It's not every day that one of the world's largest oil producers makes major investments in renewable energy. But that is exactly what Total S.A. (NYSE:TOT) has done with two recent acquisitions of renewable energy and electric storage providers. These purchases, along with its already impressive portfolio of "green" assets, show that Total is serious in its commitments to expand its renewable energy business.
The push for renewables
Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne recently announced that the company plans to invest 20% of its assets into low-carbon business, implemented over the next twenty years. While this vision would make the company an industry leader in combating climate change, Pouyanne also views it as a strategic investment, saying, "There are new areas over the next 20 years beyond oil and gas that we think can be profitable."
Considering Total's assets are currently valued at approximately $130 billion, the 20% commitment is potentially a monumental undertaking.
Total isn't just making commitments, though; it is also making moves to bring the pledged investments to fruition. The company recently announced that it had agreed to buy Lampiris, Belgium's third-largest supplier of natural gas and renewable power. The deal, reportedly worth $224 million, allows Total to expand its gas and renewables assets while enabling it to extend its reach into the residential electricity market. That acquisition follows last month's announcement that Total will take over the Saft Group, which manufactures batteries for electricity storage.
The two acquisitions build on an already impressive array of renewable assets. In 2011, Total purchased 60% of solar company SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) for $1.4 billion, which is expecting to bring in $3.2 billion to $3.4 billion in revenues this year. It also plans to transform the La Mede oil refinery into a biofuel plant, invest in carbon capture technology, and announced the creation of a new gas, renewables, and power division. These investments put the company well on its way to being a leader in green energy.
Still an oil and gas company
Another way to say that Total is planning to dedicate 20% of its assets to low-carbon investments is to say that Total is planning to dedicate 80% of its assets to carbon investments. It has already allocated over $1.3 billion this year to acquire companies that expand its renewable assets, but it is planning to spend $19 billion on capital expenditures for all of 2016, primarily on oil assets. For example, in addition to the Lampiris and Saft Group acquisitions, Total also recently announced that is had agreed to purchase the Gulf Africa Petroleum Corp to take advantage of petroleum growth opportunities in East African countries.
Why is that purchase notable? Because as one of the largest integrated oil and gas companies in the world, Total will not only maintain its hydrocarbon business, but will continue to expand its production. In the first quarter of 2016, Total produced nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from 2.35 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. Pouyanne made it clear that even with the push for renewables and electricity storage, the company will focus first and foremost on oil and gas production. Oil and gas will remain a key aspect of world energy, and Total cannot afford to forego such a major source of revenue. Pouyanne did say, though, that gas would take preference over oil, and that by 2035, gas would make up 60% of Total's production.
As an oil and gas producer, Total has maintained a strong balance sheet. Its adjusted net income for the first quarter was $1.6 billion, and it received nearly $1.9 billion in cash flow from operations. Additionally, it is sitting on cash and cash equivalents of over $20 billion, giving it the flexibility to continue making strategic investments .
While Total's low-carbon investments are admirable, they really only amount to a drop in the bucket. Eventually, these investments could be a major source of revenue -- but I expect that it will take several years before they significantly impact the company's valuation or stock price. Instead, investors should remain focused on Total's impressive oil production and balance sheet. When viewed from that perspective, Total remains a solid option with plenty of growth potential.