Watt’s Up With That: A Tale of Two Sigmoids

There are dozens of different mathematical constructions that yield bell-shaped curves. The “Hubbert” or “Peak Oil” curve is actually a special case of a class of s-shaped functions called sigmoids. While most sigmoid functions begin and end at different values, Hubbert’s curve is constrained to begin and end at zero by the formula and boundary conditions imposed that represent a perfect mathematical translation of Hubbert’s worldview. The curve reflects a battle between two competing forces or trends – one for growth and one for contraction – where the balance shifts between the two along the way. […]

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DeSmog Blog’s Mission Statement Quashes Rational Skepticism

One can (correctly) argue that the foundations of the modern scientific inquiry are built on the foundations of rational skepticism. Contrary to some beliefs, science cannot “prove” anything. Rather, it is premised on the “refutation” of untruth. By eliminating all other possible explanations, the scientific method thereby accepts a theory as “truth”. All fields of inquiry which purport themselves to be scientific, but for which no theory is refutable, are not science.

So, what should we make of climate “consensus” promoters who deny the irrefutably of specific, unproven theories? Does this not contradict the basis of rational skepticism? For example, Jim Hoggan (a lawyer) and Brendan DeMelle (a writer) have this to say about those who question the “consensus truth” regarding ACC:

Unfortunately, a well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign is poisoning the climate change debate. Using tricks and stunts that unsavory PR firms invented for the tobacco lobby, energy-industry contrarians are trying to confuse the public, to forestall individual and political actions that might cut into exorbitant coal, oil and gas industry profits. DeSmogBlog is here to cry foul – to shine the light on techniques and tactics that reflect badly on the PR industry and are, ultimately, bad for the planet.

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Report: Commodities Demystified – A Guide to Trading and the Global Supply Chain

Date of Source: 2016

Summary:
Commodities trading – supply of the basic staples that are converted into the food we eat, the industrial goods we use, and the energy that fuels our transport and heats and lights our lives – is one of the oldest forms of economic activity, yet it is also one of the most widely misunderstood. At no time has this been truer than in the last 20 years, with the emergence of a group of specialist commodities trading and logistics firms operating in a wide range of complex markets […] 

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Reblog: Grossly Distorted Prosperity — Surplus Energy Economics

Date of Source: 30 Oct 2016

Summary:
ECONOMIC DECELERATION – AND HOW TO MEASURE IT One of the quirks of economics is that, within GDP (gross domestic product), all output is included, irrespective of what it really adds to prosperity. GDP, like Oscar Wilde’s cynic, knows “the price of everything, but the value of nothing”. If government paid 100,000 people to dig […]

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Drilling For Value, Appendix B: Commodity Price Forecasts (or, why commodity price forecasts are mostly worthless)

Summary

  • Equity investments into upstream oil and gas companies are largely levered commodity price plays; long-term total returns barely offset the carry costs of taking a long position in oil futures.
  • There are multitudes of ways by which experts seek to forecast future commodities prices; most don’t work.
  • The failure of forecasting should not be surprising if the Efficient Market Hypothesis is even partly correct.
  • Even barring market efficiency, behavioral models provide ample reason for the widespread inaccuracy of forecasts.
  • The idea that commodities prices — including oil — follow a random walk is both overwhelmingly supported by evidence and practical.

Figure 1: Black Gold

Source: Andy Thomas. Black Gold

Evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that investments into upstream oil and gas producers are basically levered commodity price plays. This, and the fact that commodities producers are price-takers, indicates that petroleum economics are overly levered to commodities prices. It should follow, therefore, that an ability to accurately predict petroleum prices could result in advantageous market timing — i.e. investments in the right petroleum producing assets during the right times in the cycle. As a result of this ostensible potential for riches, prognosticators have devised multitudes of ways to forecast oil prices. Unfortunately, most of these efforts fall short of useful — no known forecasting approach, not even futures strip prices, significantly outperforms the assumption that price evolutions are random walks using out-of-sample data. This failure is not surprising, however, if we are to believe even a watered-down form of the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH).

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Drilling For Value, Appendix C: Discounting Theory and Practice

Summary

  • Discount rates are a cornerstone of modern valuation methods for discounting the value of expected future cash flows.
  • Upstream valuation professional systemically utilize elevated discount rates well in excess of rational expectations for long-run capital growth.
  • The use of elevated discount rates may have roots in Modern Portfolio Theory, heuristics regarding the aggregation of well-level economics, and as proxies for high expected rates of depletion.
  • Re-calibration of investors’ rational expectations indicates that lower discount rates may be more appropriate for evaluating long-run returns.
  • Discount rates are simply a means by which to equate dollars in different time-periods — any further deliberation is likely to suffer from diminishing returns.

Figure 1: Sunburst – Pumping UntSource: Greg Evans. Sunburst – Pumping Unit. Art Gallery of Greg Evans

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Drilling For Value, Appendix A: Energetic Factors of Resource Economics

  • Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) is a popular metric for resource quality which attempts to cut through economic distortions caused by taxes, subsidies, and current market conditions.
  • Energetic factors of resource intensity and efficiency also have practical applications for estimating long-term resource project economics.
  • Declining EROEIs, which have been hyper-politicized by peak oil enthusiasts, have been counteracted by gains in full-cycle energy efficiencies.
  • Though other energetic measures of return incorporate financial metrics, EROEI is still the purest key performance metric which exposes an energy resource’s underlying and long-term profit potential.


Source: Frank Reilly (Illustrator). Oilfield WorkerLiberty Magazine. 10 March 1945.

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Quandl Blog: Alternative Data – The Newest Trend in Financial Data

Date of Source: 12 Apr 2016

Summary:
As quants, we’re all aware that every model has a shelf-life… a similar pattern applies to the world of data. Rare, unique and proprietary data eventually diffuses and becomes commonplace, easily available, edgeless data. The best analysts constantly reinvent their models, to avoid their inevitable obsolescence. Today, they’re venturing into the world of alternative data as a new source of alpha. […]

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Drilling for Value, Pt. 4: The Economics of Petroleum Exploration and Production

Note: this post has been heavily redacted since its original data of publication in order to expand on the fundamentals of petroleum geology and the upstream business elsewhere. 

Summary

  • Economic models use assumptions which simplify the effects of accounting, taxes, regulations, and other minutiae in order to glean insights into the drivers of market behavior and value.
  • The effects depletion and commoditization, relatively low cash costs, and often prohibitive resource replacement costs drive the endemically cyclical petroleum investment cycle
  • Petroleum economics are strongly levered to petroleum prices and other extrinsic factors.
  • Maintaining a sufficiently low cost of supply is the primary operational lever capable of creating long-term investment value in the upstream business.
  • Timings of costs are a key consideration for evaluating investment decisions — known discount rates simplify decisions regarding timing preferences.

Figure 1: Pecos, Texas Oilfield
February-22-Hogue-1937-Pecos-AOGHS
Source: Alexander Hogue. Pecos, Texas Oilfield. 1937

The Economics of the Upstream Petroleum Industry
The economics of the petroleum extraction is overwhelmingly colored by the economic factors of depletion and commoditization. Due to the fact that production depletes limited natural resources, the upstream industry must constantly explore for and develop additional resources. Given that the capital investments required to replace depleted resources are usually quite significant in relation to operating costs, resource replacement is a primary driver of costs. Commoditization describes the lack of differentiation in upstream business models and their end products. As a direct result of commoditization, the value propositions of upstream businesses are strongly levered to external market conditions (i.e., namely prices). Taken together, high replacement costs and supplier susceptibility to external market conditions have resulted in endemically cyclical petroleum supplies and prices.

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Drilling for Value, Pt. 1: The Fundamentals of the Petroleum Industry

Summary:

  • This series is geared toward value-oriented investors who have an interest in valuing upstream oil and gas assets.
  • This article touches on the economic fundamentals and valuation concepts for nearly every other line of business within the oil and gas value stream.
  • The economics of different types of oil and gas assets vary significantly: businesses which are more involved with the extraction of oil and gas from reservoirs tend to be more vulnerable to external market forces.
  • Valuation of upstream assets and companies can be very difficult to learn but also very repeatable once the initial learning curve has been overcome.

Figure 1: Drilling For Oil by Mead Schaffer as Appeared on The Saturday Evening Post, 9 November 1946
mead-schaeffer-drilling-for-oil-november-9-1946_a-g-8290694-8880742
Source: Art.com

Large, integrated oil and gas companies have become a cornerstone for investors seeking stable and growing dividends. Supermajors Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) are included in S&P’s Dividend Aristocrats, an index comprised of stocks from the S&P 500 which have been increasing dividends for the last 25 years or more. Yield-oriented investors typically value companies according to their dividends — their yields, abilities to grow, and resiliencies to adverse market conditions. This series of articles is not geared to these people.

Nor is this series intended to appeal to appeal to macro investors. Forecasting macroeconomic conditions is an arcane art of which I am not adept. While it is important to understand the fundamental forces at play which can make or break a business endeavor, I will spend minimal effort discussing petro-politics, the petro-dollar, or forecasting supply and demand. Sorry, OPEC.

This series of articles is meant to appeal to value-oriented investors – those who desire to invest according to perceived discrepancies between value and price and those who desire to locate consistent value creators and/or destroyers within an industry. Valuation of upstream oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) assets will be the primary focus, but I will also cover midstream and downstream assets. Discussions regarding the valuation of other corporate and financial assets and liabilities will chiefly examine decisions regarding how they articulate within the valuation of entire companies.

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