Absolute versus relative…. shale and conventional competition at the margin…

conventional-1.jpg

“An uptick of 30% from the abnormally low levels in 2017 might seem encouraging, but E&P players are currently facing a low reserve replacement ratio, on average of less than 10%. This is worrisome considering the impact on global oil supply in long term,” says Espen Erlingsen, Head of Upstream Research at Rystad Energy.

I think this is simply a badly worded comment from Rystad where they mean E&P added less than 10% to overall reserves from  conventional sources. In a relative sense I think Rystad are arguing that reserve replacement has been low (i.e. relative to total reserves). The comment is hard to square with the graphic at the top from the EIA and this comment which makes clear in an absolute sense there is no problem:

In 2017, a group of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and natural gas producers added more hydrocarbons to their resource base than in any year since 2013, according to the annual reports of 83 exploration and production companies. Collectively, these companies added a net 8.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to their proved reserves during 2017, which totaled 277 billion BOE at the end of the year. Exploration and development (E&D) spending in 2017 increased 11% from 2016 levels but remained 47% lower than 2013 levels.

Of the 83 companies, 18 held more than 80% of the 277 billion BOE in proved reserves at the end of 2017. [Emphasis added].

Rystad seem to be measuring “conventional” resources only which in this world strikes me as an irrelevant metric. Shale and Conventional may not be perfect substitutes  (some refineries for instance cannot process light crude in the short-run) but they are close. Either way we don’t appear to be facing an imminent supply shortage caused by under-investment in early stage E&P activity. And in fact the EIA says:

First-quarter 2018 capital expenditures for this set of companies were 16% higher than in first-quarter 2017, suggesting that many of these companies have increased their E&D budgets, which will likely contribute to further organic proved reserves additions in 2018.

Clearly they are measuring two different things, but I still don’t get the Rystad conclusion? The EIA uses proven and economically achievable reserves  on net discoveries and is surely a more relevant metric? Of course it doesn’t support a “Preparing for the Recovery” thesis at all.

If you want a graphic illustration why European offshore companies have been the most exposed to the downturn in offshore CapEx look at the first chart:

chart4.png

On a rolling three year average investment in Europe, which is predominantly offshore, has dropped to around 30% of previous levels. A far greater proportion than any other region and the reason is obviously that it is a high cost area of marginal production.

You can really see the productivity improvement in the second graph: Capex peaked at over $30 per BOE in 2014 and is heading down for $15 per BOE. The supply chain having gone long on fixed assets hoping to profit from a production boom has just over capitalised and allowed the E&P companies to massively reduce development spend in a downturn.

What the EIA and the Rystad combined show is the profound changes taking place in the production of oil and gas. The data show (partially and indirectly) the marginal investment curves for shale versus offshore/onshore conventional. Rystad show that conventional oil and gas replacement is dropping as a proportion of the energy mix. The EIA data shows the drop in marginal production areas: the huge drop in European CapEx, almost exclusively offshore and extremely expensive on a per BOE equivalent, shows that at the marginal capital is being redeployed in other production techniques.

But what the data emphatically does not show is anything to worry about long-term from a supply perspective.

Group think and conventional wisdom…

“It will be convenient to have a name for the ideas which are esteemed at any time for their acceptability, and it should be a term that emphasizes this predictability. I shall refer to these ideas henceforth as the conventional wisdom.”

J.K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society

 

“All that we imagine to be factual is already theory: what “we know” of our surroundings is our interpretation of them”

Friedrich Hayek

 

We find broad- based and significant evidence for the anchoring hypothesis; consensus forecasts are biased towards the values of previous months’ data releases, which in some cases results in sizable predictable forecast errors.

Sean D. Campbell and Steven A. Sharpe, Anchoring Bias in Consensus Forecasts and its Effect on Market Prices

Great quote in the $FT yesterday that reveals how hard it has been in the oil and gas industry for professional analysts to read the single biggest influencing factor that is reshaping the supply chain: rising CapEx productivity and its ongoing continued pressure. Money quote:

Mr Malek said that with the notable exception of ExxonMobil, most energy majors had shown they were capable of growing output quickly even when investing less than it used to.

“We all thought production was going to fall off a cliff from Big Oil when they started slashing spending in 2014,” said Mr Malek. “But it hasn’t. The majority of them are coming out on the front foot in terms of production.” [Emphasis added].

#groupthink 

An outlook where E&P companies can substantially reduce CapEx and maintain output is not one in a lot of forecast models. Forecasts are rooted in a liner input/out paradigm that leads to a new peak oil doomsday scenario. But the data is coming in: E&P companies are serious about reducing CapEx long term and especially relative to output, and collectively the analyst community didn’t realise it. The meme was all “when the rebound comes…” as night follows day…

The BP example I showed was not an aberration. For a whole host of practical and institutional reasons it is hard to model something like 40% increase in productivity in capital expenditure. But the productivity of E&P CapEx, along with the marginal investment dollar spend,  has enormous explanatory power and implications for the offshore and onshore supply chain.

Aside from behavioural constraints (partly an availability heuristc and partly an anchoring bias) the core reason analysts are out though is because their models are grounded in history. Analysts have used either a basic regression model, which over time would have shown a very high correlation between Capex and Output Production, or they simply divided production output by CapEx spend historically and rolled it forward. When they built a financial model they assumed these historic relationships, strong up until 2014, worked in the future… But these are linear models: y if the world hasn’t changed. The problem is when x doesn’t = anymore and really we have a multivariate world and that becomes a very different modelling proposition (both because the world has changed and a more challenging modelling assignment). We are in a period of a  structural break with previous eras in offshore oil and gas.

These regressions don’t explain the future so cannot be used for forecasting. No matter how many times you cut it and reshape the data the historical relationship won’t produce a relationship that validly predicts the future. At a operational level at E&P companies this is easier to see: e.g. aggressive tendering, projects bid but not taken forward if they haven’t reached a threshold, the procurement guys wants another 10k a day off the rig. There is a lag delay before it shows up in the models or is accepted as the conventional wisdom.

SLB Forecast.png

Source: Schlumberger

Over the last 10 years, but with an acceleration in the last five, an industrial and energy revolution (and I do not use the term lightly) has taken place in America. To model it would actually be an exponential equation (a really complicated one at that), and even then subject to such output errors that wouldn’t achieve what (most) analysts needed in terms of useful ranges and outputs. But the errors, in statitics the epsilon, is actually where all the good information, the guide to the future, is buried.

But when the past isn’t a good guide to the future, as is clearly the case in the oil and gas market at the moment, understanding what drives forecasts and what they are set up to achieve is ever more important. How predictive are the models really?

A lot of investment has gone into offshore as the market has declined. A lot of it not because people really believe in the industry but because they believe they will make money when the industry reverts to previous price and utilisation levels, a mean reversion investment thesis often driven on the production rationale cited in the quote. Investors such as these have really being buying a derivative to expose themselves, often in a very leveraged way, to a rising oil price, assuming or hoping, frankly at times in the face of overhwelming contrary evidence, that the historic relationship between the oil price and these assets would return.

These investors are exposed to basis risk: when the underlying on which the derivative is based changes its relationship in its interaction with the derivative. These investors thought they were buying assets exposed in a linear fashion to a rising oil price, but actually the structure of the industry has changed and now they just own exposure to an underutilised asset that is imperfectly hedged (and often with a very high cost of carry). Shale has changed the marginal supply curve of the oil industry and the demand curves for oil field services fundamentally. Models utilising prior relationships simply cannot conceptually or logically explain this and certainly offer zero predictive power.

The future I would argue is about the narrative. Linking what people say and actions taken and mapping out how this might affect the future. To create the future and be a part of it you cannot rely on past hisotrical drivers you need to understand the forces driving it. Less certain statistically but paradoxically more likely to be right.

Anecdote is not the singular of data…

“As regards the scope of political economy, no question is more important, or in a way more difficult, than its true relation to practical problems. Does it treat of the actual or of the ideal? Is it a positive science concerned exclusively with the investigation of uniformities, or is it an art having for its object the determination of practical rules of action?”

John Neville Keynes, 1890, Chapter 2

Music journalists know a lot about music… if you want some good summer listening I would advise taking them seriously. However, as a general rule, their knowledge of finance and economics is less sound… ‘Greatest Hits’ have for example included complete confidence that EMAS Chiyoda would be recapitalised right before they went bankrupt… or that the scheme from Nautilus to put ancient DSVs in lay-up wasn’t stark raving mad because the Sapphire couldn’t get work either… I digress…

On a logical basis it is very hard to argue that a majority of companies in an industry can consistently be under margin pressure and and that they will exist indefinitely regardless of cash flow losses. It might make a good album cover but as economic reasoning it leaves a lot to be desired.

Let me be very clear here: if the total number of firms in an industry are operating at below cash break-even only one of three things (or a combination of) are possible:

  1. Some firms exit the industry. Capacity is withdrawn and the margins of the remaining firms rise to breakeven (a supply side correction).
  2. The market recovers or grows (a demand side correction).
  3. An external source injects funds into the loss making companies or they sell assets (a funding correction).

There are no other options. I write this not because I want people to lose their jobs, or because I hate my old company, or because I didn’t like the Back Street Boys as much as the next music journalist in Westhill, I write it because it is an axiomatic law of economics. To write that firms, backed by private equity companies, who have a very high cost of capital, will simply carry on funding these businesses indefinitely is simply delusional.

A deus ex machina event where a central bank provides unlimited liquidity to an industry only happens in the banking sector generally (in the energy space even Thatcher made the banks deliver in general on their BP underwriting commitment). Subsea appears to flushed out the dumb liquidity money, convinced of a quick turnaround, and being turning toward the committed industrial money now.

The real problem for both York and HitecVision, or indeed any private equity investor in  the industry isn’t getting in it’s getting out (as Alchemy are demonstrating). Both have ample funds to deploy if they really believe the market is coming back and this is just a short-term liquidity issue, but who do they sell these companies to eventually? It was very different selling an investment story to the market in 2013 when all the graphs were hockey sticks but now anyone with no long-term backlog (i.e. more than a season) will struggle to get investors (even current ones). The DOF Subsea IPO, even with their long-term Brazil work, failed and the market is (rightly) more sceptical now. Every year the market fails to reover in the snap-back hoped for each incremental funding round gets riskier and theoretically more expensive.

Private equity firms have a range of strategies but they generally involve leverage. Pure equity investment in loss making companies in the hope of building scale or waiting for the market to develop is actually a venture capital strategy. Without the use of leverage the returns need to be very high to cover the cost of funding, and if the market doesn’t grow then this isn’t possible because you need to compete on price to win market share and by definition firms struggle to earn economic profits, yet alone excess profits, that would allow a private equity investor to profit from the equity invested. For private equity investors now each funding round becomes a competition to last longer than someone else until the market recovers. In simple terms without a demand side boom where asset values are bid up significantly above their current levels the funding costs of this strategy become financially irrational.

In this vein HitecVision are trying to exit OMP by turning it into an Ocean Yield copy. The GP/LP structure will be ditched if possible and the investment in the MR tankers shows the strategy of being a specialist subsea/offshore vessel company is dead. Like the contracting companies it isn’t a viable economic model given the vintage year the funds all started.

Bibby Offshore may have backlog but it is losing money at a cash flow level. The backlog (and I use the 2013 definition here where it implies a contractual commitment) it does have beyond this year consists solely of a contract with Fairfield for decom work. This contract is break-even at best and contains extraordinary risks around Waiting-On-Weather and other delivery risks that are pushed onto the delivery contractor. It is a millstone not a selling point.

Aside from the cost base another major issue for Bibby is the Polaris. Polaris will be 20 years old next year and in need of a 4th special survery: only the clinically insane would take that cost and on if they didn’t already own it (i.e. buy the company beforehand). Not only that but at 10 years the vessel is within sight of the end of her working life. Any semi-knowledgeable buyer would value her not as a perpetuity but as a fixed-life annuity with an explicit model period and this has a massive impact on the value of the firm. In simple terms I mean that the vessel within 5-10 years needs to generate enough cash to pay for a replacement asset (to keep company revenues and margins stable) that costs new USD ~165m and for a spot market operator might need to be paid for with a very high equity cheque (say ~$80m). Sure a buyer can capture some of this value, but not much and they don’t need to give this away.

In order to fund her replacement capital value the Polaris needs to bank ~USD 22k per day on top of her earnings. Good luck with that. When I talk about lower secular profits in  the industry and the slow dimishment of the capital base that is it in a microcosm: an expensive specialist asset that will be worked to death, above cash flow breakeven in a good year, with no hope of generating enough value in the current economic regime to pay for a replacement. This is how the capital base of the industry will shrink in many cases, not the quick flash of scrapping, but the slow gradual erosion of economic value.

Ocean Installer also have limited work although it is installation work and firmly grounded in Norway. Like everyone else this is not a management failing but a reflection of market circumstances.

McDermott and OI could not reach a deal on  price previously. MDR realised they could just hire some engineers, get some vessels (and even continue to park them in an obscure Norwegian port if needed by Equinor), and recreate OI very quickly. All OI has worth selling is a Norwegian franchise the rest is fantasy. An ex-growth business with single customer risk and some chartered vessels has a value but nowhere near enough to make a venture capital strategy work in financial terms.

Now at both companies there are some extremely astute financial investors are doing the numbers and they must either send out letters to fund investors requiring a draw down to inject funds into these businesses, explaining why they think it is worth it, and putting their reputations on the line for the performance. It may have been worth a risk in 2016, and 17, but really again in 18? Really? [For those unaware of how PE works the money isn’t raised and put in a bank it is irrevocable undertaking to unconditionally provide the funds when the investment manager demands. Investors in big funds know when the money goes in generally and what it is being used for.] And again in 19? And the more they draw down now the higher the upturn has to be to recover. (In York’s case I think it’s more subtle as the investment exposure seems to have moved from the fund to Mr Dinan personally given the substantial person of interest filings).

But whatever. If they do this all the firms do this forever then they will all continue to lose money barring a significant increase in demand. And we know that this is not possible in the short-term from data supplied to the various regulatory agencies. And for the UK sector we know production starts to decline in two years (see graph). So in the UK two years just to keep the same available spend in the region the price of oil will have to go up or E&P companies will have to spend more proportionately on the service companies. This is not a structurally attractive market beset as it is with overcapacity.

Aside from the major tier 1 companies are a host of smaller companies like DOF Subsea, Maersk, Bourbon, and Swire, long on vessels and project teams, and with a rational comnmitment and ability to keep in the market until some smaller players leave. I repeat: this is a commitment issue and the companies with the highest cost of capital and the smallest balance sheets and reources will lose. These companies don’t need to win the tie-backs etc. that OI (and Bibby) are really aiming for: they just need to take enough small projects to ensure that the cost base OI and Bibby have to maintain for trying to get larger projects is uneconomic and expensive in short-term cash costs. It is a much lower bar to aim for but an achievable one.

So the private equity funded companies are left with option 3 as are the industrial companies. The problem is that the industrial companies have a Weighted Average Cost of Capital of ~8-15% and private equity companies who like to make a 2.5x money multiple have about a 25-30% (including portfolio losses) The magic of discounting means the nominal variance over time is considerably larger.

And for both OI and Bibby the fact is they face a very different market from when they started. Both companies went long on specialised tonnage when there was a shortage, taking real financial and operational risk, and growing in a growing market. That market looks likely never to return and the exit route for their private equity backers therefore becomes trying to convince other investors that they need to go long on specialist assets that operate in the spot the market with little visibility and backlog beyonnd the next six months. As someone who tried raising capital for one of these companies in downturns and booms I can tell you that is a very hard task.

So if you want some easy listening summer music I suggest you take advice from a music journalist. On the other hand if you want a serious strategic and financial plan that reflects the market please contact me.

Investment will be sufficient…

I think this is very big news for offshore energy:

“Over the next 10 years, we see that supply will continue to keep up with demand growth,” said Espen Erlingsen, an analyst at Oslo-based consultant Rystad. “The surge in North American shale activity and start up of new fields are the main drivers for this growth.”…

The upshot is that it costs less to expand global oil production today than it did back in 2014. Rystad said industry spending in recent years will deliver the necessary 7 percent growth in global oil production to just over 103 million barrels a day by the end of the decade. That trend will continue over the next 10 years if oil remains between $60 and $70 a barrel, it said.

For as long as the downturn in offshore has been going on the Demand Fairy of recovery has been posited on the seemingly axiomatic logic that insufficient investment now would bring a boom in demand in later years and only offshore could supply this capacity. Indeed almost every restructuring presentation or positive talking up on the sector seemed to have a variation on this theme, it was the meme that made a quick recovery believable to those determined to try.

Rystad appear to have re-run their models with the structural break I referred to earlier, where altering the volume of output to the value of input, produces much higher output levels than previously assumed. Rystad aren’t saying there won’t be growth, but it will not be exponential driven by a supply shortage, in the next three years anyway, and maybe not for the next ten years. ‘Lower for longer’ might not be strictly accurate for the oil price but it is likely to be for rig and vessel rates. And magically supply will equal demand. Just as the shale pessimists always had a mind numbingly boggling theory about how it could never work in the long run, so the offshore bulls have always stuck to their theory that the market was being irrational in the short-term and would eventually see sense. The longer the downturn has gone on the more unsustainable that argument has become.

Interestingly offshore global investment (not defined) rises from $164bn in 2018 and 31% of total spend ($345bn/39% in 2014!) to $189bn and 32% of total investment spend in 2020 (a compound growth of ~7%). Shale goes from 12% in 2016 to 24% in 2020. Total upstream CapEx drops from $890bn to $584bn from 2014 to 2020 in the Rystad forecast. If that is correct (even directionally) it is a severely deflationary market environment with huge implications for asset values and solvency going forward.

The IEA says spending dropped about $338 billion, or 44 percent, between 2014 and 2017.

The shale revolution is real and here to stay and it is completely unrealistic for the offshore supply chain not to accept the scale of change required to adapt to this new environment. If you see a “recovery play” that doesn’t explain how it works within this macro context, or how this is wrong, then it isn’t realistic. Expect to hear the phrase “we are doing a lot more tendering” instead of an intelligent response.

The oil market was previously very cyclical because there was no short-cycle marginal prodcuer who could respond quickly to changes in demand. Investment was hugely cyclical because of this. Supply was met with a series of large and lumpy projects planned years in advance and oil companies erred on the side of caution in doing so. Marginal production was supplied by smaller tier two producers who were predominantly offshore. The price change-to-output response time was slow but could be brutal as the downturn in oil price in 2009 showed where a host of small high cost producers went bankrupt. [Read Spencer Dale!].

Now US shale producers are very responsive to price trends and production increases as price does. This is the major change to the market and it is such a significant change that this is why it is (rightly) called “the shale revolution”. It was a price-output feedback meachanism that simply didn’t exist before. Yes, shale might be more expensive, but it is an immediate dollar of revenue, lower risk and lower margin because of it, and that is what the marginal barrel, the next barrel of oil required for the market to balance, should be priced at. Oil as a spot market will be less cyclical going forward as the market responds more incrementally to price changes, a point that Rystad effectively make above.

In a more rational market, with smaller supply/demand imbalance the logical solution would be for larger vessel and rig companies to get into a series of longer term contracts with E&P companies for the provision of assets. This would reduce the cost of ownership (and finance) and therefore the day rate, and also reduce the risk of oversupply. Over time the market may well go this way and this will drive real consolidation, particularly in the offshore supply market, smaller operators of high-end OSVs will become a relic. But for the moment the E&P companies will simply take advantage of the over-supply to gain access to an asset at below it’s economic cost.

Data and theory…

Above is the BH rig count ending Friday last week. Look at the change in rig numbers a year ago…

When the facts fit the theory (here and here for example) it might be time to accept the logic?

There is definitely a strong “recovery” in some parts of the oil and gas industry… it’s just in offshore the supply side is stronger than what appears to be a very weak demand side recovery?

Offshore project approvals Q1 2018.png

Source: Ensco.

Market forecasts as structural breaks….[Wonkish]

Not for everyone this post but important if you are involved in strategic planning. The above chart is from the latest Subsea 7 Q1 numbers. The problem I have with these charts is what statisticians call “structural breaks“. Basically if the underlying data has changed then you need to change your forecast methodology. As I have argued here and here (although it’s a general themse of this blog) I think there is sufficient evidence that large E&P companies are commissioning less offshore projects when they become economically viable in the past on NPV basis. I am not sure that all the forecast models reflect this.

This break in the historical patterns has really important forecasting implications because when you see whichever market forecast  it has made an assumption, whether formally through a regression model or on a project-by-project basis, that x number of projects will be commissioned at y price of oil (outside of short term data which logs actual approvals). If there has been a stuctural change in the demand side then y (commissioned offshore projects) will be lower, and on a lower trajectory to x (the oil price) permanently, than past cycles.

E&P companies are not perfectly rational. As the oil price gets to $60 there is no set programme that triggers a project. For sure the longer the price stays high it increases the probability of projects being commissioned but it is a probability and the time scale of has changed I would argue. I think it is why demand has surprised many on the downside because there has been a change in the forecast relationship between offshore projects and the spot price of oil.