27 July 2007

The value of an "equity" stake

In this Telegram story on White Rose royalty rates, Petro-Canada's Ron Brenneman notes that the Hebron partners would expect the province to pay full market value or a fair market price for any equity position in that project.


Well, let's get it clear.

Equity is not about ownership as people like the Premier would like to have us believe.

Rather it is about operating an oil company or, as in the case of the Canada Hibernia Holding Company, reaping the benefits and sharing the costs of the oil companies. The Government of Canada picked up an 8.5% stake in Hibernia when Gulf Canada pulled out in 1992; if they hadn't done so, the project would have folded.

Danny Williams has only once ever put any figure on the "equity" stake he wants in Hebron. Net value to the provincial treasury?

$1.5 billion over the 20 year anticipated lifespan of the project.

That's right.

$75 million bucks a year.

To put that in perspective that's actually more than the provincial government has paid on the debt each of the past two years. Put every nickel of that equity profit into paying down debt - for example - and it would take us 171 years to pay off the $12 billion we owe.

Or put it this way: the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador takes in more from gambling each year than it would make on PetroNewf and that's by Danny William's own estimate. In 2007, the province will get $92 million from the lottery and that doesn't come with any of the environmental risk from operating an oil company.

By contrast, the province's generic oil royalty regime would drop upwards of $10 billion into the provincial treasury over the same 20 year lifespan. That would pretty much pay off the debt entirely in 20 years.

20 years versus 171 years.

$75 million versus $10,000 million.

That's the difference between "equity" and what you get from real ownership of the resource, a solid royalty regime and an actual development deal.

And you don't have to just accept those figures. Compare them to what the Government Canada gets through its equity stake in just one production license at Hibernia.

There are all sorts of wild claims out there by everyone from Sue to Danny - not as much of a gap as it might first appear, come to think of it - but the fact is that the feds have pocketed a total of $678 million in net profits since 1997, when oil started to flow.

Less than $70 million a year.

If you stretch that from 1992, it's actually about $45 million a year and that's an equity stake bigger than the one Danny talked about on Hebron.

Of course, it's all moot because the Hebron talks collapsed. The companies and the provincial government are exchanging information but there are no negotiations. There is no sign of when negotiations might start again, although, Premier Danny Williams has followed his usual negotiating tactic of establishing a unilateral and entirely artificial timeline, stating he would expect talks to begin in the fall.

But the "equity" stake, even if it is feasible, will not generate as much cash as many people seem to think.