Posts from Tom Biracree

Sunday, 09/05/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Tuesday, 08/31/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Monday, 07/19/2021

The massive energy-industry dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced every upstream, midstream, and downstream player to consider what it all meant for them and what they could and should do to weather the storm. A common theme emerged: management needed to delay or even jettison their plans for growth and instead focus on efficiency by cutting costs, working to maximize the revenue from every molecule, and seeking out opportunities to streamline and optimize their operations. A prime example of this push for efficiency came last week with the announcement by Plains All American and Oryx Midstream that each will contribute assets to a new, Plains-operated crude oil pipeline joint venture in the heart of the Permian’s Delaware Basin. Today, we review the plan and its rationale.

Thursday, 12/24/2020

To succeed over the long term in the music business, professional sports, or the midstream sector, you need to learn from your successes and failures, and — most important — continue adapting and evolving. For many North American midstreamers, a key to success has been a thoughtful combination of expansion and diversification, plus an affinity for financial discipline, especially when the broader energy industry is going through tough, uncertain times. A prime example of that strategy is Canadian midstreamer Pembina Pipeline Corp., which after C$14 billion in acquisitions over the last four years is instituting a more cautious approach to new investment that’s largely based on self-funding and a new, more rigorous return criteria for new projects. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report, which focuses on the risks and rewards of Pembina’s new strategy.

Sunday, 12/06/2020

To succeed over the long term in the music business, professional sports, or the midstream sector, you need to learn from your successes and failures, and — most important — continue adapting and evolving. For many North American midstreamers, a key to success has been a thoughtful combination of expansion and diversification, plus an affinity for financial discipline, especially when the broader energy industry is going through tough, uncertain times. A prime example of that strategy is Canadian midstreamer Pembina Pipeline Corp., which after C$14 billion in acquisitions over the last four years is instituting a more cautious approach to new investment that’s largely based on self-funding and a new, more rigorous return criteria for new projects. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report, which focuses on the risks and rewards of Pembina’s new strategy.

Monday, 11/30/2020

It’s no surprise that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year shut down upstream mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity, just as it did America’s corporate offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and schools. U.S. M&A deal flow slowed to a trickle in the first half of 2020 as companies’ valuations dropped along with bid prices and E&P executives struggled to realign expenditures with dwindling cash flows. But, as we’ve seen in the past, energy-commodity price crashes eventually spur a resurgence in M&A activity. The dam finally broke in late July, when Chevron announced a $13 billion takeover of Noble Energy, followed in short order by other, major corporate consolidations that brought the deal value total for the last five months to nearly $50 billion. This time was different in one important way, though: Instead of the strong preying on the weak, the strong merged with the strong in low-premium, all-stock transactions. Today, we analyze this new paradigm and delve into the details of the high-value deals.

Wednesday, 11/25/2020

The energy industry in North America is in crisis. COVID-19 remains a remarkably potent force, stifling a genuine rebound in demand for crude oil and refined products — and the broader U.S. economy. Oil prices have sagged south of $40/bbl, slowing drilling-and-completion activity to a crawl and imperiling the viability of many producers. The outlook for natural gas isn’t much better: anemic global demand for LNG is dragging down U.S. natural gas prices — and gas producers. The midstream sector isn’t immune to all this negativity. Lower production volumes mean lower flows on pipelines, less gas processing, less fractionation, and fewer export opportunities. But one major midstreamer, Enbridge Inc., made a prescient decision almost three years ago to significantly reduce its exposure to the vagaries of energy markets, and stands to emerge from the current hard times in good shape — assuming, that is, that it can clear the major regulatory challenges it still faces. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant, Enbridge, which plans to de-risk its business model.

In observance of today’s holiday, we’ve given our writers a break and are revisiting a recently published blog on our last Spotlight Report on Enbridge, Inc. If you didn’t read it then, this is your opportunity to see what you missed! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 09/15/2020

The energy industry in North America is in crisis. COVID-19 remains a remarkably potent force, stifling a genuine rebound in demand for crude oil and refined products — and the broader U.S. economy. Oil prices have sagged south of $40/bbl, slowing drilling-and-completion activity to a crawl and imperiling the viability of many producers. The outlook for natural gas isn’t much better: anemic global demand for LNG is dragging down U.S. natural gas prices — and gas producers. The midstream sector isn’t immune to all this negativity. Lower production volumes mean lower flows on pipelines, less gas processing, less fractionation, and fewer export opportunities. But one major midstreamer, Enbridge Inc., made a prescient decision almost three years ago to significantly reduce its exposure to the vagaries of energy markets, and stands to emerge from the current hard times in good shape –– assuming, that is, that it can clear the major regulatory challenges it still faces. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant, Enbridge, which plans to de-risk its business model.

Wednesday, 07/22/2020

On July 20, 2020, Chevron struck the first major energy sector deal since the onset of the pandemic, announcing a $13 billion agreement to acquire U.S. E&P Noble Energy. The transaction comes 15 months after the oil major bowed out of a bidding war with Occidental Petroleum to acquire Anadarko Petroleum, a landmark, $56 billion deal in which the winner may eventually end up as the loser after taking on massive debt. Oxy is just one example of how the sharp decline in oil demand and prices has ravaged producer cash flows and earnings, virtually freezing the M&A market. Despite widespread speculation that a resumption in deal activity would target the most distressed E&Ps, Chevron has broken the market wide open with a blockbuster deal for a premier E&P. The target this time, Noble Energy, has a portfolio very similar to that of Anadarko, and is being acquired at a small fraction of the cost. Today, we examine the strategies that drove this transaction, the impacts on buyer and seller, and the implications for the upstream M&A market going forward.

Sunday, 07/19/2020

With Broadway theaters shuttered and Hollywood studios on lockdown, one of the most compelling long-term American dramas is the ongoing saga of U.S. E&P Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). Act One was a compelling David-vs.-Goliath story as Oxy battled oil major Chevron in early 2019 to acquire Anadarko Petroleum and its prime Permian acreage. Among the most fascinating elements was the supporting cast, which featured business legend Warren Buffett, who contributed a critical $10 billion to push Oxy’s deal over the top, versus billionaire investor and corporate raider Carl Icahn, who led an unsuccessful struggle to stop what he called “the worst deal I’ve ever seen.” Oxy snagged Anadarko with a winning bid of $57 billion, the fourth-highest total for an oil and gas transaction and a 20% premium to Chevron’s offer, and predicted strong future production, dividend, and cash flow growth. But those optimistic projections have been upended in the ongoing Act Two, as plunging oil demand and prices from the COVID-19 pandemic have stymied planned asset sales and ravaged cash flows. Oxy has responded by reining in spending, revamping operations, refocusing divestment plans, and restructuring debt. But is it enough? Today, we analyze the company’s current strategies and financial maneuvering, as well as the near-term outlook, under a range of oil price scenarios.

Wednesday, 02/19/2020

The fortunes of U.S. midstream companies in 2020 and beyond will be largely determined by how shrewdly they invested during the frenzied infrastructure build-out of the past few years. One of the most interesting case studies is San Antonio-based NuStar Energy, a master limited partnership born in 2001 to hold refiner Valero Energy’s midstream assets and spun off as a separate entity in 2007. In May 2017, as the industry was still recovering from the late 2014 plunge in crude oil prices, the MLP made a major play to capture growing Permian production through the ~$1.5 billion acquisition of Navigator Energy, which owned a crude oil gathering, transportation, and terminaling system in the Midland Basin. The purchase was widely panned as overpriced by analysts and investors, and NuStar’s unit price plummeted by 60%. But by 2019, the company’s Permian acquisition — and soaring exports from its Corpus Christi terminal — drove big year-on-year gains in NuStar’s fourth-quarter 2019 operating income and EBITDA. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on NuStar.

Tuesday, 01/28/2020

After a decade in which unprecedented upstream production growth triggered massive investment in infrastructure to get crude oil, natural gas and NGLs to market, 2020 is a major inflection point for the U.S. midstream industry. The good news is that after peaking at a whopping $37 billion in 2019, midstream capital expenditures are forecast to steeply decline over the next few years as the lion’s share of the infrastructure needed to gather, transport, process, and store current and expected hydrocarbon volumes has already been built or is nearing completion. And, despite continued cutbacks in capex by exploration and production companies, output is still forecast to rise in 2020, which should boost earnings growth for the midstream sector. But all midstream companies aren’t alike, and the prospects for individual entities vary widely because of the specific basins and hubs where they’ve decided to build, acquire, expand or divest. Today, we analyze the headwinds and tailwinds these companies will experience, and how their decisions over the past few years will help determine their prospects.

Sunday, 01/21/2018

After six years of output declines, Haynesville Shale natural gas production surged 25% in 2017, with the lion’s share of the increase coming in a remarkable second-half growth spurt. Preliminary 2018 guidance indicates that producers intend to keep the pedal to the metal, either sustaining or boosting the investment that has brought the play’s output to nearly 8 Bcf/d. Such increased activity indicates that producers have found new advantages in the region. But even though new drilling and completion techniques and producer strategies have significantly enhanced the economic viability of the dry gas Haynesville, it is much more highly dependent on natural gas prices than liquids-rich plays. Today, we continue our series on the rebounding Haynesville play with a look at RBN’s production forecast for the region.

Tuesday, 01/02/2018

After being left for dead for more than five years, natural gas production in the greater Haynesville region has been surging upward — from about 5.7 Bcf/d this time last year to more than 7 Bcf/d today, an increase of 25% during 2017. Much of this growth has been coming from a new cast of characters, employing different technologies and different strategies than the first wave of Haynesville pioneers that established the play back in 2008, then abandoned it in 2012. But a couple of big challenges face the Haynesville. Today, we begin an examination of the Haynesville that will take us from production trends through producer strategies and finally into detailed calculations of production economics for the play. 

Monday, 10/16/2017

Despite a decline in natural gas prices, the nine gas-focused U.S. E&Ps we’ve been tracking fared better from a financial perspective in the second quarter of 2017 than E&Ps that concentrate on crude oil or have a diversified mix of oil and gas production. All nine companies in the Gas-Weighted Peer Group stayed in the black — no small feat — but with lower commodity prices the peer group’s profits fell 28% from the first quarter to just under $1.4 billion. Will 2017 be the gas group’s first profitable year since 2014? Today, we analyze the results for our gas-focused peer group as a whole and for individual companies within the group.