Date of Source: 21 Oct 2016
Fifteen years ago it was common knowledge that oil and gas production in North America was in terminal decline. After decades of exploration, all of the profitable onshore oil and gas in Canada and the U.S. had already been discovered… While the attention of the majors was elsewhere, close to home something happened. Small companies run by entrepreneurial management teams cracked the code on vast amounts of oil and gas located here in North America. […]
Image source: Imperial Oil Corp. Corporate Overview – Winter-Spring 2017. pg. 5
- Imperial Oil Corp is a rationally integrated enterprise — assessing any given business segment in isolation ignores synergies which are especially important during the lower half of the commodities cycle.
- The upstream business segment, by far the largest in terms of capital investment, is heavily exposed to Canadian oil sands projects which are marginal in the current commodity prices environment.
- Yet, records profits from the downstream and chemical business segments demonstrate how they have benefited from cost advantaged feeds.
- In the current commodity price environment, IMO’s common shares are likely fairly valued $22 to $32 per share; there is significant uncertainty in that estimate.
- Given non-compelling valuation and risks, I do not hold the equity outright. However, I believe that call options may provide favorable risk-reward characteristics given their leverage to crude oil prices.
Since late 2014, I’ve been trying to understand how to value upstream oil and gas companies in a way that anticipates future equity returns. Industry standard practices for financial modeling were illuminating, but they left me unconvinced that I could somehow out-compete smarter, more sophisticated, and better connected institutional investors at their own game. Moreover, nearly every time I tried to apply conventional (i.e., right-headed) valuation techniques to upstream companies, I came up with valuations that were either zero or far-below the current equity market capitalization. This suggested that some heavily discounted bonds would very likely repay par with interest. But seeing as I was full-time employed (and deployed) during those crazy times, I failed to act. Anyway, that boat has sailed…
Despite my lack of early success, I was driven on by a single premise: the lack of differentiation of upstream companies makes them incredibly easy to value once the initial learning curve has been surmounted.
- 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).
- 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
- 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 Worker. Liberty Magazine. 10 March 1945.
Date of Source: 26 Jun 2016
In the stormy seas of the energy market, Big Oil companies have been one of the few beacons of stability. As oil prices declined more than half over the past couple of years, companies with exposure to every facet of the oil and gas value chain saw declines ranging from 10% to 30%. To some, this stability and the traditionally generous dividends have made for a compelling investment thesis, but actually getting to know and understand the complex world of Big Oil companies is far from simple. […]
Date of Source: 10 Jan 2017
As fractured horizontal wells which sparked the American Energy Renaissance rapidly deplete, technologies such as refracturing will be needed to extract more of the original hydrocarbons in place from low permeability reservoirs. If the method is broadly applicable and successful, it is likely to prolong the energy boom a while longer. The author’s geological simulations of refracturing suggest that recovery factors could double in many already prolific North American shale plays. […]
Date of Source: 24 Nov 2016
Yes, energy prices are depressed right now. But not everyone sees that as a negative. In fact, private equity funds are still raising record amounts of capital for energy investments — with managers and investors alike seeing the current downturn as a prime time to pick up good assets for cheap. […]