Showing posts with label Tesoro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tesoro. Show all posts

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crude viewpoints from the Bay Area

The Oilholic finds himself in the San Francisco Bay Area yet again for the briefest of visits. By force of habit, one couldn't help doing a bit of tanker spotting from a vantage point some 21 floors above on a gloriously sunny day. More importantly, it's always a pleasure to discuss the stock market prices of companies behind what these metallic behemoths at sea are carrying.

The trading community appears to be in bullish mood close the midway point of 2014. Yours truly spoke to seven traders based here, most of whom had a buy recommendation on the big four services companies, which is not entirely unexpected. Five also had a buy recommendation on EOG Resources, a company the Oilholic admits has largely gone under his radar and Enterprise Products Partners, which hasn't.
 
The former, according IHS Energy data, saw a 40% rise in value to just under US$46 billion in 2013, making the company the largest market capitalisation gainer for upstream E&P companies last year. Now that is something. It is blatantly obvious that the liquids boom in North America is beginning to drive investment back into all segments of the oil & gas sector.
 
"Stock market is rewarding those with sensible exposure to unconventional plays. Hell if it goes on the way it has, I might even recommend Canadian E&P firms more frequently, Keystone XL or not," quips one trader. (Not to detract from the subject at hand, but most said even if Keystone XL doesn't get the go ahead from the Obama administration, future isn't so bleak for Canadian E&P; music to the ears of Chinese and Korean businessmen in town.)

Midstream companies are in many cases offering good returns akin to their friends in the services sector, given their connect to the shale plays. Okay now before you all get hot under the collar, we're merely talking returns and relative stock valuation here and not size. And for those of you who are firm believers of the 'size does matter' hypothesis, latest available IHS Energy data does confirm that the 16 largest IOCs it monitors posted a combined market capitalisation of $1.7 trillion at the end of 2013, a little over 10% above their value the year before.

Yet, oil majors continue to divest, especially on the refining & marketing (R&M) side of the business and occasionally conventional E&P assets where plays don't gel well with their wider objectives. Only last week, BP sold its interests in four oilfields on the Alaska North Slope for an undisclosed sum to Hilcorp.

The sale included BP's interests in the Endicott and Northstar oilfields and a 50% interest in each of the Liberty and the Milne Point fields. Ancillary pipeline infrastructure was also passed on. The fields accounted for around 19,700 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd). Putting things into context, that's less than 15% of the company's total net production on the North Slope alone and near negligible in a global context.

BP said the deal does not affect its position as operator and co-owner of Prudhoe Bay nor its other interests in Alaska. But for Hilcorp, which would become the operator of Endicott, Northstar and Milne Point and their associated pipelines and infrastructure pending regulatory approval, it is a sound strategic acquisition.

Going back to the core discussion, smart thinking could, as the Bay Area traders opine, see all sides (small, midcap and IOCs) benefit over what is likely to be seminal decade for the North American oil & gas business between now and 2024-25.

As Daniel Trapp, senior energy analyst at IHS and principal author of the analysis firm's Energy 50 report, noted earlier this year in a note to clients: "While economic and geopolitical uncertainty will certainly continue driving energy company values, it is clear that a thought out and well-executed strategy positively affects value.

"This was particularly true with companies that refocused on North America in 2013, notably Occidental, which saw its value expand 24%, and ConocoPhillips, which grew 23% in value."

There seem to be good vibes about the performance of North American refiners. As promised to the readers, yours truly wanted to know what people here felt. Ratings agency Moody's said earlier this month that North American refiners could retain their advantage over competitors elsewhere in the globe, with cheaper feedstock, natural gas prices, and lower costs contributing to 10% or higher EBITDA growth through mid to late 2015.

Those with investments and stock exposure in US refiners reckon the Moody's forecast is about right and could be beaten by a few of the players. A few said Phillips 66 would be the one to watch out for. Question is – what will these companies do with their investment dollars going forward in light higher profits, as the case for pumping in more capex into existing infrastructure is not clear cut, despite the need for Gulf Coast upgrades.

Additionally, most anecdotal evidence here in California suggests tightening emissions law in the state is price negative in particular for Tesoro and Valero, but Phillips 66 could take a hit too. In essence, not much has changed in terms of the legal parameters; only their impact assessment in 2014-15 is yet to reach investors' mailboxes.

On a related note, here is an interesting piece from Lior Cohen of the Motley Fool, examining the impact of the shrinking Brent-WTI spread on refiners. Valero and Marathon's first quarter performance could be negatively impacted as the spread narrows, the author reckons.

Overall, in the Oilholic's opinion what appears to be an abundance of low-cost feedstock from inexpensive domestic crude oil supply will continue to benefit US refiners. While North American refiners should be content with abundance, Europeans are getting pretty discontent about their reliance on Russian gas.

Despite obvious attempts by the European Union to belatedly wean itself off Russian gas, Fitch Ratings reckons the 28 member nations group would be pretty hard pressed to replace it. In fact, an importation ban on Russian gas to the EU would cause substantial disruption to Europe's economy and industry, according to the agency.

Painting a rather bleak picture, Fitch noted in a recent report that the immediate aftermath of such a move would see the region suffer from gas shortages and high prices due to its limited ability to reduce demand, source alternative supplies and transport gas to the most affected countries.

A surge in gas prices after a ban would probably also have knock-on effects on electricity, coal and oil prices. Industry would bear the brunt of supply shortages as household demand would be given priority. A lengthy ban on Russian gas – described as "a low-probability, but high-impact scenario" would see gas-intensive sectors such as steel and chemicals being heavily hit.

This would accelerate the closure or mothballing of capacity that is suffering from low profitability due to competition from low-cost energy jurisdictions such as the US or Middle East.

In 2013, Russia supplied 145 bcm of gas to Europe, and the latter would have great difficulty in sourcing alternative supplies. "Increased European gas production and North African piped gas could offset a small proportion of this. Tapping into the global LNG market would yield limited volumes as Europe's Russian gas demand equates to nearly half of the world's LNG production, which is already mostly tied to long-term supply contracts. Hence, gas and other energy prices could surge," the agency noted.

In theory, Europe has plenty of unused LNG regasification capacity, which could help replace some Russian supplies. But the majority of plants are located in Southern Europe and the UK, far away from the Central and Eastern European countries that are most reliant on Russian gas. So there you have it, and it should help dissect some of the political hot air. That's all for the moment from San Francisco folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: San Francisco skyline from 4th Street with an oil tanker heading to Oakland in the background. Photo 2: Port of San Francisco, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma April, 2014.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Algeria’s ‘dark cloud’, PDVSA’s ratings & more

The terrorist strike on Algeria’s In Amenas gas field last week and the bloodbath that followed as the country’s forces attempted to retake the facility has dominated the news headlines. The siege ended on Saturday with at least 40 hostages and 32 terrorists dead, according to newswires. The number is likely to alter as further details emerge. The hostage takers also mined the whole facility and a clear-up is presently underway. The field is operated as a joint venture between Algeria's Sonatrach, Statoil and BP. While an estimated 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) of condensate was lost as production stopped, the damage to Algeria’s oil & gas industry could be a lot worse as foreign oil workers were deliberately targeted.
 
In its assessment of the impact of the terror strike, the IEA said the kidnapping and murder of foreign oil workers at the gas field had cast a ‘dark cloud’ over the outlook for the country's energy sector. The agency said that 'political risk writ large' dominates much of the energy market, 'and not just in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya or Venezuela' with Algeria returning to their ranks. Some say it never left in the first place.
 
Reflecting this sentiment, BP said hundred of overseas workers from IOCs had left Algeria and many more were likely to join them. Three of the company’s own workers at the In Amenas facility are unaccounted for.
 
Continuing with the MENA region, news emerged that Saudi Arabia’s output fell 290,000 bpd in December to 9.36 million bpd. Subsequently, OPEC’s output in December also fell to its lowest level in a year at 30.65 million bpd. This coupled, with projections of rising Chinese demand, prompted the IEA to raise its global oil demand forecast for 2013 describing it as a 'sobering, 'morning after' view.'
 
The forecast is now 240,000 bpd more than the IEA estimate published in December, up to 90.8 million bpd; up 1% over 2012. "All of a sudden, the market looks tighter than we thought…OECD inventories are getting tighter - a clean break from the protracted and often counter-seasonal builds that had been a hallmark of 2012," IEA said.
 
However, the agency stressed there was no need for rushed interpretations. "The dip in Saudi supply, for one, seems less driven by price considerations than by the weather. A dip in air conditioning demand - as well as reduced demand from refineries undergoing seasonal maintenance - likely goes a long way towards explaining reduced output. Nothing for the global market to worry about," the IEA said.
 
"The bull market of 2003‐2008 was all about demand growth and perceived supply constraints. The bear market that followed was all about financial meltdown. Today's market, as the latest data underscore, has a lot to do with political risk writ large. Furthermore, changes in tax and trade policies, in China and in Russia, can, at the stroke of a pen, shakeup crude and products markets and redraw the oil trade map," the agency concluded.
 
Simply put, it’s too early for speculators to get excited about a possible bull rally in the first quarter of 2013, something which yours truly doubts as well. However, across the pond, the WTI forward month futures contract cut its Brent discount to less than US$15 at one point last week, the lowest since July. As the glut at Cushing, Oklahoma subsides following the capacity expansion of the Seaway pipeline, the WTI-Brent discount would be an interesting sideshow this year. 
 
The IEA added that non-OPEC production was projected to rise by 980,000 bpd to 54.3 million bpd, the highest growth rate since 2010. Concurrently, BP said that US shale oil production is expected to grow around 5 million bpd by 2030. This, according to the oil major, is likely to be offset by reductions in supply from OPEC, which has been pumping at historical highs led by the Saudis in recent years.
 
BP's chief economist Christof Ruehl said, "This will generate spare capacity of around 6 million bpd, and there's a fault line if there is higher shale production then the consequences would be even stronger." But the shale revolution will remain largely a "North American phenomenon," he added.
 
"No other country outside the US and Canada has yet succeeded in combining these factors to support production growth. While we expect other regions will adapt over time to develop their resources, by 2030 we expect North America still to dominate production of these resources," Ruehl said.
 
Along the same theme, CNN reported that California is sitting on a massive amount of shale oil and could become the next oil boom state. That’s only if the industry can get the stuff out of the ground without upsetting the state's powerful environmental lobby. Yeah, good luck with that!

Returning to Saudi Arabia, Fitch Ratings said earlier this month that an expansionary 2013 budget based on a conservative oil price will support another year of healthy economic growth for the country and a further strengthening of the sovereign's net creditor position. However, overall growth will slow “due to a decline in oil production that was already evident in recent months.”
 
In the full year to December-end 2013, the Saudi budget, unveiled on December 29, projected record spending of US$219 billion (34% of GDP), up by almost 20% on the 2012 budget. Budgeted capital spending is 28% higher than in 2012, though the government has struggled to achieve its capital spending targets in recent years.
 
While an 18% rise in Saudi revenues is projected in the budget, they are based on unstated oil price and production assumptions, with the former well below prevailing market prices. Fitch anticipates Saudi production and prices will be lower in 2013 than 2012.

"With no new revenue-raising measures announced and little scope for higher oil revenues, the revenue projection appears less cautious than usual. However, actual revenues generally substantially exceed budget revenues (by an average of 82% over the past five years) and should do so again in 2013," the agency said.
 
Meanwhile, political uncertainty continues in Venezuela with no clarity about the health of President Hugo Chavez. It has done Petróleos de Venezuela's (PDVSA), the country’s national oil company, no favours. On January 16, ratings agency Moody’s changed PDVSA's rating outlook to negative.

It followed the change in outlook for the Venezuelan government's local and foreign currency bond ratings to negative. "The sovereign rating action reflects increasing uncertainty over President Chavez's political succession, and the impact of a possibly tumultuous transition on civil order, the economy, and an already deteriorating government fiscal position," Moody’s said.
 
On PDVSA, the agency added that as a government-related issuer, the company's ratings reflect a high level of imputed government support and default correlation between the two entities. Hence, a downgrade of the government's local and foreign currency ratings would be likely to result in a downgrade of PDVSA's ratings as well.
 
Away from a Venezuela, two developments in the North Sea – a positive and a negative apiece – are worth taking about. Starting with the positive news first, global advisory firm Deloitte found that 65 exploration and appraisal wells were drilled on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), compared with 49 in 2011.
 
The activity, according to Deloitte, was boosted by a broader range of tax allowances and a sustained high oil price. The news came as Dana Petroleum said production had commenced at the Cormorant East field which would produce about 5,500 bpd initially. Production will be processed at the Taqa-operated North Cormorant platform, before being sent to BP's Sullom Voe terminal (pictured above) for sale.
 
Taqa, an Abu Dhabi government-owned energy company, has a majority 60% stake in the field. Alongside Dana Petroleum (20%), its other partners include Antrim Resources (8.4%), First Oil Expro (7.6%) and Granby Enterprises (4%).
 
While Taqa was still absorbing the positives, its Cormorant Alpha platform, about 160 km from the Shetland Islands, reported a leak leading to a production shut-down at 20 other interconnected North Sea oilfields.
 
Cormorant Alpha platform handles an output of about 90,000 bpd of crude which is transported through the Brent pipeline to Sullom Voe for dispatch. Of this only 10,000 bpd is its own output. Thankfully there was no loss of life and Taqa said the minor leak had been contained. It is currently in the process of restoring 80,000 bpd worth of crude back to the Brent pipeline system along with sorting its own output.
 
Finally, as the Oilholic blogged back in October on a visit to Hawaii, Tesoro is to close its Kapolei, O'ahu refinery in the island state in April as a buyer has failed to turn-up (so far). In the interim, it will be converting the facility to a distribution and storage terminal in the hope that a buyer turn up. The Oilholic hopes so too, but in this climate it will prove tricky. Tesoro will continue to fulfil existing supply commitments.
 
That’s all for the moment folks except to inform you that after resisting it for years, yours truly has finally succumbed and opened a Twitter account! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Sullom Voe Terminal, BP © BP Plc.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hawaii’s crude reality: Being a petrohead costs!

In a break from the ‘crude’ norm for visits to the USA, the Oilholic packed his bags from California and headed deep out to the Pacific and say ‘Aloha’ to newest and 50th United State of Hawaii. It’s good to be here in the Kona district of the Big Island and realise that Tokyo is a lot closer than London.

It is interesting to note that Hawaii is the only US state still retaining the Union Jack in its flag and insignia. The whole flag itself is a deliberate hybrid symbol of British and American historic ties to Hawaii and traces its origins to Captain John Vancouver – the British Naval officer after whom the US and Canadian cities of Vancouver and Alaska’s Mount Vancouver are named.

What’s not good being here is realising that a 1.3 million plus residents of these northernmost isles in Polynesia pay the most for their energy and electricity needs from amongst their fellow citizens in the US. It is easy to see why, as part dictated by location constraints Hawaii presently generates over 75% of its electricity by burning Petroleum.

Giving the geography and physical challenges, most of the crude oil is shipped either from Alaska and California or overseas. Furthermore, the Islands have no pipelines as building these is not possible owing to volcanic and seismic activity. Here’s a view of one active crater – the Halema’uma’u in Kilauea Caldera (see above right). You can actually smell the sulphur dioxide while there as the Oilholic was earlier today. In fact the entire archipelago was created courtesy of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The Big Island’s landmass of five plates is created out of Mauna Kea (dormant) and Mauna Loa (partly active) and the island is technically growing at moment as Kilaueu still spews lava which cools and forms land.

So both crude and distillates have to be moved by oil tankers between the islands or tanker lorries on an intra-island basis. The latter  creates regional pricing disparities. For instance in Hilo, the commercial heart of the Big Island and where the tanker docking stations are, gasoline is cheaper than Kona by almost 40-50 cents per gallon. The latter receives its distillates by road once tankers have docked at Hilo.

The state has two refineries both at Kapolei on the island of O‘ahu 20 miles west of capital Honolulu – one apiece owned by Tesoro and Chevron. The bigger of the two has a 93,700 barrels per day (bpd) and is owned by Tesoro; the recent buyer of BP’s Carson facility. However in January Tesoro put its Hawaiian asset up for sale.

Tesoro, which bought the refinery for US$275 million from BHP Petroleum Americas in 1998, said it no longer fitted with its strategic focus on the US Midcontinent and West Cost. The company expects the sale to be completed by the end of the year. Its Hawaiian retail operations, which include 32 gas stations, will also be part of the deal. Chevron operates Kapolei’s other refinery with a 54,000 bpd capacity. Between the two, there is enough capacity to meet Hawaii’s guzzling needs and the pressures imposed by US forces operations in the area.

In this serene paradise with volcanic activity and ample tidal movement, power generation from tidal and geothermal is not inconceivable and facilities do exist. In fact, for the remaining 25% of its energy mix, the state is one of eight US states with geothermal power generation and ranks third among them. Additionally, solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity increased by 150% in 2011, making Hawaii the 11th biggest US state for PV capacity. However, it is not nearly enough.

One simple solution that is being attempted is natural gas – something which local officials confirmed to the Oilholic. The EIA has also noted Hawaii’s moves in this direction. Oddly enough, while Hawaii hardly uses much natural gas, it is one of a handful of US states which actually produces synthetic natural gas. Switching from petroleum-based power generation to natural gas for much of Hawaii’s power generation could lower the state’s power bills considerably as the massive disconnect between US natural gas and crude oil prices looks set to continue.

Strong ‘gassy’ moves are afoot and anecdotal evidence here suggests feelers are being sent out to Canada, among others. In August, Hawaii Gas applied for a permit with the Federal Government to ship LNG to Hawaii from the West Coast. While the deliveries will commence later this year, arriving volumes of LNG would be small in the first phase of the project, according to Hawaii Gas. At least it is a start and the State House Bill 1464 now requires public utilities to provide 25% of net electricity sales from renewable sources by December 31, 2020 and 40% of net electricity sales from renewables by December 31, 2030.

That’s all for the moment folks as the Oilholic needs to explore the Big Island further via the old fashioned way which requires no crude or distillates – its the trusty old bicycle! Going back to history, it was Captain James Cook and not Vancouver who located these isles for the Western World in 1778. Regrettably, he got cooked following fracas with the locals in 1779 and peace was not made between Brits and locals until Vancouver returned years later.

Moving away from history, yours truly leaves you with a peaceful view of Punaluʻu or the Black Sand beach (see above left)! It is what nature magnificently created when fast flowing molten lava rapidly cooled and reached the Pacific Ocean. According to a US Park Ranger, the beach’s black sand is made of basalt with a high carbon content. It is a sight to behold and the Oilholic is truly beholden! On a visit there, you have a 99.99% chance of spotting the endangered Hawksbill and Green turtles lounging on the black sand. For once, yours truly is glad there are no bloody pipelines in the area blotting the landscape. More from Hawaii later - keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Halema’uma’u, Kilauea Caldera. Photo 2: Punaluʻu - the Black Sand beach, Hawaii, USA © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

Monday, September 10, 2012

BP’s sale, South Africa’s move & the North Sea

BP continues to catch the Oilholic’s eye via its ongoing strategic asset sale programme aimed at mitigating the financial fallout from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. Not only that, a continual push to get rid of refining and marketing (R&M) assets should also be seen as positive for its share price.
 
This afternoon, the oil giant inked a deal to sell five of its oil & gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico for US$5.6 billion to Plains Exploration and Production; an American independent firm. However, BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley reiterated that the oil giant remains committed to the region.
 
"While these assets no longer fit our business strategy, the Gulf of Mexico remains a key part of BP's global exploration and production portfolio and we intend to continue investing at least US$4 billion there annually over the next decade," he said in statement following the announcement.
 
Last month BP agreed to sell the Carson oil refinery in California to Tesoro for US$2.5 billion. As a footnote, the agreement holds the potential to make Tesoro the largest refiner on the West Coast and a substantial coastal R&M player alongside the oil majors. While regulatory scrutiny is expected, anecdotal evidence from California suggests the deal is likely to be approved. Back in June, BP announced its intention to sell its stake in TNK-BP, the company's lucrative but acrimony fraught Russian venture.
 
One can draw a straight logic behind the asset sales which BP would not contest. A recent civil case filed by the US Department of Justice against BP does not mince its words accusing the oil giant of “gross negligence” over the Gulf of Mexico spill which followed an explosion that led to the death of 11 workers. Around 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf according to some estimates.
 
The charges, if upheld by the court, could see BP fined by as much as US$21 billion. The trial starts in January and BP, which denies the claim, says it would provide evidence contesting the charges. The company aims to raise US$38 billion via asset sales by Q4 2012. However, the Oilholic is not alone is his belief that the sale programme, while triggered by the spill of 2010, has a much wider objective of portfolio trimming and a pretext to get rid of burdensome R&M assets.
 
Meanwhile in Russia, the Kremlin is rather miffed about the European Commission’s anti-trust probe into Gazprom. According to the country’s media, the Russian government said the probe “was being driven by political factors.” Separately, Gazprom confirmed it would no longer be developing the Shtokman Arctic gas field citing escalating costs. Since, US was the target export market for the gas extracted, Gazprom has probably concluded that shale exploration stateside has all but ended hopes making the project profitable.
 
Sticking with Shale, reports over the weekend suggest that South Africa has ended its moratorium on shale gas extraction. A series of public consultations and environmental studies which could last for up to two years are presently underway. It follows a similar decision in the UK back in April.
 
Sticking with the UK, the country’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) says output of domestic mining & quarrying industries fell 2.4% in July 2012 on an annualised basis; the 22nd consecutive monthly fall. More worryingly, the biggest contributor to the decrease came from oil & gas extraction which fell 4.3% in year over year terms.
 
The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has reacted to declining output. After addressing taxation of new UKCS prospection earlier this year, Osborne switched tack to brownfield sites right after the ONS released the latest production data last week.
 
Announcing new measures, the UK Treasury said an allowance for "brownfield" exploration will now shield portions of income from the supplementary charge on their profits. It added that the allowance would give companies the incentive to "get the most out of" older fields. Speaking on BBC News 24, Osborne added that the long-term tax revenues generated by the change would significantly outweigh the initial cost of the allowance.
 
According to the small print, income of up to £250 million in qualifying brownfield projects, or £500 million for projects paying Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT), would be protected from a 32% supplementary charge rate applied by the UK Treasury to such sites.
 
Roman Webber, tax partner at Deloitte, believes the allowance should stimulate investment in older fields in the North Sea where it was previously deemed uneconomical. Such investment is vital in preserving and extending the life of existing North Sea infrastructure, holding off decommissioning and maximising the recovery of the UK’s oil & gas resources.
 
“Enabling legislation for the introduction of this allowance was already included in the UK Finance Act 2012, announced earlier this year. The allowance will work by reducing the profits subject to the 32% Supplementary Charge. The level of the allowances available will depend on the expected project costs and incremental reserves, but will be worth up to a maximum of £160 million net for projects subject to PRT and £80 million for those that are not subject to the tax,” Webber notes.
 
Finally on the crude pricing front, Brent's doing US$114-plus when last checked. It has largely been a slow start to oil futures trading week either side of the pond as traders reflect on what came out of Europe last week and is likely to come out of the US this week. Jack Pollard of Sucden Financial adds that Chinese data for August showed a deteriorating fundamental backdrop for crude with net imports at 18.2 million metric tonnes; a 13% fall on an annualised basis.
 
Broadly speaking, the Oilholic sees a consensus in the City that Brent’s trading range of US$90 to US$115 per barrel will continue well into 2013. However for the remaining futures contracts of the year, a range of US$100 to US$106 is more realistic as macroeconomics and geopolitical risks seesaw around with a relatively stronger US dollar providing the backdrop. It is prudent to point out that going short on the current contract is based Iran not flaring up. It hasn't so far, but is factored in to the current contract's price. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Rig © Cairn Energy

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Californian emission law, refiners & Muir woods

When in town, spending a few hours watching shipping lanes in the San Francisco bay area is an old pastime of the Oilholic’s, especially when it comes to spotting oil tankers which bring in some of the crude stuff to the area's refiners.

This morning, while sitting on Pier 39, yours truly spotted three pass by along with a few loaded containers - all following a well practised drill moving along a designated route under the Golden Gate Bridge, past Alcatraz Island before turning away left. Away from eye-view and the rather tranquil shipping lanes, there is local trouble at the mill for the already beleaguered refiners who have to contend with overcapacity and stunted margins.

It comes in the shape of a gradual but steady implementation of California's (relatively) new environmental regulations by 2020. This piece of regulation is known as California's Global Warming Solutions Act a.k.a. the AB 32, the central objective of which is to reduce Californian greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

According to the California Air Resources Board, in 2013 it will begin enforcing a state-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The cap-and-trade programme coupled with the Low Carbon Fuel Standard would give California some of the most stringent air quality and emissions laws in the USA, although a spokesperson refused to describe it as such.

Ratings agency Moody’s believes refining and marketing (R&M) companies Tesoro, Alon USA, Phillips 66 and Valero are particularly exposed to the gradual implementation of the new environmental rules.

"California's increasingly stringent environmental regulations will challenge refiners over the next decade, increasing operating costs and negatively impacting refined product demand. These new rules will reduce cash flow that could be used for debt repayment or strategic growth and could discourage refiners from investing in California," says Gretchen French, a senior analyst and Vice President at Moody’s.

Among the majors, Chevron which has a significant refinery capacity in California, is likely to feel the impact most among its peers. Nonetheless as ratings agencies generally tend to rate integrated oil & gas companies higher than R&M only companies, Chevron should have no immediate concerns. The company's long-term debt is rated by Moody’s Aa1 with a stable outlook according to a communiqué dated March 27th.

The agency believes Chevron's ratings reflect its significant scale and globally integrated operations, its diversified upstream reserves and production portfolio, and a strong financial profile, which is underpinned by strong cash flow coverage metrics, low financial leverage, robust capital returns, and a conservative approach to shareholder rewards.

Furthermore, Chevron's strong liquidity profile is characterised by free cash flow generation, ongoing asset sales proceeds, and a large cash position. Chevron's liquidity is further supported by US$6 billion of unused committed credit facilities due in December 2016. Moody's does not expect the new rules to affect the ratings for Tesoro, Alon, Phillips 66 or Valero either over the near to medium term, but the new standards could limit credit accretion.

"Well diversified companies with high financial flexibility and strong liquidity will shoulder the new burdens and weaker demand most easily. Refiners with efficient cost structures and high distillate yields will retain the greatest advantage," French says.

Additionally, a pool of commentators here in the Bay Area seem to suggest that most players – especially Tesoro and Valero – have had a fair bit of time to indulge in regulatory risk mitigation. This piece of legislation was to be expected as California has admirably been a state keen on conservation, forestry and the environment.

The “Father of the US National Parks” – John Muir – an author, naturist and an early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the USA did most of his life’s important work here in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. In 1908, Muir who also founded one the country’s most important conservation organisation – the Sierra Club – had a national park named after him. This amazing redwood forest - the Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco - now provides joy to countless visitors among whom the Oilholic was one this afternoon.

More than six miles of trails are open for visitors to experience an easy walk on the valley floor through the primeval redwood forest. Though the forest is naturally quiet, the Oilholic is in agreement with the US National Park Service, that people are key to preserving the ancient tranquillity of an old-growth forest in our noisy, modern world. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Oil Tanker in the San Francisco Bay Area shipping lane. Photo 2: Valero Pump. Photo 3: Collage of Muir Woods National Monument, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma.

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