Sunday, February 10, 2019

Not all Oil and Gas companies are made the same

I have been reading this week's Edge which discusses about Scomi and the challenges that it faces. Under the title "Scomi Group on the Brink", it highlights the predicament that the group is facing as well as giving us an account of its colorful past where it was a vehicle controlled by Datuk Kamaruddin Abdullah, the son of Malaysian 5th Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi. Of course, the best period experienced by Scomi was when Badawi was PM. After that, it was downhill for the company.

This gives us a lesson and remind us that it is hard to evaluate O&G companies. Why? To me, many O&G companies in Malaysia need a different type of business connection and it is hard to make out their actual strengths and capabilities. That we have seen - the best opportunity for several of the sons of Malaysian PMs to become successful in business is through this sector. It has been proven before.

Whether they are capable business, it is hard to read. This sector however does allow people whom have connections to either our country's oil business, the federal or state government to succeed. O&G is quite a unique business where in many countries, the assets are state owned. This is similar in Malaysia where the asset is owned by Petronas and ultimately the PM's office control.

This was especially so when oil touched $120 per barrel and at that period Petronas was probably more relaxed in developing Malaysian O&G companies. When oil comes down to $60, it will be a different story. I believe Petronas will be more careful. At this period, it will be the time to separate the boys from the men, as someone would say it.

As an investor, it is important to figure out and try to eliminate what is investible and which one is potentially high risk. The retail business is investible and those include PDB and Petron. Then there are the equipment suppliers, companies like Wah Seong, Favelle Favco. Dialog is another one where they have made it successful in the business and they are proven company.

Then there are those that very hard to read, in terms capabilities especially to our Malaysian service providers which largely only supplies towards local projects. Those include Carimin, Perisai, Perdana Petroleum, Dayang, Icon Offshore and few others.

There are several companies that have made it overseas. Those include Yinson, Bumi Armada, Sapura Energy, Wah Seong, MISC. These are the companies that will provide a good basis for us to make our study as this is an international business and the ones that are able to compete internationally shows their competitiveness. The ones that have more than 80% of their business dependent on Malaysian contracts is just too risky.

The recent rise among O&G companies brought back an early exuberant towards the sector but we must be able to separate which are capable to compete and which ones are not. What has not really happened and to my disappointment is the lack of consolidation among the companies. There have been very little M&As within the sector and I feel that there are just too many companies. Although there will be natural attrition, the amount of consolidation is just too few.

I do think that while there seems to be a pick up in the sector, many of these companies will still find it hard to make ends meet. A run through of what the companies say in terms of prospects for 2019 and near term just shows that the good old days are far and between. It is true though that many stocks have touched their all time low. These provides huge opportunities.

To understand the sector, it is not just about how many contracts Petronas can dish out as I believe they are also very careful nowadays. It is about geopolitical. It is also about the politics of Trump and Saudi with Russia in the fray as well. Even the killing of Khashoggi has its impact on the price of oil. Shale from US plays a big role. How will they impact the strategy among the oil majors and OPEC? What about the global initiatives on alternative energy such as solar, electric car etc?

If one is just promoting based on how many rigs Petronas has, I think it is pure shortsightedness and not thorough in their thinking. In this space, one has to be clear on the macro as well as micro economic situation. Is Hengyuan a retailer and refiner? What would the impact of excess supply from US shale brings to their margin?

What about the companies in the exploration space? Are there new activities and are there oversupply among the players. Can I call it the buyers (companies that awards contracts) market?

There are companies that have some debt issues and such are Bumi Armada, Sapura, Perisai Petroleum, Scomi Energy. Can they overcome that? As I have mentioned, some of them are world class competitors. Will they be back stronger if ever they are able to resolve their debt issues?

Then there are some companies which have taken opportunities as they are late entrants in the business when the oil price collapse. When others were struggling with overcapacity and debt, they had just raised new funds and their balance sheet were fresh and unleveraged. Such companies include Hibiscus, DNEX.

All in all, during times of uncertainty there presents opportunities, but we have to be very careful as not all of them are worthwhile.

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