The mysterious and tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 this past March has riveted the world for months on end. With no real no closure expected until the plane is found, the tragedy has rocked Malaysia to its core. Yet, as if things couldn't get any worse, the nation again experienced tragedy as Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July. Needless to say, 2014 will likely go down as one of the most tragic years in the history of Malaysia.
However, while the country's core has been shaken, and its airline shattered, Malaysia does have a reason to be optimistic about its future. By 2020, it could control the largest supplies of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, in the world, according to analysis from energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. In doing so, it would pass Qatar as the LNG leader and give America, which hopes to emerge as an LNG powerhouse, a run for its money. Further, its ascension to the top of the LNG leader board would have a noticeable impact on the country's finances.
Growing control of natural gas
State owned energy giant Petronas is no stranger to LNG. In fact, it's already the second-largest LNG exporter behind Qatar. However, it plans to become an even larger player in the global LNG market in the years ahead as it is investing in projects in Canada and Australia to grow its LNG capacity. These expansions are expected to grow Petronas LNG capacity from 27 million tonnes per annum last year to 42 million tonnes per annum by 2022. That 55% surge should push it past Qatar by 2020.
Petronas has quietly been investing in LNG projects around the world for years. One of its biggest investments came in 2012, when it bought control of Canadian natural gas producer Progress Energy Resources for $5.36 billion. Part of the plan in buying Progress Energy Resources was to build an LNG export facility off Canada's west coast in order to supply natural gas to Asia. Because Progress Energy had a prime position in the natural gas-rich Montney Shale, it was an ideal acquisition candidate as Petronas could acquire full control of the gas field that the two were joint venture partners in developing. That project is a key part of Petronas' plans to be the world's leading LNG producer.
Why this matters for Malaysia
Because Petronas is fully owned by the government of Malaysia, its profits pour right into the government's coffers. In fact, the dividends it pays to the Malaysian government supply 45% of its budget. Therefore, as Petronas' net income goes up from these new LNG projects, the company will then be able to supply higher dividends to the government. These dividends could be used to offset taxes paid by citizens or help the government invest in the future of the country.
The company is picking the right projects to do just that. While LNG projects are very costly to build, the profit margins are excellent. For example, America's top independent oil and gas company, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), expects its LNG projects around the world to produce profit margins of $40 per barrel of oil equivalent. Those margins are higher than the company's conventional oil fields around the world and on par with North American shale production, which can also earn the company margins in excess of $40 per barrel.
All of this is to say that Petronas' LNG projects have the potential to fuel substantial revenue and income growth for the company. This growth will be good for Malaysia as the country will directly benefit from Petronas' LNG fueled growth through higher dividends. So, despite a tragic year, Malaysia does have a reason to be optimistic about its future.
Matt DiLallo owns shares of ConocoPhillips. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.