China has a huge appetite for energy, and it's willing to go just about anywhere to secure access to new supplies. Two big natural gas pipeline deals with Russia are a perfect example. The next notable energy investment could be on the oil front in the waters off of Mexico, as that nation looks to get its struggling drilling program back on track.
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China has a major energy problem on its hands. While developed nations around the world focus on reducing the amount of energy they consume, an industrializing China is on track to consume ever more energy. The reason is economic development, a trend that isn't expected to stop any time soon, even if the pace of the country's growth begins to slow. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), for example, projects that China's energy demand will continue to grow from now until 2040, at which point it will dwarf the demand seen in the United States.
That's why China has been looking well beyond its boarders to secure energy of all kinds. And it helps explain why China took the opportunity to ink a contract with Russia for natural gas, taking advantage of that country's current geopolitical pariah status to get a good deal. It's also why Chinese energy companies like CNOOC (NYSE:CEO), PetroChina (NYSE:PTR), and China Petroleum & Chemical (NYSE:SNP) have, in recent years, been securing oil and natural gas reserves in Canada and other locals via acquisitions and partnerships. Often paying billions in order to ensure China can get the energy it craves.
Basically, China has been willing to throw cash around. And that's been particularly true in Mexico. Mexican legislator Ruben Camarillo Ortega recently told Shanghai Daily that, "China's 2013 loan to Pemex for $1 billion guarantees China a seat in at Mexico's reform table. The loan, from the China Development Bank and the OCBC, guarantees that China's CNOOC gets a piece of the action in terms of exploration and production." Looks like that loan is about to pay off big time now that Mexico is opening up its oil market to foreigners.
Indeed, now is a great time for China's CNOOC to be looking at locking in new reserves, since oil prices are low and contract terms are likely to be generous -- for China. Perhaps the most notable trend that Mexico will buck, however, is the industrywide drilling pullback. Gustavo Hernandez Garcia, the exploration chief of Pemex, recently told Reuters that Mexico is one of the world's oil hot spots, explaining that, "We definitely need to increase our capacity. We need to increase our jack up capacity to about 70 from 60 during the next couple of years." That's because production has started to decline, and bringing in new partners, like CNOOC, and increasing capacity is the only way to reverse that trend.
That means China's generous support of Mexico in the past will help ensure it gets to support Mexico's drilling in the future, while securing a piece of the oil action for itself. Which is good because demand for oil in China has dwarfed the country's domestic ability to supply the fuel. And with so much domestic demand and the opportunity in Mexico, you should take the time for a deep dive into CNOOC.
The Chinese oil giant has fallen nearly 30% over the last six months, along with the price of oil, but as the Mexican opportunity shows, CNOOC is increasingly important in the global market. The yield is around 5%, and debt made up just 20% or so of the company's capital structure at the end of 2013 (the last available annual report). In other words, you'll be paid well for owning a company supplying a market with still-growing demand. And it not only has the financial strength to survive the current oil price downturn, but the strength and opportunity to invest for the future.
Don't overlook the company's local market competitors, PetroChina and China Petroleum & Chemical, either. All three of these Chinese oil companies will benefit from the same domestic opportunities as CNOOC. It's almost like buying an ExxonMobil 50 years ago (before it was actually ExxonMobil, in fact) or a Chevron. And at bargain prices because oil is sinking.