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Cobalt International Energy, Inc. (NYSE:CIE)

Q3 2011 Earnings Call

November 1, 2011 11:00 a.m. ET

Executives

Joseph Bryant – Chairman, Chief Executive Officer

John Wilkirson – Chief Financial Officer

Van Whitfield – Chief Operating Officer

Analysts

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Jeb Bachmann – Howard Weil

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Operators

Operator

Good day everyone and welcome to Cobalt International Energy’s Third Quarter 2011 Conference Call. Just a reminder, today’s call is being recorded. Before we get started, one housekeeping matter.

This conference call includes forward-looking statements, the risks associated with forward-looking statements have been outlined in the earnings release and in Cobalt’s SEC filings and we incorporate these by reference for this call.

At this time for opening remarks and introduction, I would like to turn the call over to the Chairman and CEO of Cobalt, Mr. Joe Bryant. Please go ahead, sir.

Joseph Bryant

Good morning and thank you for joining us on Cobalt’s third quarter 2011 earnings and operational update call. I’m joined on today’s call by John Wilkirson, our Chief Financial Officer and Van Whitfield, who as we recently announced now holds the position of Chief Operating Officer.

I would like to make a few brief comments before I turn the call over to John for a review of our financial results. First, I’m pleased to be able to report that as of last week for the first time in our history, Cobalt is actively participating in drilling wells in both the deep water offshore Angola and in deepwater Gulf of Mexico. These two wells, the Cameia #1 in Angola and Heidelberg #2 in the Gulf of Mexico are literally the leading edge of what we believe will be a continuous drilling program focused on some of the world’s most significant oil prospects.

With Cobalt’s material position in each of our highly perspective basins, I’m confident that we will create significant value as we execute our drilling plans. Much has been achieved over the last quarter. We prioritized our results in three principal areas. One, commencing the drilling of our pre-salt exploration drilling program in Angola with Bicuar and Cameia exploration wells. Two, continuing our tactical evaluation of additional pre-salt prospectivity on blocks 9 and 21 in Angola and Diaba in Gabon.

We also obtained partner in Sonangol agreement to initiate a large 3D seismic acquisition and processing program on block 20 in Angola. And three, ensuring Cobalt’s operational readiness and full compliance of all the rules and regulations incorporation for the return of the ENSCO 8503 drilling rig to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m happy to report positive results in all three of these areas. On August 29, we commenced drilling the Cameia number one pre-salt exploration well on Block 21 offshore Angola. Drilling operations have gone as expected thus far. Geologically, the well has progressed consistent with our pre-drilling prognosis. We are some 60 days into and we anticipate 80 to 100 day drilling program to reach total depth.

However, the Ocean Confidence drilling rig has experienced approximately two weeks to three weeks of rig downtime due to mechanical issues. We believe these rig issues are essentially behind us and therefore we expect to reach total depth sometime in the next month or so depending upon the actual drilling penetration rate. So, I don’t have any more information that I can share with you today on Cameia but we do expect to announce results in December.

Once we complete our drilling and evaluation operations on the Cameia #1 well, we will commence drilling operations on the Bicuar #1 well to test the Bicuar pre-salt prospect from a surface location different from the one that experienced the shallow water flow last summer.

We anticipate this well to take 80 days to 100 days to drill and an additional 10 to 20 days to evaluate if it's successful. Following the Bicuar #1 well, our plans are to return to Cameia for a pre-salt drilling operations if Cameia number one is successful.

With regard to Block 20 in Angola, we are waiting confirmation from Sonangol as to when we will execute the Production Sharing Agreement. As you know, we have been designated as the operator of Block 20 and we own 40% interest in the Block. As I’ve stated previously, the agreement has been fully negotiated with Sonangol and we remain confident that this agreement will close in the near future.

As I mentioned in anticipating the execution of Block 20 PSA, Cobalt and our partners have executed an agreement with our seismic contractor to acquire and process approximately 4,200 square kilometers of 3D seismic data on Block 20. This data acquisition, which was initiated last week, will allow us to remain on schedule to drill the much anticipated loss of prospect in Block 20, as planned.

In Block 9, we expect to drill – we expect to complete our 3D seismic processing effort in the first quarter of next year, which is approximately two months ahead of schedule. But most significantly, the data quality is exceeding our pre-acquisition expectations. We will begin prospect maturation and well planning next year and we are currently targeting drilling the first pre-salt exploration well in Block 9 by the end of next year.

In order to carry out our multi-year Angola drilling program for Blocks 9, 20, and 21, Cobalt well initiate rig tenders to drilling contractors by the end of this year. In addition, we are tendering for a long-lead items for this exploration drilling program.

With regard to the Diaba Block in Gabon, the final processing of the 6000 square kilometer 3D seismic acquisition is on track for completion this quarter. Total, as operator, intends to initiate tenders for a drilling rig zone with a target that spuds the first Diaba exploratory pre-salt well by year-end 2012.

We are well positioned in West Africa with a series of catalytic events as we expose the resource potential of our pre-salt portfolio through the exploration drill bit. As we experience success, we are prepared to implement our appraisal operations to move these assets to production.

I would now like to move to Gulf of Mexico, and the good news is that we are back to work in the Gulf of Mexico. Anadarko, the operator of our 2009 Heidelberg discovery commenced drilling the Heidelberg #2R appraisal well last week. We look forward to broadening our understanding of the extent of the Heidelberg structure. We anticipate the return of the ENSCO 8503 drilling rig, which as you know has been drilling a well for Tullow in French Guiana under a sub agreement.

Tullow has informed us that they expect to release the rig in mid November. And if so the rig would arrive in the Gulf of Mexico in mid December, at which time we will obtain the Coast Guard Certificate of Compliance for the ENSCO 8503.

Once we submit the Coast Guard Certificate of Compliance for the 8503, our APDs for Ligurian #2 and North Platte #1 will be approved. We will then commence the drilling of the Ligurian #2 well followed by the North Platte #1 well. We project that each of these wells will take approximately six months to drill and evaluate.

In addition, we have completed the well planning process for our next two exploration wells, which will test our Ardennes and Aegean prospects. We will submit our Aegean exploration plan to the BOEM this week and plan to submit our Ardennes exploration plan before the end of the year.

In September, we announced that Van Whitfield has been promoted to the new position of Cobalt’s Chief Operating Officer. At that time, we initiated a reorganization of the company to drive increased accountability, capital efficiency, and capability to further ensure the execution of our business plan. For your information, we’ve also named Rich Smith for the position of Vice President, Investor Relations and Planning. I encourage you to contact Rich with your investor relations questions.

I will now turn the call over to John for a few words on our financial results. John?

John Wilkirson

Thanks, Joe. As reported in this morning’s release for the third quarter 2011 Cobalt’s net loss was $47 million or $0.12 per basic and diluted share. The net loss includes drilling related impairments of $21 million associated with the shallow water flow expense in initial deepwater location in offshore Angola and $8 million that remained for the Criollo #1 well drilled in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. While we continue to view the Criollo area positively due to its proximately proximity to the Tahiti platform accounting practices drove the need to write off the remaining cost for the exploration well during this quarter.

Our cash expenditures excluding working capital changes for the quarter were $16 million compared to the first half of 2011 the higher cash expenditures in the third quarter resulted from our Angolan pre-salt exploration drilling program. The quarter’s cash expenditures are consistent with the range provided on our last call.

Our balance sheet remained strong with over $1.6 billion of the cash, cash equivalents or investments. In addition and not reported on our balance sheet our drilling promote funds for our Gulf of Mexico program with Total of just under $200 million.

At the end of September, we had just under $1.3 billion of unrestricted cash and investments, plus an additional $340 million of cash and investments designated for future operations held in escrow and collateralized letters of credit. We continue to have no debt.

For the full year, our updated cash expenditure forecast, excluding working capital changes, is $170 million to $190 million, implying $77 million to $97 million for the fourth quarter. As Joe mentioned, significant activities anticipated in the fourth quarter include continued pre-salt drilling in Block 21, spudding of the Heidelberg appraisal well, initiation of the Block 20 seismic acquisition, and retirement (ph) of the 85, intro (ph) 85 of three joint rig to the Gulf of Mexico. The range of cash expenditures forecast depends principally on when we commence cobalt-operated Gulf of Mexico drilling activities in certain year-end items.

The forecast excludes the Angola Block 21st year social bonus contribution. We plan to release the detail of our multi-year social bonus obligations upon signing the Block 20 PSA.

After the holidays, we will provide guidance on our 2012 cash expenditure expectations. Next year’s cash expenditures will be higher than 2011 as we expect a full year of Cobalt-operated drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, plus partner operated drilling in both the Gulf of Mexico and Gabon.

We also just completed the renewal of our Gulf of Mexico interim to program and effective today we have $1 billion of coverage including $500 million of operator’s extra expense and $450 million of general and excess liability. We decided to increase our general and excess liability from our previous $300 million coverage level. While the cost of our renewals are slightly higher than the pre-Macondo vintage policies that we had in effect, our insurance cost continued to not materially affect our prospector of development economics. The new policies will be effective until November of 2012.

I will now turn the call back to Joe.

Joseph Bryant

Thanks John for those opening comments. John, Van and I now look forward to taking any questions that you may have. Operator?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. We’ll now be conducting the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Thank you. Our first question is from the line of Evan Calio with Morgan Stanley. Please state your question.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Good morning guys. How are you John.

John Wilkirson

Good morning Evan.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

I have a question on Angola, I mean you talked about the mechanical rig issues, and a notion of confidence. I mean do you expect to TD the well in early December? I mean I guess I’m trying to see how close we are to year end with the – we get past the 10 to 20 days additional for testing?

Van Whitfield

Yeah, good question. I honestly believe we’ll get to TD here in November.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Okay.

Van Whitfield

But I can’t guarantee that. And we’ll take as long as it takes to test, so I can expect something between now and the end of the year, but that’s, as I said, that’s my best guess.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Will you press release the TD?

Van Whitfield

I doubt. We’ll press release the TD. I’m sure we’ll get you as much information as we can as quickly as we can but I can’t describe exactly what that will be or where it will be.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Perfect. And then after Cameia you return to Bicuar same rig, just to confirm the third slot back to Cameia there is – the first shot at Bicuar when you hit the shallow water hazard that does not count as a slot of the rig, so you are pretty confident you have two more slots after this rig, after the first Cameia well?

Van Whitfield

Evan, this is Van Whitfield. Yeah, we are very confident that we’ve got two more slots and so we want to use the first one to get back to Bicuar and make sure that we have the opportunity to test that structure and then that gives us flexibility to proceed with – hopefully the appraisal on Cameia or even Bicuar. So those two slots are (inaudible).

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Perfect. And have you prepared another prospective if the rig doesn’t return to Cameia on that first slot?

Van Whitfield

No, I would say we are either going to use that third Cobalt slot for something ambiguous or something unfamiliar, but we certainly wouldn’t anticipate a general prospect being gullible at the time.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Okay, great. I’ll leave it at that and let somebody else (inaudible). Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from the line of Brian Singer at Goldman Sachs. Please state your question.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Thank you Brian. Good morning. You made some comments in your opening remarks on Criollo, can you just add a little bit more color on the kind of the Italian discrepancy relative to your plans or the potential for a tie-in and kind of what the next – what the chronology of people’s reaction to that.

John Wilkirson

Bryan this is John. As I mentioned the Criollo well sort of last year we continued to deal with Criollo as a potential opportunity. At this point we are involved in the activity that we are pursuing, we are required by accounting practice to write off the remaining cost to the well board including the (inaudible) potentially add confusion in utilization that we are going to comply with the accounting requirements.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Okay, thanks. And then, you may have mentioned this in your comments. But on Gabon can you talk about a bit more color on the plans for next year. Is the first well putting at your end or were there other activities on CapEx throughout the year?

Joseph Bryant

This is Joe again, I think what I would say right now we are wrapping up the processing on that 3D seismic. We have already been in conversations with Total about some preliminary tests on drilling locations. I think that both the Cobalt and Total seems will have those locations fairly defined sometime in the first quarter. My expectation is Total may be tendering the rig away this quarter or early next quarter and I think best case we would be looking at sometime early in the second half of next year, just about a (inaudible) in Gabon but certainly in the second half of next year.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Thanks. And I guess in some ideal situation if you had to choose between a spud in Gabon and a spud in Angola based on your kind of optimism reservoir wise and rate of return wise, do you have a preference.

Joseph Bryant

I can't imagine us having to choose between the two. But both have unique characteristics that are very attractive to us. As we talked many times Gabon has a bit different reservoir characteristics than what we would expect in Angola and has lower more working interest but it is better financial centers. The other side of the coin is in Angola where we have a very large high working interest operating portfolio with marginally less attractive terms. So, our strategy all along has been to diversify the portfolio in West Africa and drill wells in both places.

Brian Singer – Goldman Sachs

Great, thank you.

Operator

Our next question is coming from the line of David Heikkinen with Tudor Pickering Holt. Please state your question.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Good morning guys. Thinking about the Gulf of Mexico Program, how many outside operated wells would you anticipate participated in for the remainder of this year and next year?

Joseph Bryant

For this year of course we are talking about Heidelberg and next year Heidelberg will carry over to the end of the year. We anticipate probably two to three new spuds next year for outside operated activity.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Okay. And then on Heidelberg if you think about this appraisal well, will this be enough to think about sanctioning a development or there will be additional appraisal drilling that would be needed.

Van Whitfield

This is Van Whitfield, I would be very hesitant to speak for the operator out here for Anadarko. I think that will be a decision that they will have to make. But I can assure you that we will be working very closely with them to evaluate the results, and if we can give to the point that it could be move forward as commercial we will be working with the operator to make sure that happens as soon as possible.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Have you put together any preliminary thoughts on development plan or is it way too early for that?

Van Whitfield

No, I think even as an outside operated, but because of the proximity of the Ligurian for several months or maybe cultured as several years we have developed some preliminary development plans for all of our prospects and had them moved in place with some fairly sensitive ideas on how we could go forward to move on to production sooner rather than later. So it's available for this as well as some unplanned prospects.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Can you share those kind of how you think about cost and development in overall scheme at this point, is there any update?

Van Whitfield

Well, now I’m a little hesitant to do that on the basis that the options we look at would be tied to whether or not there is excess capacity on some of the nearby structures or facilities like Heidelberg or Ligurian versus standalone, but I think it’s appropriate to say that we have looked at the different varieties and, you know, what I will share with you I think you can feel fairly confident that it would be (inaudible) development and we will let utilize whatever facilities we can to sum away production.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Okay. And then you talked about CapEx post the holidays as you think about the outside budgeting process for your partners. Do you get a good indication of what their proposals will be at that point in time, how did that come in because you said that that’s pretty good idea of your operated programs. Is that at the timing of CapEx details?

John Wilkirson

This is John again. We do get information from time to time from the operators of the partner property on what they anticipate the timing and cost of the operations verbatim, but yes that will factor into our 2012 estimates when we would release those.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Okay, then I guess the (inaudible) from coast guard certification of compliance, is there anything that would cause you to think the 8503 wouldn’t get compliance and there would be any delays on APB post compliance or worse.

Van Whitfield

This Van Whitfield again, no, we are very confident that the fact that it’s the fourth of a series and the other three rigs are working in the Gulf we would be extremely surprised if it was to get back into gulf and we couldn’t get that certificate of compliance.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Okay. And the Block 20 awaiting confirmation from Sonangol, as those things have taken a while are you now expecting to put that capital into year 2011 program, does that mean that the PSA should be executed after year-end or is that the wrong way or would you just have an additive to your overall fourth quarter CapEx?

Van Whitfield

I would say at this – I don’t it’s – I don’t know for sure whether it will be executed this year or not. We are certainly hearing rumblings that they would like to get it done this year, but I think more importantly as John alluded to that if we – the structure of the agreement is such that if we close Block 20 in December that the proceeds won’t move until the month following which would be next year. So that’s why John structured his comments the way they did. I'm not certain that we are going to get it done this year if we don’t then it will be done right after the first of the year. I think there is a possibility we can get it done before the end of the year, but I think the real important thing is that we are acquiring seismic map and we are keeping the well on track for a 20-13 split.

David Heikkinen – Tudor Pickering Holt

Okay, thanks guys.

Operator

Our next question is coming from the line of Jeb Bachmann of Howard Weil. Please state your question.

Jeb Bachmann – Howard Weil

Good morning guys. Joe, I just had a quick question to you. Just looking at the Total lines in the Gulf of Mexico I'm wondering if there has been any change in their body language regarding that activity and how committed they are to that program going forward at this point?

Joseph Bryant

Well, I can only speak from what it looks like on my side. We have a lot of conversations with them. They are literally working here every day. I think they like us are very disappointed with what we have accomplished in the last 18 months due to circumstances outside of our control On the plus side though it's given us a chance to look at all of the prospectivity in the portfolio and we are more convinced than ever that there is incredible potential in these assets and certainly the body language and certainly actually the verbiage that we get from Total. So I don’t get any concern whatsoever voiced by Total other than the same disappointment we have that – due to the circumstances outside of our control. In the 18 months we have been to (inaudible).

Jeb Bachmann – Howard Weil

Okay, great, thanks for the color.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) The next question is from the line of Ed Westlake with Credit Suisse. Please state your question.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Yeah, good morning everyone. A lot of questions already, thanks for your answers. Just on the acreage expiry. Just in terms of sort of commitments perhaps in the Angola blocks and Gabon would be interesting. And then obviously in the Gulf of Mexico it will be more complicated by the issues you just mentioned, but maybe due to any issues that – do you have a longer expiry window than it appears in the Gulf.

Joseph Bryant

First of all there is zero concerns in West Africa with respect to expiry either in Angola or in Gabon, there is just not any issues there at all. In the Gulf of Mexico, again, you’ve seen in our presentation that expiry wasn’t an issue for us really to begin with. The government I think announced yesterday the U.S. government announced yesterday that they had extended several leases because of the moratorium for us that about 57 of our lease has actually – were extended a year. We don’t face really any expiry at all that’s significant or bothersome until 2013 and then it’s relatively insignificant, but a vast majority of our portfolio is still standing after 2015. So expiry in the Gulf of Mexico is not an issue for us right now at all.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

And then just a follow on your several concerns in West Africa that’s because you structured in contracts with three, four, five years of exploratory phase.

Joseph Bryant

Yeah, I mean just the nature of contract, there are really three different kinds of contracts in Blocks 9 and 21, those are risk services agreements. In Block 20 that’s going to be a production sharing agreement in Angola and in Gabon, so production sharing agreement as well. And they all provide ample opportunity to drill the wells that we have committed to and are the wells that John refer to as being prefunded in our leverage of credit. So, the way it work is we have significant time to get those wells drilled and then we have the option for an extended exploration for these if we so desire, which if you add all that together we are at probably six or seven years.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

And then following a question on reserve base lending, a lot of the French banks were involved in that and that market appears to be declining. Obviously that could be a source of funding for the Heidelberg given that that could sanctioned at some point. Any comments you would like to make on that sort of how the market looks?

John Wilkirson

We are not in that part of the market at this point.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

So no discussions at the moment, so No…

John Wilkirson

With guidance (inaudible) I’m intelligence of what's going on because we haven’t been there talking to anybody at this point about those particular types of products.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

All right, okay, that’s very good.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from the line of (inaudible) with RBC Capital Market. Please state your question.

Unidentified Analyst

Yes, good morning guys. It’s a simple question really about how much we should expect from an appraisal well in Angola in terms of, would it effectively be a redrill of a discovery well with a lot more coring, or would it be some sort of bold step out, we could learn a lot more about the discovery.

Joseph Bryant

We had a lot of internal conversation on that and while some of that decision will be based on what we find in Cameia 1, I think our bias today would be what you described as a bold step out and prove as much of the structure as we can.

Unidentified Analyst

Right, and then just to make it a simple calc, I mean from the images you got on the seismic today can you see where what sickness is still pointing to, do you have an idea whether you will encounter the old water contact or anything like that. Do you have that clarity of image?

Joseph Bryant

Well, we can certainly see what we call as Target Reservoir Body. But, what we can't be of course is in the core space within those or whether or not the four space is full of oil, gas, or water, we think it’s oil that’s why we are drilling the well. So those are great questions. Once we actually finish up on Cameia here and we are able to tie what we see from a well are to our seismic interpretations that we’ve got now and it will make some determination as far as what – how to interpret what we are seeing seismically on – at the end of (inaudible).

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Good thing you must have some sort of minimum commercial size, that if you encounter the award to contact then you know that it’s got a smaller than X, and so in terms of if we see later on that in early December should we be concerned or would drop in line with expectation.

Joseph Bryant

Well, with the way we think about it is probably this way. We have done work on minimum commercial size and that’s in the range of say 150 million barrels or so, and then we’ve got a maximum case which is the several billion barrels. Yet the whole thing is followed to spill. So, somewhere in there is the success case that will peak our interest and until we drill this well, you know, I'm just not going to speculate where we are in that continuum.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from the line of Elliot Dabenwatti (ph) with Capital One. Please state your question.

Unidentified Analyst

Hey good morning guys. Thank you for taking my call. Just wanted to see how closely you guys has may be following Total oil discovery out there in French Guiana partnered with Shell, how you followed that and also are those results encouraging to you in a sense because of the geology that you are saying (inaudible) I would like to know intelligence you guys have there or how close you follow that?

Joseph Bryant

Well, I will answer the question pretty specifically. One is, of course they have our rig and while we have some Cobalt’s company people on the rig we are not pretty whatsoever to any of the companies, and well information, that they have some. What we know is how well the rig is operating and where you feel really good about that. But beyond that we know what you know about the well and that’s actually the case. What that play means to us in West Africa is immaterial because it’s a completely different kind of place and what we are chasing in West Africa I think it's probably more akin to the Guinean type discoveries as I have appreciated, but it would not be related whatsoever to the pre-sold work that we are joining further down the coast in West Africa.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Great, I will appreciate that answer, thank you.

Operator

Thank you. There are no further questions at this time. I would now like to turn the floor back to management for closing comments.

Joseph Bryant

Great. Thank you very much. As I said earlier we have achieved a lot in the quarter. As we near the end of 2011 we look forward to the successful results of our Cameia pre-sold well and we look forward to drilling the bigger well here in this quarter and we do hope that we can close our Block 20 in the near term, and we are certainly excited about the fact that we’ve gotten our seismic division program kicked off. Were you excited that we restarted our Gulf of Mexico partner operated drilling program and we are hopeful that we will get our company operated Gulf of Mexico drilling program take off in this quarter as well.

We talk a lot about our balance sheet, the balance sheet is still incredibly robust, we intend to keep it that way or confident that it has a liquidity that we need to get all of these prospects drilled both of the Gulf of Mexico and in West Africa. So, again, I would like to thank all of you for your interest and confidence in Cobalt and I would certainly ask that if you have any follow-up questions don’t hesitate to get in touch with any of us, Rich, John, or myself. Thank you all very much and have a good day.

Operator

This concludes the teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation.

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