What a busy start to the New Year it has been, so much so that my attempts to blog have been thwarted by a desire to see my wife for a little more than a handful of waking hours during the week.
With so much having happened, we thought it worthwhile taking a little review of January in the world of energy.
To The Moon
First off we had President Obama’s ‘Sputnik moment’ . His suggestion that America needed to seize the moment and take the lead in the technological race for dominance in renewable energy and sustainable technologies. His state of the union address was widely regarded as being well delivered, though his policies and narrative have been called into question. Ultimately though I’m not sure the Sputnik analogy is an accurate one. Sure there is a long way to go for renewable energy technologies to become competitive with traditional sources, but in many ways the technology is available, it is the infrastructure and subsidy that needs to be set in order for renewables to ‘take off’. China moved ahead of the U.S. by adding a larger installed based during 2010 than anywhere else, by providing long term policies. The control economy will provide the sort of certainty that investors in the U.S. sadly lack, particularly as Congress missed the opportunity to provide long-term certainty and rolled over subsidy levels for just one year.
It was the Chinese and other ‘BRIC’ based investors who took the lions share of deal-making since the start of the year. Of course there was the BP Rosneft tie-up, though more on that later. As well we saw Petrochina take a stake in the Grangemouth assets of Ineos and Sinopec looks to extend its relationship with Repsol YPF in Brazil and CNOOC increase its interests in U.S. shale gas assets. 2011 is almost certain to witness a surge in merger and acquisition activity as the war chests are further swollen by rising oil prices and if the start of the year is anything to go by the BRIC players will be at the deal table as much as the traditional majors. The 3rd of February marks the start of the Chinese new year – the year of the rabbit – which if the year bears any resemblance to the well-known attributes of our furry friends could bode well for the M&A advisory community.
So far at least it appears to be an excellent first quarter for many of the oil majors despite BP’s first loss in 20 years. Although the FT’s Lex column was quick to criticise the lack of ‘creativity’ shown by the majors is addressing the longer term threats to their business model simply summarised as declining reserves.
It was this threat that was well in evidence in the results of PFC Energy’s annual Top 50 energy company ‘league table’, which was perhaps notable most for the state owned companies not on the list. This list is compiled based upon market capitalisation of listed organisations, but the many NOCs missed off the list are the power brokers of the industry and it seems somewhat incomplete without them.
The Tip of the Iceberg
This is especially true in light of BP’s recently inked deal with Rosneft. Of course the AAR consortium will do all it can to ensure that this deal never sees the light of dayas it seeks to protect its investment in TNK-BP, however, assuming this does go through this will provide an example of one of the more creative ways that IOCs will be directing their strategies in moving forward (remembering my earlier reference to Lex). Unfortunately though this sort of investment represents a communications challenge on the same sort of scale as the Gulf of Mexico spill that BP struggled through last year. Exploring the Russian arctic is certain to redraw battle lines with environmental activists and a wide range of stakeholders that believe this represents an unacceptable risk. I saw Bruce Parry’s programme last night about the impact of the Alberta Oil Sands on the lives indigenous people of that region. I expect there to be many similar programmes in the future and BP will no doubt be making preparations for reputational fallout, or so we hope.
BP also took the limelight with its recent release of its 20 year outlook , an annual event, which has been closely watched by the industry for years. The results as you may expect are not wholly surprising, but I did find Bob Dudley’s frank response to projections on the reduction of carbon emissions refreshing. “Overall, for me personally, it is a wake-up call”, is how he referred to the less optimistic view of political commitment to reducing emissions. What this means for BP’s policies remains to be seen.
In light of the EU carbon trading debacle and the reported €30 million plus theft that is alleged to have taken place, BP’s pessimistic projections are looking fairly accurate. The system for trading credits remains down, with no immediate end in sight. For a trading platform to work traders need liquidity and trust. Both have been killed off and will take a long time and a lot of cost to rebuild. Industry calls to speed up the process of creating a single platform for Europe have so far not generated any concessions. Based on the performance of the UK trading platform, which appears to have far better standards of governance and compliance than some of its European peers, London may prove a popular home for the EU system.
Pumped Up Prices
The retail sector in the UK has also been the subject of many headlines since the start of the year as prices at the fuel pump and retail electricity and gas prices have also risen. It will be interesting to see whether an OFGEM price review will yield any results (unlike previous inquiries) and if the Chancellor will capitulate and halt plans to raise fuel duty. The Coalition government has since Q4 GDP figures were released (and to some extent beforehand) been challenged to unveil plans to support economic growth and this duty may well have to be conceded if there are no specific policies in the pipeline.
Finally would like to sign off this post by wishing that our friends, colleagues and clients in Egypt stay safe in these troubled times.