23 August 2007

Masters of our domain: national and international reaction

1. Financial analysts are reacting favourably to news of a pending deal to develop the Hebron oil field offshore Newfoundland.

From the National Post:
For producers like project leader Chevron Corp., as well as Exxon Mobil Corp., Petro-Canada and Norsk Hydro, the good news is that the basic royalty rate remains unchanged at 1% until costs are recovered, UBS analyst Andrew Potter told clients in a note. Previously, this rate increased progressively from 1% to 7.5%.

The bad news: A “super royalty” of 6.5% of net revenue after payout (when oil prices are above US$50 per barrel) has been included.

Mr. Potter thinks the new deal is fair to both parties, adding that these fiscal changes will not make a major difference.

For Petro-Canada (PCA/TSX), the government acquisition values Hebron at $1 per share, in line with the analyst’s revised net asset value for the project. His previous estimate was approximately $1.40 per PCA share, but this was been reduced due to higher capital costs and a later start date.
Note that industry analysts consider it positive that the provincial government's royalty rate has been set at a flat 1% until payout.

Note as well the valuation of the share price in the project. The delay in the project and higher capital costs had the effect of devaluing shares from CDN$1.40 to CDN$1.00.

2. Editorial opinion at the Edmonton Journal holds there may be a lesson in Hebron for Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach who, the newspaper contends, should seek a greater provincial return from the oil industry.

3. Chevron Canada president Mark Nelson told the National Post the provincial government equity position is simply a different way for the provincial government to collect its revenue. That may be a clue that the secret memorandum of understanding contains little if any management power for the province's newly minted energy corporation.

The equity stake comes with an acquisition cost of CDN$110 million, plus potentially up to $540 million in development costs. Potential gross revenue from the 4.9% share would be $2.45 billion over the 25 year estimated lifespan of the project, assuming an average price per barrel of $70. At $50 per barrel, the gross revenue would be approximately $1.5 billion. The cost estimate does not include any other undisclosed liabilities.

4. The Globe and Mail's energy reporter includes some interesting information in his latest story, but concludes with a bizarre claim that the equity position costs may affect the province's entitlement to Equalization:
On the face of it, Mr. Williams's [sic] insistence on an equity position in Hebron could reduce the government's revenues in the medium term, which could make it more likely it would once again receive equalization payments. That's because the Premier has given Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro a mandate to invest heavily in oil and gas and other energy projects - a policy that will divert revenue from general government coffers to the Crown corporation.
Newfoundland and Labrador will no longer qualify for Equalization in the 2009-2010 time frame without Hebron. Under enabling legislation, the newly minted energy corporation is empowered to borrow up to $600 million to finance its operations. As such, there is no diversion of revenue from provincial government coffers.

5. Reaction from some in western Canada's oil patch is mixed, as Report on Business indicates:
Peter Linder, managing director with DeltaOne Capital Partners Inc., said Newfoundland's reputation as a place to do business will get a boost with the Hebron deal but questioned why the province felt it needed an equity stake, given that it owns the resource and would collect a royalty.

"As long as they get their fair share through royalties, why do you need to own equity? I think the equity for Newfoundland is strictly politically motivated."
6. The Chevron/Hebron story made the New York Times. The Times story refers to a royalty base rate of 30%
The tentative pact with the oil companies, he added, also includes an extra 6.5 percent royalty, on top of a 30 percent base rate, and removes the special investment tax credits that the oil industry had demanded.
That version turns up in many of the financial reports. One implication is that lowering royalties at the front end of oil development may be part of a longer term government policy to increase the attractiveness of the local offshore.

Providing an equity stake without management powers might actually minimise the potential total cash cash outlay for operators while helping to defray costs among the operators at the front end. Coupled with a lower royalty regime, the local offshore could become more attractive to investment.