crude stockdraw in December. When this month-on-month per cent change is applied to the end-November OECD Europe crude stock figures from the IEA, the result in end-December European crude stocks that are below average; this is in sharp contrast to the near-record high stocks at Cushing.”

Additionally, oil field technical problems have caused some supply losses in the North Sea and planned pipeline maintenance at the Gullfaks field, in Norway, was also announced last weekend. Moving away from the North Sea, news has emerged that Roseneft and ExxonMobil have penned a deal for oil and gas exploration in the Black Sea, though intricacies and value of the deal is as yet unknown.

Finally, SocGen’s Mutual Fund & ETF report published last week makes for interesting reading; a sort of a continuation of trends noted by the wider market in general. It notes that the commodity rally was supported by US$23 billion inflows in 2010 (click on graphics to enlarge). Over the past 6 months, the rally in commodity prices has been significant (CRB index +27%) and directly associated with the expected pick-up in demand, but reallocation to protect against inflation has clearly played a role as well.

However, SocGen observed that Precious metals, and not energy, dominated commodity inflows. Precious metals were by far the largest category in commodity ETPs (including ETFs, ETCs and ETNs) accounting for 76% of US$157 billion assets under management and they continue to attract most of the inflows.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Graphics © SGCIB Cross Asset Research, Jan 19, 2011

Monday, December 06, 2010

Some Crude Chatter from Moody’s & Other Stuff

There’s been some interesting chatter from Moody’s these past seven days on all things crude. Some of these stood out for me. Early last week in a note to clients, the rating agency opined that CNOOC Ltd's Aa3 issuer and senior unsecured ratings would not be immediately affected by the Chinese company's additional equity investment of US$2.47 billion in its 50% joint-venture Bridas Corp.

The investment represents CNOOC's share of funding contributions for Bridas to purchase a remaining 60% interest in Pan American Energy, which is engaged in E&P ops in South America. Bridas plans to fund 70% of its purchase by equity and 30% by debt or additional contributions from shareholders.

CNOOC is funding its equity contribution to Bridas with internal resources on hand. The transaction would give it an additional 429 million BOE of proved reserves and 68,000 bpd daily production in South America, according to Moody’s. Completion of the transaction is expected to take place during H1 2011, that’s of course government and regulatory approvals pending.

However, the crude chatter of the week not just from Moody's, but from the entire market was the agency’s interesting analytical take on oil sands producers’ operating considerations. In a report titled – Analytical Considerations for Oil Sands Producers – the agency notes that while comparing oil sands development and production projects to conventional development and production projects, the former have much larger upfront development costs[1].

Such projects are more likely to incur construction cost overruns, and quite simply take much longer to reach breakeven cash flow. Other features include higher cash operating costs per barrel of oil equivalent, very long reserve life and low maintenance capital expenditures once in production, particularly of mining oil sands operations, the report said.

One might say that parts of the report are predictable but it must be noted that in analysing companies with relatively large oil sands exposure, Moody's balances the negative aspects of the difficult construction period against the anticipated long-term positive contributions from these assets. So well, on balance, I found the principal tenets to be very convincing.

Let us face it, whether peak oil will be here soon or not, “easy oil” (interchangeable with cheap oil) is most certainly gone. Cost overruns are unlikely to deter big oil. So far Shell has invested just under US$10 billion (River Oil Sands), Chevron US$9 billion (Athabasca), ExxonMobil US$5 billion (Kearl Oil sands investment) and BP is said to be catching up via its Sunrise oil sands investment.

Elsewhere, Desire Petroleum’s saga of will they find oil in the Falklands Is. or won't they or worse still when will they give up continues. Its share price saw wild swings and ended in a damp squib (haven’t we heard that before).

On the left, for the umpteenth time, here is Desire’s undesirable share chart (see the day's price nose-dive). To quote The Daily Mail’s inimitable Geoff Foster, “Many professional punters are gluttons for punishment. They continually get suckered into seat-of-your pants oil stocks and more often than not, live to regret it.”

I do not wish to tempt fate, but Desire Petroleum is no Cairn Energy. I do hope for Desire's sake that they do strike black gold in meaningful if not bountiful quantities. However, the market response to a whiff of positive news is nothing short of barmy.

[1] The report is available on Moody's web site.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo: Oil Sands, Canada © Shell, Graphic: Desire Petroleum Share Chart with stated time frame © Digital Look / BBC

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nigeria is a Crude Spot with Crude Oil, Says Peel

Nigeria is a complicated country - a confused ex-colonial outpost with a complex ethnic and tribal mix turned into a unified nation and given its independence by the British some five decades ago. Having crude oil in abundance complicates things even further.

Some say the history of crude oil extraction has a dark and seedy side; most say nowhere is it more glaringly visible than in Nigeria. On the back of having interviewed Nigeria's petroleum minister - Diezani Kogbeni Alison-Madueke for Infrastructure Journal, I recently read a candid book on the country titled - A Swamp Full of Dollars: Pipelines and Paramilitaries at Nigeria's Oil Frontier written by Michael Peel, a former FT journalist, who spent many-a-year in Nigeria. He presents a warts n' all account about this most chaotic and often fascinating of African countries shaped by oil, driven by oil and in more ways than one - held to ransom by oil.

The author dwells on how the discovery of black gold has not been quite the bonanza for its peoples who remain among the poorest and most deprived in this world. End result is growing dissent and chaos - something which was glaringly visible between 2006-2009 when the oil rich Niger Delta went up in flames.

Peel's book is split into three parts, comprising of nine chapters, containing a firsthand and first rate narration of the violence, confusion, partial anarchy and corruption in Nigeria where its people who deserve better have to contend with depravity and pollution. Some have risen up and abide by their own rule - the rule of force, rather than the law.

If you seek insight into this complex country, Peel provides it. If you seek a travel guide - this is one candid book. If you seek info on what went wrong in Nigeria from a socioeconomic standpoint, the author duly obliges. Hence, this multifaceted work, for which Peel deserves top marks, is a much needed book.

I feel it addresses an information gap about a young nation, its serious challenges, addiction to its oil endowment and the sense of injustice the crude stuff creates for those who observe the oil bonanza from a distance but cannot get their hands into the cookie jar.

Peel notes that the chaos of Niger delta is as much a story of colonial misadventure, as it is about corporate mismanagement, corruption in the bureaucracy and a peculiar and often misplaced sense of entitlement that creates friction between the country's haves and have nots.

Drop into the mix, an unfolding ecological disaster and you get a swamp full of dollars whose inhabitants range from impromptu militias with creative names to Shell, from terrorists to ExxonMobil, from leaking pipelines to illegal crude sales.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Book Cover © I.B. Tauris

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Talking Crude: Of Profits, Tax rebates & Asset Sales

Last week was an eventful one in crude terms. Well it’d have to be if Shell and Exxon Mobil declare bumper profits. Both saw their quarterly profits almost double. Beginning with Shell, the Anglo-Dutch firm reported profits of US$4.5 billion on a current cost (of supply) basis, up from US$2.3 billion noted over the corresponding quarter last year.

Excluding one-off items, Shell's profit was $4.2 billion, compared with $3.1 billion last year. Unlike BP, Shell said it would pay a second quarter dividend of $0.42 per share. The oil giant's restructuring plans also appear to be bearing fruit achieving cost savings of $3.5 billion, beating the stated corporate savings target by about 15% and some six months ahead of schedule.

Furthermore, it is thought that as a result of the restructuring, 7,000 employees would leave Shell nearly 18 months ahead of schedule. It also said it expected to sell $7-$8 billion of assets over 2010-11. Concurrently, oil giant Exxon Mobil reported quarterly profits of $7.6 billion, well above the $4.1 billion it posted over the corresponding quarter last year. Revenue for the quarter rose 23% in year over year terms on annualised basis from $72.5 billion to $92.5 billion.

Meanwhile, rival BP reported a record $17 billion second quarter loss which the market half expected. The figure included funds to the tune of $32 billion set aside to cover the costs of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sticking with BP, it has emerged that the beleaguered oil giant included a tax credit claim of almost $10 billion in its Q2 results as it seeks to take the edge off the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on its corporate finances. Its income statement for the second quarter carries a pre-tax charge of $32.2 billion related to the oil spill and a tax credit of $9.79 billion.

Under domestic tax laws in the US, BP is entitled to deduct a proportion of its losses against US tax. The issue is likely to turn political – especially in an election year, when much more has been made out of far less. However, legally the US government can do precious little to prevent BP from claiming the tax credit.

Crude asset sales seem to be the order of the day. Following on from BP’s sale of assets and Shell’s announcement that it will sell too, news emerged that the Russian government also wants to join the party.

It plans to sell $29 billion worth of assets (not all which are energy sector assets) on the open markets. In the absence of official confirmation, local media speculation suggests minor stakes in Rosneft and Transneft may be put up for sale.

However, speaking to reporters in Moscow on July 29th, the country’s Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said, "We will sell significant stakes in state companies on the market. We plan to keep controlling stakes. Assets will be valued publicly, in line with market prices and tenders will be open. We are fully ruling out a situation when somebody sells something to someone at an artificially low price."

According to communiqués, the Russian government wanted to rake in $10 billion next year from asset sales. It has also approved a decision to increase mineral extraction taxes on gas producers by 61% from 2011.

Finally from a macro strandpoint, market consensus and comments from BP, Shell and Exxon officials seem to indicate that the top bosses of all three see mixed signals in the global economy. While their earnings figures, excluding BP for obvious reasons, have improved markedly from the quarterly lows of 2009, the overall industry outlook remains uncertain.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo courtesy © Shell

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Oil Giants' Crude Quarter has a Common Theme

The last quarter was very ‘crude’ for the oil industry’s books. Fourth quarter results of three oil majors – namely Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil make-up for some interesting reading with one common theme. Beginning with Exxon Mobil, the American oil behemoth reported on February 1st, 2010 that its fourth quarter profit dipped 23%. The decline meant it made a net profit of $6.05 billion over Q4 2009, compared to a $7.82 billion profit noted over the corresponding period last year. For the whole of 2009, Exxon's profit stood at $19.3 billion, less than half of what it made in 2008, and the lowest in seven years.

Then on February 2nd, BP said its Q4 2009 profits were up 33% to $3.45 billion. However, its annual profit was down 45% with the replacement cost profit at $13.96 billion compared to $25.59 billion in 2008. Two days later, on February 4th, Royal Dutch Shell’s profits for Q4 2009 came in at $1.2 billion, down by a whopping 75% from the $4.8 billion the Anglo-Dutch oil giant made over the corresponding quarter last year.

For the whole of 2009, Shell made a dwarfed $9.8 billion in profits, compared to $31.4 billion it made in profits over 2008. All three oil majors found common ground in suggesting that a global slump in demand courtesy of the economic climate and a dip in oil prices were to be blamed for their relatively poor set(s) of quarterly results. All three, in addition to many of their industry peers, added that the outlook for 2010 was uncertain.

In the midst of all this, OPEC secretary general Abdalla Salem El-Badri told the BBC that its members’ compliance with set production targets fell to 55-56% in January compared to 80% noted over the corresponding month last year. He described the development as "worrying".

El-Badri further said, "The risk is you see a lot of oil in the market and no one is buying it. Then the price will come down." At its last meeting in Angola on December 22nd (2009), OPEC held output at 24.84 million barrels per day.

OPEC and oil companies seem to bring up the word “uncertain” with some degree of conviction these days, more so because forecasting consumption patterns is proving to be mighty hard. Chinese and Indian consumption patterns and sluggish recovery in the West complicates drawing an overall global picture even further.

As for the prevailing price of black gold, NYMEX crude contract for March settlement was up 79 cents, or 1.10% trading at $72.67 a barrel and in the circa of $71.32 to $73.04 per barrel at 15:04 GMT. The corresponding Brent crude contract was up 87 cents, or 1.27 %, to $69.98 a barrel, trading in the circa of $69.61 to $71.30 in London. Overall, it’s still a far cry from a $147 per barrel price of July 2008. Many wonder for how long, but for very different reasons.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy © Cairn Energy Plc