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Random Thoughts on Oil and Multiple Equilibria Supply/Demand Points February 23, 2009

Posted by DustinRJay in Uncategorized.
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Oil prices have tumbled dramatically from $147.27 on July 11, 2008 to $38.00 on February 23, 2009.  Many experts have weighed in that oil prices were a speculative bubble.  The rationale for higher oil prices stemmed from emerging demand from China and India, coupled with oil supply being relatively flat in response to higher and higher prices and was featured in a number of bullish economic reports, most notably Merrill Lynch and CIBC.

Since then, oil demand has dropped, and oil prices have declined.  Small changes in supply/demand dramatically impact price, (e.g. consumption is down ~5%, yet prices are down more considerably).  Petroleum product infrastructure has been designed for transportation and piping, not storage.

There is a fat tail risk for energy company bankruptcies.  Companies that expanded and acquired heavily and drilled many new wells in a high commodity price environment, may no longer payback the original capital investment borrowed due to poor netbacks.  AJM, McDaniel, Sproule have price decks that result in higher asset valuations, due to oil contango but this is based on a paper valuation that I do not believe fully reflects that the global economy has entered the worst economic recession since World War II.  It may take 2 years to determine bankrupt energy companies from healthy ones as future oil barrels have a high degree of price uncertainty.  The following quickie back of the envelope economics illustrates the difficult economic hurdles the Alberta energy industry currently faces:

Alberta Back of The Envelope Oil Economics

Average new oil well drill production:  Assume 28.3 bbl/oil
Average annual decline: 18% year over year
Average well reserves estimate: 41,300 bbl (as calculated)
Well Cost Estimate: $1,000,000
Tie-In and Facility Cost: $300,000 (estimated average cost per success well)

Edmonton Par: $46.40/bbl
Finding & Development Cost: $31/bbl (as calculated above)
Operating Costs: $14/bbl (estimated based on companies such as Pengrowth and Husky)
Royalties (estimated 20%): $9/bbl
Plus corporate economic hurdle = You Do The Math!

In general, prices are high enough to cover operating costs, but not enough for capital investments.  For the most part, the stock market is very focused on earnings growth and therefore rate is king.  Bondholders require coupon payments, and therefore shutting in production to increase asset value may not be an option due to high debt loads.

When demand increases, there could be a second oil price shock resulting in yet more economic turmoil.  Prices could rapidly climb as current prices are more reflective of operating costs, and would need to shift upward substantially to incorporate finding and development costs and adequately compensate investors (shift in supply/demand equilibria point).

It is likely less expensive to increase production through acquisitions than drilling.  A well capitalized energy company could evaluate shutting in production to increase asset value (as in general, prices are too low to drill), and use existing cash reserves to acquire depressed natural resource assets.