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If I had to lay odds on which E&P powerhouse is going to secure the sector’s next major corporate acquisition I’d start by examining their ability to absorb substantial levels of debt while still keeping debt-to-capital ratios in balance.

Sightings of large corporate mergers have been rare during the commodity price downturn. During that time, the number of companies with high debt-to-capital ratios has soared. To help understand which oil giants have the financial clout to pull together a major M&A deal, we’ve shortlisted those with the greatest ability to assume debt and remain “healthy”. 

For More: JWN Webinar Series - Review of Recent Transactions: Where is Money Being Spent and Why

Companies with greatest debt capacity as of Q1 2016

By assigning an arbitrary debt-to-capital ratio of 35% as “healthy” you can see which companies are currently able to assume the most extra net debt for a corporate acquisition either in Canada or internationally, and still keep debt levels in check. For example, Tourmaline Oil Corp. (TSX:TOU) would be able to assume Cdn$799 million extra net debt in any acquisition in this model, based on its Q1 2016 balance sheet, before its debt-to-capital ratio exceeded 35%.

Source: Evaluate Energy & CanOils, Q1 2016 Financial Data

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean these companies will seek a merger deal. But if they do, they’ll have plenty of capacity for additional debt assumption.

More details on this can be found in the webinar I delivered last week, which can be viewed here

Why is debt important to consider NOW?

It’s true that the general capital profile of an upstream oil and gas company has, on the whole, changed dramatically since the price downturn began. Looking at U.S. and international companies that report to the SEC as well as every TSX company, we can see a general increase in risk since last year by looking at those debt-to-capital ratios. The findings are intriguing:

Source: JWN Webinar Series - Review of Recent Transactions: Where is Money Being Spent and Why

In 2015, debt was a much greater proportion of their entire capital structure than 2014. That’s hardly a major surprise given the downturn. Some companies even moved into a negative equity position in 2015, as pressures from a longer period of low commodity prices mounted.

Analysis: Biggest corporate deals of the downturn

The highest profile global corporate merger during the downturn was undoubtedly Royal Dutch Shell’s (LSE:RDSA) acquisition of BG Group for around US$81 billion. In Canada, it was Suncor Energy’s (TSX:SU) Cdn$6.6 billion acquisition of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. (COS) to become the largest stakeholder in the Syncrude project.

Both deals had a lot in common: a large issuance of stock in the acquiring company to the target, as well as the assumption of significant debt.

  • Royal Dutch Shell, as well as 383 UK pence per share, offered 0.4454 B shares in the company to BG, and took on just shy of US$10 billion in debt according to BG’s annual 2015 statements.
  • Suncor issued 0.28 shares in the company to COS in consideration for the acquisition and also assumed Cdn$2.4 billion in debt, according to press announcements.

June 2016 has also seen a couple more deals in Canada that follow this debt assumption pattern.

  • Raging River Exploration Inc. (TSX:RRX) has agreed to acquire Rock Energy Inc. (TSX:RE) in a deal where debt assumption of Cdn$67 million makes up 61% of the total deal consideration.
  • Gear Energy Ltd. (TSX:GXE) will be acquiring Striker Exploration Ltd. (TSX-V:SKX) in a deal worth around Cdn$66 million by issuing 2.325 Gear shares for every Striker share as well as assuming Striker’s Cdn$10 million in debt. (see note 1)

It’s this ability to assume debt and still remain healthy that we think is crucial in identifying those most likely to take on a big corporate merger in the near future.

Both Suncor and Royal Dutch Shell appear in our above list of companies with high debt capacity. Suncor has been linked to more acquisition activity in press reports, while Shell has not – having actually been linked with more asset sales than purchases. In fact, rumours came out of the company that Shell assets were going to hit the market in ten countries worldwide in the not-too-distant future.

Of the other companies listed with greatest debt capacity, many have been selling high-value royalty assets in Canada to bolster their activities with significant cash through the downturn, while the international list includes some of the world’s biggest and most powerful companies.

With companies also having put copious funding into cost controls in recent times and oil prices starting to trend upwards a bit, we might just be around the corner from one of the companies on this list making the world’s next big corporate merger in the E&P sector and we should expect it to include the significant assumption of debt.

Notes:

1) To value all acquisitions where stock is used as part of the consideration, Evaluate Energy and CanOils always use the day prior share price. Sometimes companies use a deemed stock value or a weighted average price in their press announcements to value the stock, but for comparability reasons, we always use the same method for every deal. This may create some slight discrepancies between our data and announced deal values. Gear valued its acquisition of Striker based on its concurrent bought deal financing, rather than its trading share price, and reported a value of Cdn$63.7 million.

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Libya & OPEC’s Quota

The constant domestic fighting in Libya – a civil war, to call a spade a spade, has taken a toll on the once-prolific oil production in the North African country. After nearly a decade of turmoil, it appears now that the violent clash between the UN-recognised government in Tripoli and the upstart insurgent Libyan National Army (LNA) forces could be ameliorating into something less destructive with the announcement of a pact between the two sides that would to some normalisation of oil production and exports.

A quick recap. Since the 2011 uprising that ended the rule of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been in a state of perpetual turmoil. Led by General Khalifa Haftar and the remnants of loyalists that fought under Gaddafi’s full-green flag, the Libyan National Army stands in direct opposition to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) that was formed in 2015. Caught between the two sides are the Libyan people and Libya’s oilfields. Access to key oilfields and key port facilities has changed hands constantly over the past few years, resulting in a start-stop rhythm that has sapped productivity and, more than once, forced Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) to issue force majeure on its exports. Libya’s largest producing field, El Sharara, has had to stop production because of Haftar’s militia aggression no fewer than four times in the past four years. At one point, all seven of Libya’s oil ports – including Zawiyah (350 kb/d), Es Sider (360 kb/d) and Ras Lanuf (230 kb/d) were blockaded as pipelines ran dry. For a country that used to produce an average of 1.2 mmb/d of crude oil, currently output stands at only 80,000 b/d and exports considerably less. Gaddafi might have been an abhorrent strongman, but political stability can have its pros.

This mutually-destructive impasse, economically, at least might be lifted, at least partially, if the GNA and LNA follow through with their agreement to let Libyan oil flow again. The deal, brokered in Moscow between the warlord Haftar and Vice President of the Libyan Presidential Council Ahmed Maiteeq calls for the ‘unrestrained’ resumption of crude oil production that has been at a near standstill since January 2020. The caveat because there always is one, is that Haftar demanded that oil revenues be ‘distributed fairly’ in order to lift the blockade he has initiated across most of the country’s upstream infrastructure.

Shortly after the announcement of the deal, the NOC announced that it would kick off restarting oil production and exports, lifting an 8-month force majeure situation, but only at ‘secure terminals and facilities’. ‘Secure’ in this cases means facilities and fields where NOC has full control, but will exclude areas and assets that the LNA rebels still have control. That’s a significant limitation, since the LNA, which includes support from local tribal groups and Russian mercenaries still controls key oilfields and terminals. But it is also a softening from the NOC, which had previously stated that it would only return to operations when all rebels had left all facilities, citing safety of its staff.

If the deal moves forward, it would certainly be an improvement to the major economic crisis faced by Libya, where cash flow has dried up and basic utilities face severe cutbacks. But it is still an ‘if’. Many within the GNA sphere are critical of the deal struck by Maiteeq, claiming that it did not involve the consultation or input of his allies. The current GNA leader, Prime Minister Fayyaz al Sarraj is also stepping down at the end of October, ushering in another political sea change that could affect the deal. Haftar is a mercurial beast, so predictions are difficult, but what is certain is that depriving a country of its chief moneymaker is a recipe for disaster on all sides. Which is why the deal will probably go ahead.

Which is bad news for the OPEC+ club. Because of its precarious situation, Libya has been exempt for the current OPEC+ supply deal. Even the best case scenarios within OPEC+ had factored out Libya, given the severe uncertainty of the situation there. But if the deal goes through and holds, it could potentially add a significant amount of restored crude supply to global markets at a time when OPEC+ itself is struggling to manage the quotas within its own, from recalcitrant members like Iraq to surprising flouters like the UAE.

Mathematically at least, the ceiling for restored Libyan production is likely in the 300-400,000 b/d range, given that Haftar is still in control of the main fields and ports. That does not seem like much, but it will give cause for dissent within OPEC on the exemption of Libya from the supply deal. Libya will resist being roped into the supply deal, and it has justification to do so. But freeing those Libyan volumes into a world market that is already suffering from oversupply and weak prices will be undermining in nature. The equation has changed, and the Libyan situation can no longer be taken for granted.

Market Outlook:

  •  Crude price trading range: Brent – US$41-43/b, WTI – US$39-41/b
  • While a resurgence in Covid-19 cases globally is undermining faith that the ongoing oil demand recovery will continue unabated, crude markets have been buoyed by a show of force by Saudi Arabia and US supply disruptions from Tropical Storm Sally
  • In a week when Iraq’s OPEC+ commitments seem even more distant with signs of its crude exports rising and key Saudi ally the UAE admitting it had ‘pumped too much recently’, the Saudi Energy Minister issued a force condemnation on breaking quotas
  • On the demand side, the IEA revised its forecast for oil demand in 2020 to an annual decline of 8.4 mmb/d, up from 8.1 mmb/d in August, citing Covid resurgences
  • In a possible preview of the future, BP issued a report stating that the ‘relentless growth of oil demand is over’, offering its own vision of future energy requirements that splits the oil world into the pro-clean lobby led by Europeans and the prevailing oil/gas orthodoxy that remains in place across North America and the rest of the world

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September, 22 2020
Average U.S. construction costs for solar and wind generation continue to fall

According to 2018 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for newly constructed utility-scale electric generators in the United States, annual capacity-weighted average construction costs for solar photovoltaic systems and onshore wind turbines have continued to decrease. Natural gas generator costs also decreased slightly in 2018.

From 2013 to 2018, costs for solar fell 50%, costs for wind fell 27%, and costs for natural gas fell 13%. Together, these three generation technologies accounted for more than 98% of total capacity added to the electricity grid in the United States in 2018. Investment in U.S. electric-generating capacity in 2018 increased by 9.3% from 2017, driven by natural gas capacity additions.

Solar
The average construction cost for solar photovoltaic generators is higher than wind and natural gas generators on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis, although the gap is narrowing as the cost of solar falls rapidly. From 2017 to 2018, the average construction cost of solar in the United States fell 21% to $1,848 per kilowatt (kW). The decrease was driven by falling costs for crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels, which were at their lowest average construction cost of $1,767 per kW in 2018.

Crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels—which accounted for more than one-third of the solar capacity added in the United States in 2018, at 1.7 gigawatts (GW)—had the second-highest share of solar capacity additions by technology. Crystalline silicon axis-based tracking panels had the highest share, with 2.0 GW (41% of total solar capacity additions) of added generating capacity at an average cost of $1,834 per kW.

average construction costs for solar photovoltaic electricity generators

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

Wind
Total U.S. wind capacity additions increased 18% from 2017 to 2018 as the average construction cost for wind turbines dropped 16% to $1,382 per kW. All wind farm size classes had lower average construction costs in 2018. The largest decreases were at wind farms with 1 megawatt (MW) to 25 MW of capacity; construction costs at these farms decreased by 22.6% to $1,790 per kW.

average construction costs for wind farms

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

Natural gas
Compared with other generation technologies, natural gas technologies received the highest U.S. investment in 2018, accounting for 46% of total capacity additions for all energy sources. Growth in natural gas electric-generating capacity was led by significant additions in new capacity from combined-cycle facilities, which almost doubled the previous year’s additions for that technology. Combined-cycle technology construction costs dropped by 4% in 2018 to $858 per kW.

average construction costs for natural gas-fired electricity generators

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Generator Construction Costs and Annual Electric Generator Inventory

September, 17 2020
Fossil fuels account for the largest share of U.S. energy production and consumption

Fossil fuels, or energy sources formed in the Earth’s crust from decayed organic material, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal, continue to account for the largest share of energy production and consumption in the United States. In 2019, 80% of domestic energy production was from fossil fuels, and 80% of domestic energy consumption originated from fossil fuels.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes the U.S. total energy flow diagram to visualize U.S. energy from primary energy supply (production and imports) to disposition (consumption, exports, and net stock additions). In this diagram, losses that take place when primary energy sources are converted into electricity are allocated proportionally to the end-use sectors. The result is a visualization that associates the primary energy consumed to generate electricity with the end-use sectors of the retail electricity sales customers, even though the amount of electric energy end users directly consumed was significantly less.

U.S. primary energy production by source

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

The share of U.S. total energy production from fossil fuels peaked in 1966 at 93%. Total fossil fuel production has continued to rise, but production has also risen for non-fossil fuel sources such as nuclear power and renewables. As a result, fossil fuels have accounted for about 80% of U.S. energy production in the past decade.

Since 2008, U.S. production of crude oil, dry natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) has increased by 15 quadrillion British thermal units (quads), 14 quads, and 4 quads, respectively. These increases have more than offset decreasing coal production, which has fallen 10 quads since its peak in 2008.

U.S. primary energy overview and net imports share of consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded energy consumption for the first time since 1957, and U.S. energy exports exceeded energy imports for the first time since 1952. U.S. energy net imports as a share of consumption peaked in 2005 at 30%. Although energy net imports fell below zero in 2019, many regions of the United States still import significant amounts of energy.

Most U.S. energy trade is from petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products), which accounted for 69% of energy exports and 86% of energy imports in 2019. Much of the imported crude oil is processed by U.S. refineries and is then exported as petroleum products. Petroleum products accounted for 42% of total U.S. energy exports in 2019.

U.S. primary energy consumption by source

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

The share of U.S. total energy consumption that originated from fossil fuels has fallen from its peak of 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2019. The total amount of fossil fuels consumed in the United States has also fallen from its peak of 86 quads in 2007. Since then, coal consumption has decreased by 11 quads. In 2019, renewable energy consumption in the United States surpassed coal consumption for the first time. The decrease in coal consumption, along with a 3-quad decrease in petroleum consumption, more than offset an 8-quad increase in natural gas consumption.

EIA previously published articles explaining the energy flows of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity. More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.

Principal contributor: Bill Sanchez

September, 15 2020