The Outlook for Oil and Gas Shares: Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part transcript in which Fool.co.uk's David Kuo welcomes back Malcolm Graham-Wood from VSA Capital to chat about the state of the oil sector. They look at the outlook for oil prices and dissect the latest results from Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and BG Group. Malcolm also offers his opinion on a number of popular oil explorers that include Rockhopper Exploration (LSE: RKH.L  ) , Falkland Oil & Gas, Gulf Keystone Petroleum (LSE: GKP.L  ) , and Ophir Energy.

You can read the first part of the transcript here. You can listen to or download the full podcast here.

David: OK. I'd like to have a look at some of the companies that we talked at length about the last time you were here, and one company is Rockhopper. When you came in, the shares were 371; today they're 202. What's gone wrong with Rockhopper?

Malcolm: Yes -- this is where you have me on some of the nightmare recommendations!

David: No, no -- this has nothing to do with recommendations, but I mean, this is just generally what's going on.

Malcolm: I would say that Rockhopper is still worth much more than 371 pence. Since then, they've carried on with the development of Sealion, which is their big discovery. Don't forget they had a proper discovery, a billion barrels of oil in Sealion, and even at 45% recoverable, at $100 a barrel, that doesn't add up to a share price of 2 pounds a share. The trouble is, it's market perceptions, it's been a difficult quarter or so for most of these companies at the best of times, and a bit like, when we're bound to come onto Gulf Keystone and whatever it happens to be, in a lot of these places, the asset is there and full of value, but the market, and dare I say it, some of the retail market is a little more short-term than others, and they don't take as long a term view. I think that someone should either take over, or even Premier should take over Rockhopper at these levels, because I think it's frightfully cheap, and I think the deal that Premier did, it was interesting that it was Premier that did it, was a good deal for both companies. I would say there was an argument at the time that Premier might have been better off just buying Rockhopper, rather than just farming into 60% of the acreage. Our valuation of Rockhopper before was 750 pence; given the valuations that they've put on it, you might take that down a little bit from here. I've seen people saying it's probably worth five or six pounds. The point is that, we're coming back to people who are prepared to buy barrels of oil. If you look, compared to what CNOOC paid for Nexen which is Canada and the North Sea and other bits and pieces, is that providing you're prepared to overlook any political problems in the Falklands, then this is a billion barrels of oil, which one day will be worth significantly more than this price, and I'm afraid it's patience -- nothing more, nothing less.

David: OK, now one that has done well is Falkland Oil and Gas. That has actually gone from about 60 pence to 80 pence. We also heard some news about Falkland Oil and Gas just today, believe it or not, with Noble trying to take a stake in Falkland Oil and Gas. What do you make of this company in general?

Malcolm: I like Falkland Oil and Gas. I like Tim Bushell, the guy who runs it -- he's a smart guy, he's got a very good team, and he's done two very good farm-out deals. The difference between obviously FOGL and Rockhopper is that FOGL haven't actually found anything yet. They're in all the right places, but the good thing is, and what they have found, is people to put their hands in their pockets to partner with, and to fund their exploration. And what you've got now, after yesterday's deal -- and it's very interesting that Noble, which is a really, really smart U.S. company, and the sort of company that I would really like to partner with, have come in and said they were going to put 180 million to 230 million into this, in the north and south part of the Falklands -- is that Tim Bushell is now funded for the foreseeable future. The big worry about these things is, you haven't got any oil, you haven't got any money -- well, they've now got lots of money, and they receive back funding for wells. They've got Loligo, which they spudded last Friday, which is going to be their first interesting well in the north, but they're funded for the next two wells up there, and they've got $200 million on the bank. I think that FOGL look very exciting; as I say, it's an exploration, it's ranked exploration, in different areas of the Falklands, but I think they've done a cracking deal, and I would want to be a holder of this stock.

David: OK, so is there a kind of tacit approval by the U.S. government for the sovereign status of Falklands by Noble taking a stake in Falkland Oil and Gas now?

Malcolm: Not particularly. I mean, Tim Bushell said yesterday that he thought that it had been made clear that Noble had spoken to the State Department before doing it, so my guess is that the State Department probably wouldn't interfere positively by saying yeah, go do it, but I suspect they would say, if there was something horribly wrong and they're about to change their policy, don't do it yet. Don't forget, we have an election in a few months' time in the States, and so everything's going to change anyway, but a Republican administration would be more pro-oil anyway, I suspect. There's been a cooling of the situation between the States. They've certainly become more friendly with the South Americans over the last few years, but I think that Noble would have been warned off, if it was something they thought they definitely shouldn't do, and they weren't warned off, so that's probably quite good news. I mean, investing in the Falklands is something not everyone can do. If you have any operations in South America, it's probably a waste of your time. BHP were in with FOGL before, but you wouldn't want to have a whole bunch of petrol stations in Venezuela, if you started to irritate the Argentineans, or vice-versa. But interestingly, we've got two or three, we've certainly got one really interesting company called President, which is operating in Argentina at the moment, and doing very well.

David: OK. Let's have a look at one that hasn't done that well, and that's Borders & Southern. What's gone wrong there?

Malcolm: I mean, that's just dry holes-ville. They've had two wells...

David: Is that just bad luck?

Malcolm: Yeah, I mean it used to be one in twenty on a wild cat exploration well, and it's better than that now with better seismic, 2-D and 3-D seismic. But it's still easy enough to drill a dry hole. Their first well in the Falklands was not too bad, but it was condensate, and everyone wanted oil, not sort of wet gas or liquids-rich gas, or anything like that. So the stock ran out, I mean the retail market, which this stock, if you remember it went from 72 pence to 140 pence in the space of three days, when people thought that well was going to come in. Now, it didn't come in, got back to a pound, and very cleverly Borders & Southern then raised a whole lot more from the City at 90 pence, drilled the next well, which was dry. At this level, in terms of sort of scope for the Falklands, I would prefer to play Rockhopper and FOGL, but actually, particularly for retail people who like to follow drilling, keep an eye on Borders & Southern, because they've still got cash, and they will drill another well at some stage. But at the moment, we've got the two FOGL wells to look out for. So I think the money is still in Borders & Southern, but they've taken a horrible path.

David: So it could be third time lucky for Borders & Southern, then?

Malcolm: It might be. I mean, certainly, don't forget if FOGL prove up anything from their next two wells, then suddenly the Falklands are going to be, the motto is, sort of normally, to travel, it's best to arrive, so get them drilling something, and then sell the shares while they're doing that, while people think there's something down there.

David: I mean, one company where travelling hasn't been that good is Gulf Keystone. This is actually a very popular one amongst our readers on The Motley Fool, and that share has almost halved in value. What's gone wrong at Gulf?

Malcolm: Yeah, and it doubled just before that, so if you look at the medium-term charts, I know, because I get a lot of calls from your readers and that sort of stuff, because I've looked at Kurdistan for a long time -- I was one of the first people to take it seriously, when it was just sort of, DNO and one or two other people in there. I'm a massive fan of Kurdistan, and to a certain extent they've been proved right by the fact that, when it started, as is typical of a new frontier oil basin, it starts with the smaller companies coming in and de-risking it for the bigger companies. So we had Gulf Keystone, we've had Genel, we've had various other companies like PetroCeltic and so on buying in there and drilling, and Heritage came in for gas rather than oil, which was a disappointment. But in general cases, discoveries have been, significant discoveries have been made, and in Gulf Keystone's case, they've got a lot of oil there, still a very strong buyer of this stock at these levels, and again this is another one where patience will work its way through.

But probably the best opportunity to buy stock in this area is Genel, which we're going to come back to Tony Hayward. Tony Hayward and Julian Metherell, who are Chief Exec and Finance CFO of Genel, have done a very good job. What they've got is, if you remember, when they were Vallares, they raised a lot of money in London. They backed into Genel, which is a Turkish operation, and they had two fields in Kurdistan: Taq Taq and Tawke, and they've just bought another lump of the licence area next to Taq Taq. Their operation in Kurdistan, in my view, is worth between, well 750 and 950 pence a share. Now, Genel shares are 650 or 680 at the moment, but they've still got all that cash, so I reckon they've got, well it was 5.25 pounds -- it's probably a little less than 5 pounds -- they've probably got 5 pounds a share in cash, so you add that to the valuation of the Kurdistan business. They are going to be making acquisitions in probably western and north-western Africa, so the market will judge them on what they do there, but I've got a valuation for Genel of between sort of 12.50 pounds and 14.50 pounds a share, and it's less than 7 pounds a share at the moment.

David: OK, now another very popular one amongst our readers is Ophir Energy. If you had bought Ophir, and also Gulf Keystone, you probably would have just about broken even, so Ophir is doing quite well, isn't it?

Malcolm: Yeah, this is one of my favorites. This is one of our shares for the year, certainly one of the ones that's doing really well, a fantastic east African play, but with acreage all across the continent. For example, they're doing quite well in their drilling in Equatorial Guinea at the moment, but they're known for their 40% stake in the business that they've got with BG, offshore discoveries, offshore Tanzania, and not as big as Mozambique, but certainly enough to make at least two trains of LNG. You need to make two really, so you need a minimum of ten TCF of gas. But they're in blocks one, three and four; Stat Oil and Exxon have made a discovery in block two, so no doubt the offshore Tanzania's going to be another area where they're going to be ... where Ophir goes from here, I mean the value is significantly above current price. More and more people are sort of catching onto it. They've got probably a dozen wells to drill in other parts of Africa over the next few months. My guess is, at some stage, I mean so far they've resisted farming out any of that big chunk of Tanzania. My guess is, at some stage, to fund the rest of the business, and to maybe money back, or whatever it is, they will farm-out some of that offshore Tanzania holding, but set fair, everything is set fair in Ophir at the moment, and it's one of my favorites in the sector.

David: OK, so how do you feel about Salamander (LSE: SMDR.L  ) ? This is one that I've been watching from a distance. It's not one that I've actually invested in, but I've just watched from a distance, because somebody did mention it to me. So it's in Southeast Asia -- is this an interesting company, Salamander?

Malcolm: Yeah, we like Salamander at the moment.

David: OK, so it's not just me, then!

Malcolm: No, we've been turning much more positive actually on it, and while I was away, two of my colleagues went to the capital markets day in Salamander about six or eight weeks ago, and came back very, very positive. Things are beginning to look much more exciting at Salamander, in all the right areas, as you say; in Asia, some quite big prospects, and some good opportunities. The management is good, and Salamander's also on the sort of ... having been, as a hold, we're beginning to look at it more as a buy nowadays.

David: OK, so let's have a look at a couple of oil services' companies, or companies that are not directly involved in the drilling of oil, but on the tangent of this, and this is a company called the Weir Group (LSE: WEIR.L  ) . What's gone wrong at Weir Group?

Malcolm: Weir Group is half-and-half oil services and mining and minerals. The oil services side, SPM, is a fantastic business, but at the turn of the year, in the States, in particular what happened was that the companies that had been drilling for gas for the last six to eight months noticed that the natural gas price had been falling dramatically, and it had come down from sort of $12 two years ago to, the low was about 190 back in April. They were drilling for gas, and just not getting enough money out of the ground. So what they decided to do -- and this is companies across from the big companies all the way down, from Chesapeake down through all the sort of mum and dad companies -- they decided that what they wanted to do was to stop drilling gas wells and start drilling more liquids-rich and oil wells, which meant moving not just round the corner, but into different plays, right across the country into different types of shale oil, maybe up in the tundra or something like that, or up into the Bakken. They were trying to get, because oil was still $100 a barrel, and natural gas wasn't. So what happened with Weir was that, I wouldn't say they took their eye off the ball, but they suddenly found that, having been selling all these pumping products into the gas side for the wells, suddenly they needed different products in different parts of the country, and it just wasn't possible to move it round quickly, and of course that left a lot of stock in some places that they didn't need, and that hasn't turned round yet. It's starting to look a little better, but the Weir figures a couple of weeks ago. We've been very big fans of Weir, we took it off the buy list as soon as we saw the first profit warning, because we thought there's more to come. Interestingly, it wasn't the profit warning for the whole group, because at the time they said that, the deficit that was, things were going badly in oil were being more than made up in mining. My feeling was borne out last week with the figures, where they said, we're now going to the bottom end of the guidance range, because I think that the oil side will be a little bit worse before it gets better.

David: OK, so staying with oil services, what about Amec (LSE: AMEC.L  ) ? How do you feel about Amec? They've done quite well since you were here the last time -- are you still quite bullish about Amec at the moment?

Malcolm: Yes, because I think Amec are doing all the right things. They've got this vision, 2015, where they're expecting to significantly increase earnings over a five-year period, and they will do that easily. They will do that without acquisitions, but they're still making acquisitions as and when they can, particularly in the Pacific Rim and Australia and so on, and I think you'll find that, if they can't find the acquisitions they need, because they're cash-generative, they'll start paying it back to shareholders, and so we might get either a special dividend, or what they're doing at the moment, which is a share buyback. I think Amec are set pretty fair at the moment.

David: OK. I'd like to talk about some companies that perhaps we didn't get a chance to talk about the last time. I'll let you take the lead on this one: Which are the companies that you think are interesting right now, that people should be perhaps paying a little bit more attention to?

Malcolm: Well, we talked about one or two of the stocks that are on the list here, and we've talked about before, but maybe not in here. We talked about Caza, for example, and Caza's looking interesting at the moment, because they spent the first half of this year actually moving, exactly as we were talking about under Weir, moving away from gas and more towards liquids-rich, and they've had two discoveries now, and I think, at 6 or 7 pence, that's the market telling you that it's fairly under-exposed in the right areas, but I think actually it's looking quite good.

Now, on the bigger funds, we talked about Premier in the past. Now, Premier have underperformed, but I think that Simon Lockett's getting Premier into a pretty good space, and I think that, although I've never been a huge fan before, because I sort of found that they lumbered around a bit, I think that it's beginning to be well focused. I very much like the look of Premier at the moment. I think that'll take a bit not to like.

One of the stocks that we caused a bit of a flurry on a few weeks ago was Afren, because the Daily Mail picked up on a story which I wrote, that said that Exxon might buy Afren. Afren obviously has started life in Nigeria, and has got a good base there, but it's also got assets across the continent, but also got quite an interesting, made an acquisition in Kurdistan, funnily enough, which is probably where the Exxon thing came in. But Afren, I think, is worth much more than the current share price, and in due course someone will do what's necessary, and probably ... it's the sort of thing that Genel might be looking at, to be honest.

David: OK, and what about Lamprell -- what do you feel about Lamprell?

Malcolm: We got Lamprell wrong, but it doesn't make it a bad company. I mean, it makes rigs, it builds rigs in the Gulf for a mass of companies, and they've got a very big market share. Lamprell then had three profit warnings, which is what normally happens. When you have one, the profit warning is because of the cost of your kit, particularly inputs like steel and so on. You're going to find that it continues. They had to take the real pain in order to make sure that their customers got delivered on time, which is probably a sensible thing to do, because then you'll get repeat orders.

David: OK, and I'd just like to end with a couple of my own personal preferences here. I don't know if you have a view about Empyrean Energy at all.

Malcolm: It's not one I follow, I'm afraid. Never comment on something you don't know much about.

David: OK, so I've drawn a blank on that one. What about Nautical Petroleum?

Malcolm: Well, Nautical's been bought. I was rather hoping that there'd be a higher bid for Nautical. Nautical's been on our buy list for ages now. It's been bought, not too cheaply, but I thought that somebody else might come in a little higher. It just proves that the market for assets is still interesting. The thing about Nautical, I think, is the thing that you look at when you see stock market prices, and this is across the board. The stock market price is low, and the commodity itself reasonably fit and healthy. I mean, the oil price today is $110 a barrel, and for a whole load of these companies that we've talked about, and probably a load more that we could still talk about. The prices of the assets in the stock market are less than they are in the ground, so it's actually cheaper for somebody to come in and buy Nautical than it is to actually go and drill for it yourself. So if you're Cairn, for example, and you've got two-and-a-half billion on the balance sheet and an asset in India which you can raid for whenever you like. You can go and buy Agora, which is a fantastic business in Norway, and other businesses which we've seen where they buy Nautical and so on, and you can buy those. It's cheaper and easier and quicker than getting it out yourself. Why spend billions taking rigs to difficult places like Greenland -- why not just go and buy a whole bunch of them, and I would go and buy probably a dozen stocks that we can have on our list here, if we wanted to give you exposure in Africa or the Falklands, or even in the North Sea, there are some fascinating plays in the North Sea. So these assets are still remarkably cheap, and the one or two companies in the service sector we haven't mentioned, like Hunting and Kents, which are doing really, really well, and their stock is just being plagued by other ones, but I think have a good look at Kents, have a good look at Hunting, see what Dennis Proctor has done with the acquisitions there. There's value all through the sector.

David: OK, and a final one is one that is in my part of the world, which is Fortune Oil. Is there any chance of finding oil where Fortune is drilling?

Malcolm: We're brokers to Fortune, so bear that in mind, but I think that Fortune, one of these days, will make you a fortune, because it is about the only main-board-listed stock which gives you exposure to resources in the Far East, and as a group, VSA, we're very close to the Far East. Our chief exec goes out there every four to six weeks. We've just done a huge placing from a Chinese-backed syndicate buying into Africa. But we think that the Far East is where the future is. We go there for our fundraisings; we go there to take our companies. Fortune have got involvement with Dart, which is an interesting company in itself, in joint ventures in shale and carbon methane in there. They've got oil operations, they're involved in China Gas, and that'll be very interesting as they move into the town gas market. But operations all the way through, and Fortune Oil is definitely one to keep an eye on.

David: OK, you've heard this here first. Now finally, the final question, of course, is what is your outlook? I mean, the last six months hasn't been particularly good for the oil and gas sector, so what is your outlook for the oil and gas sector, and I'm going to ask you to project forward five years, for the next five years -- how does it look?

Malcolm: Well, I think that, for five years now, we're looking pretty fair. Until someone invents a motor car that works on water, and I know people will say that you can use gas and everything else, but you have to remember that Americans drive 50 billion miles every month, so as long as you bear that in mind, you've got an idea of how much demand there is going to be for the product. If you work out that, in what was a really bad quarter last quarter, Chinese demand for automobiles was up 16%, and the amount that the Chinese consume compared to the Americans is just miles away. I think that we're still going to be demanding for the foreseeable future. I think that we'll find, I mean oil men are good -- whenever there's a big increase in demand, or anything else, they find it, and we've seen in the Falklands and the gas off Africa, there will be enough around, but I don't think there'll be so much around that we suddenly see $30 or whatever for the time being.

David: We can always dream, can't we?

Malcolm: The only thing I would say, as I said right at the beginning of this interview, is that the oil price always over-exaggerates its movements, so it always goes up too high, and when it comes down, it always goes down too far. So for those people who trade oil, you bear that in mind -- look at the physical, look at how it works, and just play it, but don't forget that, once it starts to go over, it rolls over very quickly, and you will always have, so for five years down, we'll probably be coming in here occasionally saying how grim it is, and then how good it is, but the demand for crude oil for the long term is still very much in place.

David: OK, well that's excellent. Glad to know that oil isn't quite running out. I think you're going to like this quote that I have for summing up today's podcast, but before that, thank you so much for coming in today, Malcolm -- it is always such a great pleasure talking to you.

Malcolm: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

David: OK, and now for the quote of the day: "All those people who complain about oil prices, please, please raise your right foot."

Malcolm: Very good!

David: Yes, so thank you very much, Malcolm, for coming in today. This has been Money Talk, I have been David Kuo, and my guest has been oil expert Malcolm Graham Wood from VSA Capital. If you have a comment about today's show, please post it on the Money Talk web page, which you can find at fool.co.uk/podcast.

By the way, further oil and gas share ideas can be found within "How To Unearth Great Oil & Gas Shares," a special free report that describes how to pinpoint potential winners from the resources sector. You can download the report here, but hurry -- all Fool reports are available for free for a limited time only! Until next week, have a great week!

That was the second part of a two-part transcript in which Fool.co.uk's David Kuo chats with Malcolm Graham-Wood from VSA Capital about the oil and gas sector. They discuss popular oil explorers that include Rockhopper Exploration, Falkland Oil & Gas, Gulf Keystone Petroleum, and Ophir Energy.

In the first part of the transcript, David and Malcolm discuss the outlook for oil prices and dissect the latest results from Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and BG Group. Just click here to continue reading.

David Kuo owns shares in BP and Royal Dutch Shell. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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