Random weekend energy thoughts… Productivity, costs, and DSV asset values…

Permian shale and tight production in the third quarter was 338,000 barrels per day, representing an increase of 150,000 barrels per day. Let me say it again: this is up 80% relative to the same quarter last year. As many of you will realize, that’s the equivalent of adding a midsized Permian pure play E&P company in a matter of months.

Pat Yarrington, CFO, Chevron, on the Q3 2018 results call

John Howe from UT2 posted the photo above on Friday and kindly allowed me to reproduce the it. The Seawell cost £35m in 1987 and according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator the same vessel would cost ~£94m in 2018 in real terms. In 1987 the USD/UK exchange rate was ~1.5 so the Seawell cost $53m and inflation adjusted around $132m (at current exchange rates).

Compare that with the most recent numbers we have for a new Dive Support Vessel (“DSV”) of a similar spec: the Vard 801 ex Haldane that was contracted at $165m (sold for $105m).  That price is roughly 25% above the cost of the Seawell in real terms. You get a better crane and lower fuel consumption but in productive terms you can still only dive to 300m (and no riser tower) and I doubt the crane and the lower fuel consumption are worth paying 25% more in capital terms.

These prices don’t reflect how much the MV Seawell pushed the technological boundary when she was built when and recognised as one of the most sophisticated vessels in the world. The major £60m/$75m upgrade she received in 2014 highlights again the myth that old tonnage will naturally be scrapped as an iron cast law is wrong, but more importantly highlights the technical specification of the vessel has always been above even a high-end construction class DSV (clearly visible in the photo the riser tower must have been seen a major technological innovation in 1987) and yet it is more economic to upgrade than build new for a core North Sea well intervention and dive asset. Helix has invested in an asset that brings the benefits of low-cost from a different cost era to a new more uncertain environment.

The reasons for price inflation in OSVs are well-known and I have discussed this before (here): offshore vessels are custom designed and have a high labour content which is not subject to the same produtivity improvements and lower overall cost reduction that manufactured goods have (Baumol Cost Disease). The DP system and engine might have come down in real terms, but the dive systems certainly haven’t. Even getting hulls built in Eastern Europe and finished in Norway has not reduced the cost of new OSVs in real terms (you only have to look at Vard’s financial numbers to see the answer isn’t in shipbuilding being a structurally more profitable industry).

That sort of structural cost inflation, a hallmark of the great offshore boom of 2003-2014, was fine when there was no substitute product for offshore oil. Very few OSVs were built in a series (apart from some PSV and AHTS). But the majority of the vessels were one-off or customised designs with enormous amounts of time from ship designers, naval architects, class auditors (i.e. labour) before you even got to the fit-out stage. Structural inflation became built into the industry with day-rates in charters etc expected to go up even as assets aged and depreciated in real economic terms because demand was outpacing the ability of yards to supply the tonnage as needed.

The same cost explosion happened in pipelay but did allow buyers to access deeper water projects. Between 2003-2014 an enormous number of deepwater rigid-reel pipelay vessels were built (in a relative sense) with each new vessel having even more top tension etc. than the last; but the parameters were essentially the same: they were just seeking to push the boundary of the same engineering constraints. The result was (again) a vast increase in real costs but one that was partially offset by advances in new pipe and riser technology that allowed uneconomic fields to be developed. Now Airborne and Magma are working on solutions that could make many of these assets redundant. Only time will tell if those offshore companies who have made vast investments in pipelay vessels will have to sell them at marginal cost to compete with composite pipe if the solution gets large-scale operator acceptance (i.e. Petrobras). However, if composite pipe and risers get accepted by E&P companies on a commercial scale those deepwater lay assets are worth substantially less than book value would imply (I actually think the most likely scenario is a gradual erosion of the fleet as it is not replaced).

But now there is a competitor to offshore production: shale. And it is clearly taking investment at the margin from offshore oil and gas. And shale production is an industry subject to vast economies of scale and productivity improvements. The latest Chevron results make clear that they have built a vast, and economically viable, shale business that added 150k barrels per day of production at an 80% growth rate year-on-year:

Chevron Q3 2018 Permian .png

To put that in perspective when Siccar Point gets the Cambo field up and going they will be at 15k per day and it will have taken them years (and the point is they are a quality firm with Blackstone/Bluewater as investors ensuring the do not face a financing constraint).

What makes shale economic is the vast economies of scale and scope available to companies like Chevron. E&P companies producing shale are adding vast amounts of production volume every year and theories that they are not making money doing this are starting to sound like Moon photo hoax stories. E&P companies throw money and technology at a known geological formation and it delivers oil. The more money they invest the lower the unit costs become and the greater the economics of learning and innovation they can apply at even greater scale.

Offshore has a place but it needs to match the productivity benefits offered by shale because it is at a disadvantage in terms of capital flexibility and time to payback.The cost reductions in offshore that have been driven by excess capacity and an investment boom hangover, these are not sustainable and replicable advantages. In offshore everything, from the rig to well design and subsea production system, has traditionally been custom designed (or had a significant amount of rework per development). When people talk of “advantaged” offshore oil now it generally means either a) a field close to existing infrastructure, or, b) a find so big it is worth the enormous development cost. Either of those factors allow a productivity benefit that allows these fields to compete with onshore investment. But to pretend all known or unknown offshore reserves are equal in this regard is ignoring the evidence that offshore will be a far more selective investment for E&P companies and capital markets.

One of the reasons I don’t take seriously graphs like this:


…and their accompanying “supply shortage” scare stories is that the market and price mechanism have a remarkably good track record at delivering supply at an economically viable price (since like the dawn of capitalism in Mesopotamia). Modelling the sort of productivity and output benefits that E&P majors are coming up with at the moment is an issue fraught with risk because 1 or 2% compounded over a long period of time is a very large number.

As an immediate contra you get this today for example:

(Reuters) – The oil market’s two-year bull run is running into one of its biggest tests in months, facing a tidal wave of supply and growing worries about economic weakness sapping demand worldwide.

Which brings us back to DSVs in the North Sea, their asset values, and the question of whether you would commission a new one at current prices?

Last week the OGA published an excellent report on wells in the UK and its grim for the future of UK subsea, but especially for the core brownfield and greenfield projects in shallow water that DSVs specialised in. And without a CapEx boom there won’t be a utilisation boom:

OGA wells summary 2-18.png

Future drilling is expected to pick-up  mildly, although it is unfunded, but look at this:

EA well spud.png

Development Drilling.png

So the only area in the UKCS that isn’t in long-term decline is West-of Shetland which is not a DSV area. CNS and SNS were the great DSV development and maintenance areas and the decline in activity in those areas are a structural phenomena that looks unlikely to change. Any pickup is rig work is years away from translating into a Capex boom that would change the profitability of the UKCS DSV and small project fleet.

DSV driven projects have become economic in the North Sea because they are being sold well below their economic cost. Such a situation is unsustainable in the long run (particularly as the offshore assets have a very high running cost). The UKCS isn’t getting a productivity boom like shale to cover the increased costs of specialist assets like DSVs and rigs: E&P companies are merely taking advantage of a supply overhang from an investment boom. That is no sustainable for either party.

So while the period 2003-2014 was “The Great Offshore Boom” the period 2015-2025 is likely to be “The Great Rebalancing” where supply and demand both contract to meet at an equilibrium point. Supply will have to contract because at the moment it is helping to make projects economic by selling DSVs below their true economic worth, and the number of projects will have to contract eventually because that situation won’t last. E&P companies will need to pay higher rates and that will simply make less projects viable. You can clearly see from the historic drilling data that a project boom in shallow water must be a long time coming given the lags between drilling and final investment decisions.

The weak link here in the North Sea DSV market is clearly Bibby Offshore (surely soon to be branded as Rever Offshore?). As the most marginal player it is the most at risk as marginal demand shrinks. Bibby, like other DSV operators on the UKCS, serves an E&P community that is facing declining productivity relative to shale (and therefore a higher cost of capital), in a declining basin, where the cost of their DSVs is not reducing proportionately or offering increased productivity terms to cover this gap. Both Technip and Boskalis were able to buy assets at below economic cost to reduce this structural gap but the York led recapitalisation of Bibby still seems to significantly over value the Polaris and the Sapphire – particularly given implied DSV values with the Technip purchase of the Vard 801 (TBN: Deep Discovery).

DSVs made the UKCS viable and built the core infrastructure, but they did it in a rising price environment where the market was based on a fear of a lack of supply. One reason no new North Sea class DSVs were built between 1999 the Bibby Sapphire conversion in 2005 is because the price of oil declined in real terms but the price of a DSV increased meaningfully in real terms. A new generation of West of Shetland projects may keep the North Sea alive for a while longer but this work will be ROV led. A number of brownfield developments and maintenance work may keep certain “advantaged” fields going for years that will require a declining number of DSVs.

North Sea class DSV sales prices for DSVs are adjusting to their actual economic value it would appear not just reflecting a short-term market aberration.

#structural_change #this_time_it_is_different #supplymustequaldemand

MPV Everest and DSV business models….

So it appears the Russians have paid equity and have fully taken delivery of the MPV Everest. Well done Keppel on getting paid the full contract value for such specialised tonnage in this market. I was wrong to cast aspersions on the soundness of the contract. And well done MCS for following through and taking full asset risk on this. I am not sure anyone esle can claim such a credit across most offshore asset classes?

The vessel looks close to signing some short-term work in Asia and will have the dive system commissioned as part of this. But…

The problem is the day rate… particularly as this is a vessel that looks set to operate at not that much more than cash breakeven on the first job and it has an empty schedule beyond that. The fact is the entirely speculative strategy of building high-quality DSV assets and thinking they would get a premium day rate, while displacing older tonnage, is having an extremely expensive initial experiment and proving its instigators both wrong and right…

Right in the fact there is a premium, but wrong in total economic terms because it is nowhere near enough for people to cover their cost of capital or hope to recover the builkd cost. The Everest was always a rescue job, having been built for a terminated contract, but others are not. UDS is rumoured to be getting USD 50k a day from McDermott for the Qatar job, but sitting in Singapore waiting for someone else’s boat to break is a high-risk strategy and unlikely to be profitable in the long run. The Everest looks like commanding a 10-15% premium to competitor vessels in the spot market but would need a ~400% premium to have any hope of recovering the build cost. This reflects the overspecification of the vessel, the fact it cannot command ice/polar rates, and the oversupply in the DSV market.

My only point on this has been that when a wall of oversupply meets a very weak market then economic returns will be substantially below economic costs. Continuing to deliver high quality tonnage to undercapitalised operators and chartering parties will just prolong any downturn for the existing fleet owners. But if initial indications are anything to go by MCS are in this for the long run, they have been burning c.10-15k per day Opex with Fox since delivery and purchased some second hand ROVs (from M2 I understand); and having put USD 200m into the vessel are unlikely to walk away quickly. Unfortunately the most logical, and likely, reaction from competing owners is simply to drop prices even more.

What is an offshore construction vessel worth?

There is an article from Subsea World News here that is sure to have bank risk officers and CFOs choking over their coffee… VesselValues new OCV is launching a new analytics tool for the sector. The ten most valuable vessels in the OCV sector are apparently:

  • Normand Maximus $189m;
  • Fortitude $99 million;
  • Deep Explorer $97 million;
  • Siem Helix 2 $96 million;
  • Seven Kestrel $95 million;
  • Siem Helix 1 $95 million;
  • Island Venture $94 million;
  • Viking Neptun $92 million;
  • Far Sentinel $90 million;
  • Far Sleipner $89 million;

Firstly, look at the depreciation this would imply? As an example the Maximus was delivered in 2016 at a contract price of USD $367m. So in less than 2 years the vessel has dropped about 48% in value. Similarly the two new DSVs the Seven Kestrel and Deep Explorer appear to be worth about 67% of value for a little over two years depreciation.

Secondly, the methodology. I broadly agree with using an economic fundamentals approach to valuation. And I definitely agree that in a future of lower SURF project margins that these assets have a lower price than would have been implied when the vessels were ordered. I have doubts that you can seperate out completely the value of a reel-lay ship like Maximus from the value of the projects it works on but you need to start somewhere. It is clear that SURF projects will have a lower structural margin going forward and logically this must be reflected in a vessel’s value so I agree with the overall idea of what is being said.

There is a spot market for DSVs on the other hand so their value must reflect this as well as the SURF projects market where larger contractors traditionally cross-subsidised their investment in these assets. A 33% reduction in value in two years might well reflect an ongoing structural change in the North Sea DSV market and is consistent with the Nor/Boskalis transactions on an ongoing basis. This adds weight to the fact York have overpaid significantly for Bibby, who would be unable to add any future capacity to the DSV market in the pricing model this would imply and not even be earning enough to justify a replacement asset. Given the Polaris will need a fourth special survey next year, and is operating at below economic value at current market rates, even justifying the cost of the drydock in cash terms on a rational basis is difficult.

Depreciation levels like this imply clearly that the industry needs less capital in it and a supply side reduction to adjust to normal levels. Technip and Subsea 7 are big enough to trade through this and will realise the reality of similar figures internally even if they don’t take a writedown to reflect this. Boskalis looks to have purchased at fair value not bargain value to enter the North Sea DSV market. SolstadFarstad on the hand have major financial issues and Saipem locked into a charter rate for the next 8 years at way above market rates, but with earnings dependent on the current market, will have to admit that while the Maximus might be a project enabler it will also be a significant drag on operational earnings. The VesselsValue number seems to be a fair reflection of what that overall number might look like.

The longer the “offshore recovery” remains illusory the harder it will be for banks, CFOs, and auditors to ignore the reality of some sort of rational, economic value criteria, for offshore assets based on the cash flows the assets can actually generate.

Random DSV write-off Friday …

The map above, in the yellow circle, shows the MPV Everest parked right outside Keppel in Singapore (this morning)… which is an odd place to park a SGD 265m vessel you have “delivered”. I mean you have literally delivered it, but normally in shipping terms it means to someone who has paid for it. Sooner or later Keppel is going to have to front up and admit they haven’t been paid for this. I am surprised that as a listed company they haven’t had to already, but they will also need to come up with a realistic impairment value here which will be interesting?

Because according to AIS the two UDS DSVs (Lichtenstein and Picasso) are also in lay-up effectively in Singapore. With three more being built having 0% utilisation on the first two in the fleet must be a minor concern?

Jumeirah Offshore ST.jpg

And now into the mix comes the Jumeirah Offshore DSV being built at Huangpu… At least the yard here is being honest and admitting that the buyers have defaulted. But in the next breath you are told they will only sell at 100% of book value… And the vessel is c. 80% complete apparently: just enough to have purchased all the expensive long lead items but not enough to recover their value. This is a nice vessel on paper, 24 man Drass system, ST design, 250t crane, and a fairly generous power capacity etc.

In fact it is possibly as nice as the Vard DSV, speaking of unsold DSVs (although without the build quality one suspects), that will also only be sold at book value. So when looking at the size of the financial write down that these yards will have to take why not look there given Vard have just published their accounts? It is not completely clear how much value Vard are acribing to the vessel as they hold it in inventory with another vessel, but amazingly the write-off for all their vessels is only NOK 54m, or around $7m!

Given the discounts going around in offshore at the moment for completed offshore vessels, and the price Boskalis recently paid for the Nor vessels, to pretend that the Vard 801 only lost a maximum of $7m on it’s build cost (Vard use realisable value) is really unbelievable. Preposterous in fact. Surely a discount of 50% to cost would be needed to actually sell the vessel in this market? The scale of the loss here is massive for Vard, not quite a solvency event but not that far off and hence their desperation to hold an unrealistic value, but this is really a case where it is hard to see how the auditor has been objective here? There is enough market intelligence to suggest that a North Sea Class DSV that cost c. $150m to build would need to be marked down more than 5% to sell in this market? Good news for Keppel because they are audited by PWC as well I guess?

The fact is there are a host of very high-end DSVs mounting up in yards now with no realistic buyers and yet somehow we are meant to believe these vessels are worth close to what they cost to build? This despite the fact that UDS has made a business out of offering to commercially market very similar vessels and apart from a small job in Iran, and short-lived contract with a company without an office or phone, has managed to get close to zero utilisation. I am going to share with you an extremely insightful piece of economic thinking: if a boat isn’t being paid to work then it it isn’t worth a lot of money (generally speaking).

And still they come… three more from UDS alone… will they really be finished or cancelled like the Toisa vessel in China?

Quite where all these vessels end up is a great unkown. Only a maximum of 2 could ever end up in the North Sea given current demand levels and replacement requirements, and more likely one, and just as likely Technip and Subsea 7 just decide to replicate their last DSV new builds with export financing and attractive delivery terms… in which case none are worth the North Sea premium.

That means these vessels are likely to end up in the Middle East and Asia where day rates have never supported North Sea class DSVs for a host of very good economic and environmental reasons. So either there are a whole pile of USD 150m DSVs sitting around idle, with no buyers, that are all worth nearly exactly what they cost indefinitely, or someone is going to start losing some real money soon, even if the auditors allow them to pretend they won’t for a while longer.

End of an era… goodbye to Orelia…

The end of an era as the DSV Orelia is scrapped (above). I would wager she has been one of the most profitable offshore assets in an economic sense over her life. With a build cost much lower in real terms than new build tonnage, and in a market with a much lower number of competitors, this asset would have paid for her keep many times over.

As she goes it is worthwhile considering that the huge margins Orelia generated were a signal for other players to try and replicate this formula and build competitive assets and businesses. Such is the long run nature of the supply curve these new assets continue to arrive long after the margins have vanished, and despite some new-builds costing vastly more in a nominal and real sense, it is not clear, beyond being more fuel efficient, that they are superior economic assets. It is notable that Technip has sold off a large potion of her diving businesses and assets and is only really present in the North Sea now, which is a clear signal how profitable they think the SAT business will be in the coming years. The unwillingness of Technip to commit to specialised replacement tonnage for the North Sea market I also thinks signals their view, and mine, that there has been a structural change in the North Sea SAT diving market and anyone going long on it should have a very robust business case, because without a rebound in construction work, the market looks oversupplied for years. Soon the well Wellservicer will join her and a new generation of assets moves to the fore.

The latest rumour I heard regarding replacement tonnage was that the Vard new build had been sold to Middle Eastern interests (specifically Bahrain) who were going to charter the vessel back to Technip. Given that this is the third version of this story I have heard (although from two sources now) I treat it with a degree of scepticism (linked to JMT!): surely with TechnipFMC’s balance sheet the best option would be just to make Vard a take-it or leave-it cash offer? Vard have always insisted on a clean sale, maybe time and reality have intruded on this wish.

UDS and Tiger Subsea… the mystery continues…

The image above is from the Tiger Subsea Services website. I was trying to find their address, switched on to Google Maps satellite, and helpfully noticed their office address, on which they (or their website designer) located their pin, is in the middle of intersection… Which along with explaining why they have no telephone (the desk being in a rather dangerous position that would conflict with an IMCA standard risk assessment) began to explain a lot of other things…

As a general rule, and please don’t take this as investment advice, chartering two of the world’s most advanced DSVs (with a capital value of c. USD 300m)  to a company whose head office is in the middle of an intersection, and doesn’t even have a telephone, is a bad idea. No good will come from this I predict.

Not only do they not have a telephone number but they also don’t appear to be registered as a business in the state of Louisiana (check for yourself: https://coraweb.sos.la.gov/CommercialSearch/CommercialSearch.aspx). Nor in Delaware which is the most logical place to register a business in the US.

I was driven to this because a friend of mine contacted me today to say that if you send an enquiry form regarding the vessels Shel will email back directly. Strange I thought. Another very UDS like quality also popped up on the TSS LinkedIn page:

ESV 301

This company, with no phone and an office in an intersection are building a self-elevating accommodation lift boat! 97m x 43m with a 250t crane! ESV is the nomenclature Ensco use on their jack-ups but they are not listing this unit and I can find no records of this ship anywhere. If someone can point me on the direction of this vessel, if it exists I would be very keen to hear?

I think we all know what is going on here. The audacity of this is astonishing, and coming from Downunder I appreciate this, like Stephen Horvarth’s car, but when all this ends, and the denouement would appear to be rapidly approaching, someone is going to have to work out what to do with these vessels.

North Sea DSV update… Has the Vard vessel been sold? Will IMR save the world?

We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

Secretary of State Dean Rusk, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

It was a little windy (80-100 mph) up the mountain today as you can see from the photo… I thought it was a good metaphor for offshore at the moment anyway…

So in clearing out my emails I have now been told Technip have reached a deal with Vard on the 801. A price of ~$100m, but with no delivery risk and commissioning liability for Vard, has apparently been agreed. Technip is large enough for that to be a sensible risk to take as the Wellservicer needs to be replaced at some point. Unless ordered by SS7 or Technip I think this will be the last North Sea class DSV built without E&P company contract coverage for at least 10 years, maybe ever,  barring some unheard of change in the market. (This isn’t the place to get into why I don’t think any of the UDS vessels will end up North of the Med).

We are watching how an extremely illiquid and asset specific market clears in a huge market downturn. The interesting thing is that Technip and Subsea 7 seem to be making a renewed commitment to IMR having really lost focus during the construction boom, this graphic from Technip makes clear:

Technip Market Growth.png

If you are a smaller IMR contractor expect Technip to come up more often on tenders you are spending money on bidding. A near new DSV fleet fits this theme. It also shows you what sort of percentage/revenue increase on IMR a market leading company thinks it can get and how it is planning on taking market share. Smaller companies should be worried and anyone who publishes documents claiming they can grow organically at 50% in this market just isn’t serious.

I find the pricing of this asset fascinating: to Technip and Subea 7, taking a 25 year asset view it is an asset you could spend some real money on. One needs to replace the Wellservicer and the other the Pelican. But outside of those two companies the asset is almost unsellable at anything like it’s build cost. If you can’t operate that vessel in the North Sea (and it’s not even NORSOK) then it’s just an ROW DSV and you would be lucky to get $50-60m… and only then if you could find a bank to lend against it. So really they are just bidding against each other to take on the asset (not that I think Subsea 7 were)? How long do you make Vard sweat or risk seeing a really good vessel go to a competitor? Other vessels could also have been purchased from distress sellers e.g. How much better is the Vard vessel to the Toisa Pegasus (currently in lay-up)?

Both sides blinked at 100m if you ask me. More compromise than Mexican standoff.

The Seven Kestrel is arguably the best DSV in the world and as soon as construction work starts to pick-up SS7 will just ask the Koreans to build a replica (for less) if the need to relace the Pelican. And at that point that will be the last North Sea class DSV built for a very long time.

Both Technip and SS7 have some pretty new DSVs and both have an old (fully depreciated) one that operates when the market peaks… But as I wrote earlier the only realistic scenario for 2018 is for North Sea day rates to stay low for DSV work, and in this market making a trade off against a low capital cost to lose money on OpEx for a bargain purchase is getting ever harder to make? The lower than expected contract size for the Snorre Extension for Subsea 7 shows how low margins are for awarded work at the moment and how long it may take for day rates to recover. And if, as looks likely,  Boskalis and Bibby start a brutal price war to gain or keep market share, then dropping $100m on a vessel to go out at $100k a day (a cash loss amount in the North Sea) doesn’t seem that clever at the moment. Go back $10m a year for a few years on a DSV, easily possible in this market, and savings in CapEx were illusory.

Optimists point to graphs like this:

North SEa SAt MArket.png

But this ignored Boskalis taking the Nor vessels and Vard vessel replacing the Rockwater 1. [As a methodological point it is also worth noting that each movement on the vertical axis represents 3 DSV vessel years! showing you how easily the forecast could be out here]. It is also worth noting that if those Decom figures are wrong, and they look agressive, the market imbalance is illusory. No one in this market is going to force E&P companies to pay divers to remove mattresses etc off the seabed.. its just not going to happen. Just as importantly, a modest increase in day rates, which would see the DSV fleet operating at below economic cost, could curtail IRM or EPIC project demand as this graph seems to assume constant demand. There is a large amount of latent supply in the market that will come into the market as rates increase (which happened in 2014)… economic change happens at the margin… which is not reflected in a static graph like this.

Ultimately running vessels, even for companies the size of Subsea 7 and Technip, is a utilisation game as the fixed costs are so high that a small drop in utilisation and day rates /project margins can lead to a massive drop in profitability and cash losses. Shareholders would not welcome a cash call if it means they have overpaid for vessels and ultimately been diluted in a down market, and a North Sea class DSV is a very expensive vessel to have underutilised. I am always reminded mentally that Technip looked seriously at acquiring CGG not that long ago… in which case this would be a great bargain…

Let’s wait and see…I still have my doubts… but if the Vard 801 rocks up to the North Sea in April/May under Technip control for the North Sea summer my photo above will be a good reflection of economic conditions for North Sea DSV owners in 2018…