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Talisman Energy Inc.(NYSE:TLM)

Q1 2009 Earnings Call

April 30, 2009 1:00 pm ET

Executives

John Manzoni – President & Chief Executive Officer

Scott Thomson – Executive Vice-President, Finance & Chief Financial Officer

Paul Blakeley – Executive Vice-President, International Operations (East)

Ronald J. Eckhardt – Executive Vice-President, North American Operations

Paul Smith – Executive Vice-President, International Operations (West)

Richard Herbert – Executive Vice-President, Exploration

Analysts

Mark Polak – Scotia Capital

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Martin Molyneaux – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Talisman Energy Inc. First Quarter Results Conference Call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, following the presentation we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Instructions will be provided at that time for you to queue up for questions. (Operator Instructions)

This call contains forward-looking information. Material factors and assumptions were applied in making the forecast and projections to be discussed in this call. And actual results could differ materially from those anticipated by Talisman and described in the forward-looking information. Please refer to the cautionary advisories in the April 29, 2009 news release and Talisman’s most recent annual information form which contain additional information about applicable risks and assumptions. I would like to remind everyone that this conference call is being recorded on Thursday April 30, at 11 AM Mountain Time. And I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. John Manzoni. Please go ahead.

John A. Manzoni

Ladies and gentlemen welcome and thank you for joining our first quarter conference call. With me in Calgary this morning is the management team, Scott Thomson, Ron Eckhardt, Paul Blakely, Paul Smith, Richard Herbert, Bob Rooney, and Bob Redgate, and they will be ready to answer your questions once we have been through the key points of our results.

We have made a very good start to the year, delivering strong operations and cash flow in the first quarter, as well as paying down debt, working costs down and continuing to implement our strategic agenda. Our net income was $455 million, which was 2% lower than a year ago, but considerably lower than the $1.2 billion we reported in the fourth quarter last year. The fourth quarter result of course included $769 million mark-to-market gains on our hedging program that we booked during that quarter.

Our net income result this quarter includes gains of $519 million from the asset sales we completed during the quarter. Earnings from continuing operations, which strips out both the asset sale gains, and also the unrealized adjustments resulting from the hedging programs we have in place, were $303 million for the quarter, which compares to $429 million a year ago. This underlying result reflects mainly the drop in commodity prices over the period.

There were two other items I want to mention relative to our income for the quarter. The first is the depreciation charge, which you will see as considerably higher than a year ago. A large component of this change is the impact of low oil prices on our reserves base, particularly in the U.K., which we spoke of at our last conference call. There will be some reversal of this trend if prices increase above their level at the end of last year.

And the second impact is the exploration well write-offs which at about $246 million are higher than last year. $128 million of this is in North America, of which quite a large proportion reflects the current low gas prices, which means we have written down a significant number of conventional wells which were on the books at higher prices. The total also includes a part of the original Godwin well in the U.K., despite its finding of what we believe to be commercial hydrocarbons in the sidetrack, and also the original wellbore of the HSD-2X well in Vietnam, where we sidetracked to establish flow in the basement.

Together, these amount to $67 million. And finally, it also includes the TR3 well in Norway which was unsuccessful. Cash flow from operations was strong at $1.3 billion. Capital expenditure was just over $1 billion for the quarter, and we generated free cash flow of $467 million. We have used this to pay down all our bank lines, and reduce debt to a level which now stands at $3.6 billion at quarter end, net of cash.

You will have seen in our press release that we’ve signed an agreement to sell our Trinidad assets for $380 million, and of course during the quarter we announced the sale of our South-East Saskatchewan assets. As you will also have seen, yesterday we announced the sale of a portion of our midstream assets for $300 million. In total, we have now sold approximately $2.5 billion of assets since we announced the program last May, and all at very attractive prices.

We have set out to ensure that we maintain a strong balance sheet and we are in that position. Our projections for this year will ensure we continue to have flexibility to take portfolio actions if the opportunity arises. Our operations performed very well during the quarter with headline production at 450,000 barrels a day. Production from continuing operations was 11% above this time last year. Our U.K. operations in particular had a great quarter, and produced about 108,000 barrels a day over the period.

The team in the U.K. have been working very hard to improve our operational efficiency, and I believe we are now starting to see the results of this hard work. But it wasn’t only the U.K. and in North America we had another great quarter, and in Asia, the gas takes from the Corridor field have been high for some months now. Of course we also brought on the Northern fields oil production this quarter, as well as the Rev field in Norway.

The first quarter exceeded our internal projections for production and gives us a strong start to delivering our production guidance for the year. We are still very early in the year and there are always ups and downs. For example, despite an excellent first quarter in the U.K. earlier this month we had an unscheduled outage on the compressors at Claymore, which are likely to take a few weeks to fix. So, I’m not changing the guidance we provided in January of 430,000 barrels a day with downside no greater than 5%.

As usual, production in the second and third quarters will be lower than the first quarter due to planned maintenance shutdowns. Costs overall have reduced slightly from the last quarter, and we see a continuing downward trend in the marketplace. Our North American business saw some one-off costs associated with the Hallwood relationship during the quarter, but underlying costs are trending down. In the North Sea, underlying costs reduced by about $25 million from the last quarter. We are taking various actions internally to reduce costs and I’m expecting these actions to continue to feed through to underlying costs in future quarters.

Finally, our exploration program. Richard can talk a little more about this if you have questions, but we have seen success in the Godwin well in the U.K., and also in a recent exploration well in Norway, which is preparing to test now. We are very encouraged as well by what we see in the Huron well in Colombia, although it will be a month or two before this well is complete. Let me now pass to Scott to talk to you a little more about our balance sheet position, and our current hedging positions and then we’ll come back to your questions. Scott.

Scott Thomson

Thanks John. I’d like to make some comments about our results and cash flows, our debt and hedging position and finally the progress we’ve made in focusing the portfolio. Despite the challenging macroeconomic environment, our results and cash flows for the period were strong. Earnings from continuing operations, which excludes the after-tax impact of unrealized mark-to-market movements from commodity derivatives, were $303 million in the quarter. Our cash flow from continuing operations during the period of $1.3 billion was 14% higher than the first quarter of 2008. Realized gains from our hedging program mitigated the impact of lower commodity prices.

Our free cash flow in the quarter was $467 million. Net debt declined from $3.9 billion at the year-end to $3.6 billion at March 31 and we enhanced our liquidity position with the issuance of US $200 million in notes under a private placement agreement. We ended the quarter with debt-to-cash flow of 0.6 times and debt-to-debt plus equity of 24%. Since 3Q 2008 we have paid off approximately $700 million of our committed bank lines and now have approximately $3 billion in liquidity. As mentioned on previous calls, we have very limited near term maturities, so we feel good from a balance sheet perspective.

We expect to further enhance our liquidity position during the second quarter by closing the sales of producing assets in Southeast Saskatchewan and Trinidad & Tobago as well as through the sale of a portion of our Midstream assets. These properties have been sold for approximately $1.4 billion and the proceeds will position us well to continue to fund our 2009 capital program and provide the flexibility to pursue additional organic or inorganic growth opportunities in 2009 and 2010 even if commodity prices remain depressed.

Our balance sheet remains strong, and we will continue to be financially prudent in order to maintain that strength. Given Talisman’s financial strength, the Board of Directors yesterday declared a semi-annual dividend of 11 and one-quarter cents per share which represents a 12.5% increase from the previous semi-annual dividend. The annualized cost of this increase amounts to approximately $25 million. Talisman has now increased its dividend for six consecutive years.

Turning to hedging. Our commodity derivative contracts in 2009 and 2010 will continue to protect our cash flow, however, not to the same degree as we saw in the first quarter or the latter half of 2008.

We have protected 76,000 barrels per day or 35% of our remaining estimated 2009 oil production with collars at an average floor of approximately $75 U.S. In 2010 we have 50,000 barrels per day hedged with collars at a floor of approximately $51 U.S. and an average ceiling of approximately $72. For North American gas, we have protected approximately 390 million standard cubic feet per day or approximately 50% of our remaining estimated 2009 North American production at a floor price of approximately $6 AECO. In 2010 we have protected approximately 260 million standard cubic feet per day at prices of approximately $6 AECO as well.

Lastly on the disposition program. Our objective of focusing the portfolio continues. We announced at the beginning of March the sale of our Southeast Saskatchewan assets and, since that time, we have signed an agreement for the sale of assets in Trinidad & Tobago at a price of $380 million and the sale of a portion of our midstream assets for $300 million. The Trinidad assets will be sold to CNOOC and Sinopec for $84,000 per flowing barrel and approximately 10 times 1P reserves and the midstream assets will be sold for approximately 10 times trailing cash flow. Again metrics we are extremely pleased with. We expect all three of these transactions to close in the second quarter of 2009.

Since we introduced our new strategy in May 2008, and including the transactions expected to close in the second quarter of 2009, we have sold assets for approximately $2.5 billion while divesting only 25,000 barrels per day of production. The proceeds received will be helpful in allowing us to continue to accelerate the implementation of our strategy in a fashion that maintains balance sheet strength. We will continue to evaluate additional opportunities to focus the portfolio, however, we will only proceed with additional dispositions if the value received and the strategic rationale makes sense for Talisman.

Those are my highlights. John I’ll turn the call back over to you.

John A. Manzoni

Thank you Scott. Just before your questions ladies and gentlemen, I want to make some general comments about where we are, and how we are positioning ourselves in light of a relatively uncertain commodity price outlook. I believe we may see gas prices depressed certainly through this year, and quite possibly for longer, although the supply-demand fundamentals for oil look a little more constructive. So, we must position ourselves accordingly, and yet be ready to respond at any time if the outlook becomes a little brighter.

As you heard from Scott, we are well positioned in terms of balance sheet and have flexibility in our capital program. All this sets us up to take portfolio actions if the right opportunity arises. We are seeing great progress in our unconventional program and have now drilled four wells in the Marcellus this year, with the latest well producing at a rate of 4.5 million cubic feet a day after 30 days. Everything we see in this operation is encouraging, and we will ramp up our planned activity if commodity prices merit. Our efficiencies are improving all the time, so that we now believe we can complete our planned wells with two or three rigs, not five as we stated earlier.

In the Montney, we have drilled 14 net wells so far this year between our core area and the shale area, and we are seeing very similar improvements in our operations and efficiencies. The recent wells are flowing at a 30 day rate of about 3 million cubic feet a day, and we are drilling them at best-in-class costs. So, we remain optimistic at progress so far in the Shale programs and we can ramp it up at the right time. In Asia, our projects in Malaysia and Vietnam have been coming on stream more or less as planned and as I mentioned, recent gas takes from the corridor field in Indonesia have been high. In Vietnam, we are actively seeking to expand our presence in the Nam Con Son basin to build on the farm-in agreement we made on some offshore blocks there at the end of last year.

So, overall I think we have made a good start to the year. There is as always much to do, but we are optimistic about progress so far. We have positioned ourselves well in terms of financial flexibility, and we are implementing what we said we would do when we outlined our new strategy last May. I think ladies and gentlemen we should now pass to you for any questions you may have.

Question-and-Answer Section

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Your first question today comes from Mark Polak of Scotia Capital. Please go ahead.

Mark Polak – Scotia Capital

Good morning, guys. Question for you with BP relinquishing their interest in a couple of blocks in Vietnam, does that create any opportunities for you or do you see yourselves preferring to stay oil focused in Vietnam given the gas prices there?

John A. Manzoni

Thank you Mark. Maybe I'll ask Paul to offer some comments on our activities in Vietnam.

Paul A. Blakeley

Sure. Thanks John. So, we certainly find the Nam Con Son Basin attractive, we concluded as John commented on a farm-in agreement on a couple of exploration blocks in that basin, it is gas prone basin, but we see strong market growth for gas domestically in Vietnam and so we are pretty keen to see if we can perceive business and grow on that existing farm-in deal. But any further specifics on where or how we might grow, I think it's really too early to say.

Unidentified Company Representative

Comments on prices Paul, the direction of gas pricing in the Vietnam needs market may be.

Paul A. Blakeley

Sure. So, pricing we see moving relatively strongly in the whole of the Asian region particularly on the back of domestic growth in most countries and Vietnam is no exception to that. And with the competition largely being coal for growth in primary energy demand, we think gas is well positioned and certainly the farm-in licenses that we acquired late last year do contain some significant sized un-drilled structures. So, we think that will come together very nicely.

John A. Manzoni

Thank you Paul. Mark I think that answers your question.

Mark Polak – Scotia Capital

That’s great.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Mr. Mark Polak please go ahead.

Mark Polak – Scotia Capital

Thank you. Sorry, just one more if I could, oil prices have recovered somewhat since you pulled the U.K. assets off the block and just wondering if you might reconsider shopping those around again if there would be more interest now and on the flip side of that obviously a lot of cash coming in, from dispositions in Q2 and to be curious any thoughts on timing or areas or what you might be thinking for a potential acquisition?

John A. Manzoni

Mark, let me deal with your question on the U.K. first. I think I said before and we’ve said that our strategic intensity in U.K. hasn't change. Underlying our original positioning of the U.K. was that we can't rely on using such a mature basin to grow a company to the scale of Talisman and so therefore we need to create a sustainable base of production which of course is an awful lot of work and there is a lot of activities and projects and investment goes on to create that sustainable base. But nonetheless we positioned that as a sustainable base in our portfolio. That intent hasn't changed.

We said in May that it would be somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 barrels a day and indeed as we move forward we haven’t made those sales to get it to that level of sustainable base, simply because the market hasn't been there. Our intent hasn't changed and at the right time we will come back to take the actions that will position the U.K. as a sustainable source of cash flow, for the long-term to underpin the company. So, I think that hasn't changed at all. With regard to your second question, which is, do we have any ideas on what we might do in a portfolio sense in terms of acquisition, I think the answer to the question is that whatever we do will be consistent with our strategy, and will act to strengthen the portfolio in those areas of our business, which we look to grow in the medium and the longer term. There is nothing specific on the radar today, but as we’ve said consistently we believe that opportunities probably will arise and there are some opportunities in the market today and we will be assessing those as we go forward to take the actions that we believe to be appropriate at that time.

Mark Polak – Scotia Capital

Okay. Thank you very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from Brian Singer of Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Thank you. Good morning.

John A. Manzoni

Good morning, Brain.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Picking up on your comments at the end on increasing unconventional activity at the right gas price. Could you just give us an update or some more color on the Montney and Marcellus in particular? And where you see the threshold? Where you think it would make sense to increase activity in both place based on the results you’re seeing?

John A. Manzoni

Brian thanks for your question. Let me ask Ron to give you a bit of a general update on a bit more specifically on where we are on the Marcellus and the Montney.

Ronald J. Eckhardt

Good morning, Brian. Ron here. So, the Marcellus program, I’ll will start there, the program is moving along nicely and we are planning on drilling 36 wells this year. We have four on production. We’ve drilled an additional six so far this year, and all the wells that we bring on have been showing increasing improvement. Our last horizontal well for example float at greater than 4.5 million a day for 30 days.

Some of the things that we’ve changed is we are now using a preset rig, a very small and mobile rig to drill the first 5,000 feet of the well, and it drills three wells on the pads and then we move a bigger rig on to finish them off. And that’s really decreased our cycle of times, and decreased cost. And right now our goal has been to get down to $4.3 million per well drilling complete by the end of the year, and we think we’ve actually got a well in the bag now that we’re going to make that target. So, moving forward we are seeing prices coming down, we are driving towards a break-even gas price below $4 and that $4.3 million a well, were there, and we will continue to monitor prices over the course of the year. In the Montney Shale we’ve completed our first horizontal well and it flowed at a little over 4.1 million a day on its initial test. And I should note that it only flowed from 5 fracs, we didn’t get as many fracs into the well, because of some operational problem. So, the flow rate is really quite good given how many we placed. We also flowed a vertical well in over 3 million a day, which we talked about earlier in the year. And we’re planning on drilling 14 gross wells in the Montney Shale in different parts of the area to proven the play up by the end of the year. We currently have three rigs running in the ground bridge area. And so for the Montney area I’ll say we still have more work to do before we ramp that program up and understanding the rocks. In the Marcellus it’s all about corporate free cash flow, free cash and our view of longer term pricing on when we ramp this program up. But I'm confident in saying that we are ready to wrap it up when the time comes.

John A. Manzoni

So, thanks Ron. And Brian maybe just to add some color to the last part of your question as Ron lobbed it back to me. The choice is that what we do with available cash flow range from inorganic acquisition to organic ramp up of capital spend on developing the land that we do have or indeed organic purchase of additional lands in the areas that we now already work. All of those remain choices for us.

And although it would be nice to say today that we’ve a sort of deterministic outcome as to where we want to put that. I actually believe that there is probably merit and certainly merit and it's our own start to retain a level of flexibility in that in what is a relatively uncertain commodity price outlook. And I think that we’ll be making those decisions over the course of the next 12 months and they will be relatively dynamic decisions depending upon an evolving view of when we see the bottom of the gas market, how we think that that market will develop and so I’m sort of resisting frankly giving a deterministic outcome with regard to the choices that we make with our cash flow. For those reasons, I hope that gets at your question.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

It does. Thank you and if can just ask one quick other question. Could you give us a performance update on Tweedsmuir please?

John A. Manzoni

I'm looking at Paul Smith who will be happy to give you a performance update on Tweedsmuir.

Paul Smith

Hi, Brian. Yes, Tweedsmuir is fully online now. At the beginning of the second quarter, we brought the water injection plan online, that's now fully commissioned and we’re at full capacity in production from Tweedsmuir.

John A. Manzoni

Paul Smith

Just under 30 a day.

John A. Manzoni

30,000 barrels a day, Brain.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Great, thanks.

John A. Manzoni

Okay.

Operator

Your next question comes from Gil Yang of Citigroup. Please go ahead.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Good morning. John, could you comment on what the strong sales in Indonesia where a result of for the quarter of gas.

John A. Manzoni

Sure Gil. Let me ask Paul to make a comment on what's going on there.

Paul Blakely

Yeah. Good morning Gil. Essentially the strong gas production growth in Indonesia is almost entirely into the West Java pipeline and essentially that is providing gas to a very large power station just outside Jakarta which has and continues to convert completely to gas fire. So, it’s been a very reliable take of gas and we hope that will continue.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

So, I was under the impression that was a conversion of several power plants, but it’s really conversion of one power plant to gas?

Paul Blakely

It’s a large power station, which has 13 units, which are over the course of this year all being converted.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

You said 13, one three?

Paul Blakely

Yes. That’s right.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

And I’m sorry. So, how many units are there total and how many have been converted?

Paul Blakely

Gil, currently seven have been converted to gas fire and the others are in the process over the period of the next eight to nine months.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. So, there is 20 total units and then that plant is done?

Paul Blakely

No. 13 units in total of which seven have now been converted.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Oh, okay. Okay. And so it will be done by the end of the year. When did those conversions start?

Paul Blakely

I think they commenced 3Q last year. I can't be absolutely precise on that Gil.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. And once those are converted, will be the source of growth beyond GDP growth?

Paul Blakely

Singapore. Yeah, I mean there are continued sales into other markets through the West Java line. So, there are other small industrials that are being targeted by the aggregator PGN, and we expect ramp up into Singapore overtime and also into Caltex in Teguri. All of the three export lines from corridor have growth potential that we’ve identified as new markets and increased demand from existing markets.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. But, would it be a fair estimate that the most rapid ramp up is into the Indonesian power plant and the other growth is a little bit more moderate?

Paul Blakely

I don’t know that I would say that, but certainly over the short-term, the growth of last three months and anticipated rest of the year will almost certainly be largely as a result of that power plant conversion.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. Coming back to North America, for the Montney test horizontal well, how many fracs were targeted ideally or how many would you aim to do versus the five fracs you got off in that one well?

Unidentified Company Representative

Ron?

Ronald J. Eckhardt

Yeah, that was a 1000 meter well and we are planning on putting a fracs in it and during the fracing process we had a restriction in the casing when we were tripping into do one more frac and we’re not sure of why that happened yet, but we thought rather than risk losing the 5 fracs that we already placed we went ahead and tested them and didn’t place the remaining three.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. Do you have a view on for that 4.1 million per day test, was that a 30-day test?

Ronald J. Eckhardt

No, it isn’t a 30-day test. That well isn’t tied in. So, it was less than that, but it was a substantial test around 20 days.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. And do you have a view on what the EUR would be over that well?

Ronald J. Eckhardt

Too early to tell that. Way too early to tell, but I will say it was slightly above what we were expecting.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. And could you make the same comment for the Marcellus well, the one that flowed at greater than 4.5 million, so what the EUR of that would be?

Ronald J. Eckhardt

Well, still early to tell, but it’s well above our type curve and we think it's north of three, but again too early to tell, but certainly on the right side of the that number by a good margin.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. So, if the 4.5 million figure type curve will be sort of 3ish?

Ronald J. Eckhardt

You are saying 3 bcf for 4.5.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Yeah, 3 bcf.

Ronald J. Eckhardt

I think it could be north of that.

Gil Yang – Citigroup

Okay. Thank you.

Unknown Company Representative

I think that was the last 20 questions, Gil.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question today comes from Martin Molyneaux of FirstEnergy Capital Corp. Please go ahead.

Martin Molyneaux – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

Gentlemen could you update us in where you are out with here on one well in Columbia. Like how far are we from TD and is this an eminent TD or are we at the back end of the second quarter for this?

John A. Manzoni

Thank you Martin. Let me ask Richard Herbert to talk to the here on well. Richard?

Richard Herbert

Yeah. Martin. So, just an update on where we are with the well. We’re currently drilling at just over 17500 feet in depth. The plan TD was about 18,000, well may go a bit deeper than that, but we’re within 500 to 600 feet of the TD. So, we are getting quite close.

Martin Molyneaux – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

Is the primary objective where the lower zone or whether upper zones that were kind of secondary objectives.

Richard Herbert

There is quite a number of zones in the well. We got some encouragement both in the sort of primary zone pile up and also the recent drilling, which we haven’t yet logged. I think our preference is to get the well down to TD and get it locked and testing completed before we announce any results.

Martin Molyneaux – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

Good. Fair enough. And could you kind of go through the same update on the Peruvian]well?

Unknown Company Representative

Yeah. Peruvian well operations continue there, Situche Central-3X. I think in the last report we’ve had some drilling problems leading to a very troublesome shales that exist. We are now through that and we’re currently about 3,500 feet above the main target, which is to approach the reservoir [percent] in the original exploration well. So, we expect to be down there during this quarter.

Martin Molyneaux – FirstEnergy Capital Corp.

Excellent. Thank you very much.

John A. Manzoni

Thank you, Martin.

Operator

Mr. Manzoni, there are no further questions at this time. Please continue.

John A. Manzoni

Ladies and gentlemen, I think if you have no further questions, thank you for listening and taking the trouble to listen to our conference call. We will go back to work, as will you, and we look forward to updating you again in a quarter’s time. Thanks very much, and with that we’ll say goodbye.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the conference call for today. Thank you for you participation. You may now disconnect your line.

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Source: Talisman Energy Inc. Q1 2009 Earnings Call Transcript
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