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  • Sam Wahab: Coal And Natural Gas Stocks That Could Profit In A Topsy-Turvy Global Market

    Source: Peter Byrne of The Energy Report (1/10/13)

    http://www.theenergyreport.com/pub/na/14912

    Sam Wahab From the coal beds of Indonesia to oil and gas fields throughout Europe, Sam Wahab of the London-based investment firm Seymour Pierce is a master at spotting investment opportunities in the topsy-turvy world of fluctuating energy prices. In this interview with The Energy Report, he deftly defines the structural problems affecting gas and coal markets, while identifying some plays that demonstrate the savvy to come out on top.

    The Energy Report: Sam, with natural gas production stalling in North America, where can investors find good deals in the junior exploration space?

    Sam Wahab: Gas exploration in the U.S., especially of the unconventional type, has resulted in diminishing Henry Hub spot prices. Nevertheless, gas exploration on a global scale remains strong. The key reason is that gas prices in Europe and Asia are underpinned by robust consumer demand and the need for energy security.

    A clear example is in Central and Eastern Europe, where Gazprom (OGZD:LSE; GAZ:FSE; GAZP:MCX; GAZP:RTS; OGZPY:OTC) has a strong monopoly on gas supply despite a plethora of untapped resources. Many of the governments in these countries (Poland, Romania, Ukraine, etc.) are now incentivizing junior domestic players through undemanding fiscal terms to prove up these resources to secure energy self-sufficiency. In return, these junior companies enjoy gas prices far in excess of the Henry Hub, which is about $3 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf).

    The Romanian gas market is slated to deregulate its gas prices next year. That should bring it inside the European average of $8-13/Mcf. We have a Buy recommendation on Hawkley Oil & Gas Ltd. (HOG:ASX), an Australia-listed company that owns and operates Ukrainian assets. It was getting $11.80/Mcf, which is a fourfold multiple to the Henry Hub. Our target price for Hawkley is $0.72/share. Other beneficiaries of this type of price movement in Europe include Zeta Petroleum Plc (ZTA:ASX), Aurelian Oil & Gas Plc (AUL:LSE) and San Leon Energy Plc (SLE:LSE; SLGYY:OTCBB), which is merging into Aurelian.

    Another interesting proposition for investors, in my view, is the growing interest in the supply of regassified liquid natural gas (NYSEMKT:LNG) to gas-starved West African markets. To clarify, LNG is natural gas that has been converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. Regasification is the process of returning the LNG to natural gas prior to distribution.

    London-listed Gasol Plc (GAS:LSE) is looking to service this growing demand by securing sales agreements with LNG suppliers and national governments for fixed periods. LNG cargoes will be delivered to a floating LNG regasification facility, which will then either pipe gas to nearby industry or power generation facilities.

    TER: Are the explorers that you cover focused on finding and developing gas-producing properties that they can hold onto as income producers, or are they typically more interested in selling their properties to a major corporation once the resources are proved out?

    SW: That's a very good question and the answer will strongly depend on the individual management team, their strategy and the diversification of the company's asset portfolio. It is extremely difficult for a junior gas explorer to prove up and commercialize an asset alone, given the significant financial and technical resource base necessary to do so. We often see juniors acquire an asset, shoot seismic and potentially drill one or two exploration wells, at which point they have sufficiently derisked the acreage to attract a partner to assist in bringing the asset through field development.

    We've seen this strategy work recently with Tethys Petroleum Ltd. (TPL:TSX; TPL:LSE). Seymour Pierce has a Buy recommendation on Tethys and a target price of $0.72/share. Its most significant asset is the Bokhtar area in Tajikistan, with an estimated 27.5 billion barrels oil equivalent (Bboe). The company recently announced a farm out of this asset, bringing in Total S.A. and CNODC as equity partners.

    We also have a Buy recommendation on CBM Asia Development Corp. (TCF:TSX.V), with a target of $0.54/share. CBM is acquiring high-quality cold bed methane (NYSE:CBM) acreage in Indonesia. It plans to derisk the properties to about 80% certainty by drilling low-cost wells to reach early-stage production and generate cash flow. At that stage, the company will seek to sell the property to a major oil company to capture the valuation upside from the derisking process and unleash shareholder value.

    TER: Indonesia is a microcosm of East Asian energy development. It is balancing its domestic needs against export demands and it enters into production-sharing contracts between the government and the CBM explorers that bear the burden of derisking the gas fields. Where is the margin in this type of public-private venture?

    SW: The country's natural gas market is characterized by a declining supply of conventional gas and a rapidly growing domestic market with a large export segment. A clear margin exists where the domestic gas price is between $5-11/Mcf, whereas the export prices go as high as $15/Mcf.

    It turns out that 50% of Indonesia's gas is exported to North Asian markets in the form of LNG-down from 62% during the past decade. So a declining conventional gas production combined with driving domestic gas consumption is crimping Indonesia's ability to meet its own LNG export obligations and its ability to capitalize on the high gas prices in North Asia. Meanwhile, domestic consumption has risen over 100% during the last 10 years. That's largely a function of Indonesia's strong economic growth, which is headed toward a gross domestic product of $1 trillion this year.

    Looming shortage of supply is causing the Indonesian government to support public-private CBM development projects with incentivized production-sharing contracts (PSCs). The terms allow contractors to take 40-45% on an after-tax basis-higher than the industry average. The capital requirements for CBM exploration, which is classed as unconventional, are low-between $2.5-3 million ($2.5-3M) to acquire a production-sharing agreement and up to $4-6M to complete the exploration phase. The risk and costs are low with the potential for high returns. The situation has set off a bit of a land grab in Indonesia.

    TER: What other companies are focused on CBM exploration?

    SW: In addition to CBM Asia, other companies active in CBM exploration in Indonesia include BP Plc (BP:NYSE; BP:LSE), Dart Energy Ltd. (DTE:ASX), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:NYSE), Santos (STO:ASX) and Total. Whilst in our view CBM Asia and Dart Energy have the most compelling investment case at the moment, we would expect more entrants into this particular market given the low cost of drilling and access to existing infrastructure.

    The Australian CBM industry is mature. Between 2003 and 2011, Australia's CBM industry consolidated through 33 mergers of small, independent operators with a value of over 30 billion Aussie dollars. I believe a similar consolidation could occur in Indonesia as acquirers of Australian CBM assets such as Total and Santos, which are active in Indonesia, look to pick up small companies like CBM Asia.

    TER: Let's talk about CBM drilling for a moment. How does it differ from conventional gas drilling?

    SW: Coal bed methane is a byproduct of the coal formation process. It's chemically identical to other sources of natural gas, but it's cleaner than hydrogen sulphide. In the reservoirs, the methane is absorbed into the coal surface-held tightly in place by a layer of water. Drilling a production well releases the water pressure in the coal stream, allowing the gas to float to the surface following the water. The wells are shallow, less than 1,000 meters down to the gas-rich stream. Remarkably, such a well can be drilled and completed in less than 48 hours.

    TER: When a major is looking at CBM juniors, what metrics do they require?

    SW: The effects of the U.S. shale boom on the Henry Hub have led many majors to deploy their technical resource base in extracting unconventional resources in high spot-price environments. They are constantly on the lookout for sufficiently derisked assets, made through a combination of seismic and drilling activity. They want to take a significant equity portion, and they want the asset to be located in geopolitically stable regions with a strong demand or sufficient infrastructure in place so that they can easily export the hydrocarbons. If most of these boxes are checked, there is a good chance that a major will show interest in a junior oil and gas company.

    Recently, BP divested many of its non-operating gas interests in the North Sea, while increasing its presence in West Africa. It has just farmed in to Chariot Oil & Gas Ltd. (CHAR:LSX) block. Exxon exited many of its Polish shale concessions in favor of the reported interests in onshore United Kingdom shale by Egdon Resources Plc (EDR:AIM). The U.K. government has lifted a suspension on fracking in the U.K. Now Exxon is interested in some of the onshore U.K. assets. Egdon Resources could be a key benefactor.

    TER: Nonetheless, share prices for many gas explorers are not very robust. Why?

    SW: Historically, gas prices have been linked to oil prices. Starting with the U.S. shale boom, we have seen a divergence-oil prices have remained strong, while gas prices have generally fallen. However, contract prices for drilling infrastructure such as rig equipment and personnel continue to be linked to oil prices. The upshot is that gas exploration has become increasingly less viable.

    There have also been a number of micro-economic events that affected individual companies and regions. The difficulty in employing extraction methods in Central Europe using similar techniques as those in North America arises from the significant differences in the geological makeup. This has led to disappointing exploration performance.

    TER: Are there limits to the supply of natural gas that can be profitably brought to market?

    SW: The movement of the gas market is largely randomized on a macro level. Shifts in supply and demand are being dictated by economic growth in emerging economies and continued productivity from existing and untapped resources. It's fairly unpredictable.

    But in the near term, gas prices will be dictated by the aggressive use of gas in China and India from their growing economies, which will push prices on a global scale. As will the discovery and utilization of gas resources in Latin America-an up-and-coming region with a huge, untapped potential for natural gas. There is a move away from nuclear power in Japan and some European countries in response to the nuclear incident in Fukushima. And Europe is continuing to process policies requiring greenhouse gas emissions reductions. That could hinder direct gas exploration there.

    In Russia, however, people are slowly chipping away at Gazprom's monopoly. In response, it is looking to regasify the Far Eastern region, which could also push prices. Generally, the ongoing search for shale and other unconventional gas will dictate the global gas price regime. In the U.S., though, the low Henry Hub price could result in a lot less drilling for gas and more of a focus toward oil production, which could drive gas prices back up.

    TER: Thanks very much, Sam.

    SW: Many thanks, Peter.

    Sam Wahab began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where he qualified as a prize-winning chartered accountant. On PwC's energy team, he specialized in assurance and transaction advisory. His clients including Royal Dutch Shell and JKX Oil & Gas. Following a spell in the oil and gas research team at Arbuthnot Securities, Wahab joined Seymour Pierce in 2011. He heads up oil and gas equity research at the firm. His coverage includes companies with global operations on multiple stock exchanges.

    Want to read more exclusive Energy Report interviews like this? Sign up for our free e-newsletter, and you'll learn when new articles have been published. To see a list of recent interviews with industry analysts and commentators, visit our Exclusive Interviews page.

    DISCLOSURE:
    1) Peter Byrne of The Energy Report conducted this interview. He personally and/or his family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
    2) The following companies mentioned in the interview are sponsors of The Energy Report: Tethys Petroleum Ltd. and CBM Asia Development Corp. Interviews are edited for clarity.
    3) Sam Wahab: I personally and/or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I personally and/or my family am paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I was not paid by Streetwise Reports for participating in this interview.

    Streetwise - The Energy Report is Copyright © 2012 by Streetwise Reports LLC. All rights are reserved. Streetwise Reports LLC hereby grants an unrestricted license to use or disseminate this copyrighted material (i) only in whole (and always including this disclaimer), but (ii) never in part.

    The Energy Report does not render general or specific investment advice and does not endorse or recommend the business, products, services or securities of any industry or company mentioned in this report.

    From time to time, Streetwise Reports LLC and its directors, officers, employees or members of their families, as well as persons interviewed for articles on the site, may have a long or short position in securities mentioned and may make purchases and/or sales of those securities in the open market or otherwise.

    Streetwise Reports LLC does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported.

    Streetwise Reports LLC receives a fee from companies that are listed on the home page in the In This Issue section. Their sponsor pages may be considered advertising for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. 1734.

    Participating companies provide the logos used in The Energy Report. These logos are trademarks and are the property of the individual companies.

    101 Second St., Suite 110
    Petaluma, CA 94952

    Tel.: (707) 981-8204
    Fax: (707) 981-8998
    Email: jluther@streetwisereports.com

    Jan 11 3:29 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Mark Lackey: Energy Stocks Could Deliver Stealth Profits

    Source: Zig Lambo of The Energy Report (1/8/13)

    http://www.theenergyreport.com/pub/na/14911

    Mark Lackey In the midst of a global market lull, many companies are sitting on their hands, argues Mark Lackey of CHF Investor Relations. That's why he's scoping out smart management that's keeping busy and making great progress-whether or not the markets are quick to notice. Learn who's getting a running start in the uranium, oil and natural gas spaces in this Energy Report interview.

    The Energy Report: It's been a busy five months since your last interview in August. What's your macro view on energy markets?

    Mark Lackey: The problems in Europe were somewhat worse than most people anticipated regarding Greece and long-term bond rates in Portugal and Spain. Slower world economic growth wasn't a disaster, but it was enough to knock the price of oil back down under $90 per barrel ($90/bbl). Natural gas had been climbing closer to $3.70-3.80/thousand cubic feet (Mcf), then retreated as well. And, of course, uranium got all the way down to $41.25 per pound ($41.25/lb). Part of the reason for that was that only two out of 56 reactors in Japan were actually operating, but I'm still bullish on uranium. The oil weakness experienced wasn't terrible, but oil certainly went a little lower than I anticipated. Now that it's back in that $88-89/bbl range, I'm anticipating somewhat stronger prices next year for oil, as well as for natural gas and uranium.

    TER: Are you still expecting West Texas Intermediate (NYSE:WTI) to average between $100 and $105/bbl next year, or has the supply/demand picture changed?

    ML: I've lowered my expectation to more like $95-105, partly because the shale oil supply has been a little bit better than I expected with more Bakken production on-line. On the other hand, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Brazil have all announced significant infrastructure spending programs for 2013, which will certainly increase the demand for energy.

    TER: You talk with many people in the analyst community. What's the current mood and outlook there?

    ML: There's a bit of a divergence. People on the street who agree with me believe that world growth will be fairly decent and that the five countries with the big infrastructure spending will, in fact, move the world forward. There are some who believe that both Europe and the U.S. will do better, and they're seeing oil up in the $110-115/bbl range. Then, there's a smaller group looking at an $85-90/bbl range because they think the U.S. economy will stagnate and the situation in Europe will continue to deteriorate. I would say that more analysts agree with where I am, but there's more divergence in opinions out there than I have seen in the last few years.

    TER: Natural gas prices have staged a strong comeback from last spring and now the main concern in the North American markets relates to winter weather usage. Any thoughts on that?

    ML: Last spring, natural gas hit close to a 10-year low, under $2/Mcf. It bounced off of that to $3.90/Mcf largely due to increased industrial demand and gas substitution for coal in the electricity market. It's since retracted a bit of that. In the very short run, if you're looking solely at the winter, a cold winter could move the price higher.

    Looking at fundamentals over the next year, I expect a better year for both the auto and chemical sectors. On the supply side, drilling activity for gas was down in November to a 16-year low in the U.S. but partially offset by horizontal drilling advancements. On balance I expect we're going to see somewhat less gas than some people are anticipating, and I expect it to get back up to $4/Mcf by the end of 2013.

    TER: Can you update us on some of the oil and gas plays you discussed in your last interview?

    ML: We had mentioned Greenfields Petroleum Corp. (GNF:TSX.V), which operates in Azerbaijan. This is not wildcat drilling. Greenfields has been very successful reworking old wells and fields and finding oil and gas in established areas with past production. We see its production going up significantly this year. Being close to Europe, it gets a much higher price for natural gas as well-anywhere from $5-9/Mcf and also $15-20/bbl more for oil because it's based on the Brent price, not the WTI price. Azerbaijan has had a lot of expertise in drilling and a good labor force going back to the Soviet Union days. It's a very pro-oil and gas jurisdiction and clearly one of the best areas for that business.

    TER: How's the stock done since we last talked?

    ML: It's thinly traded and has gone down some, even though it beat expectations. With oil prices coming down somewhat, people were selling small- and mid-cap oil and gas stocks in the last three to six months of 2012. But I would suggest that people should now be looking at companies like this because of the lower entry point and better cash flow numbers in 2013.

    TER: What about Primeline Energy Holdings Inc. (PEH:TSX.V)?

    ML: Primeline Energy will have operations in the South China Sea and its partner is CNOOC Ltd. (CEO:NYSE), one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world. Production is expected late in 2013 and it has some significant upside in terms of cash flow and earnings, particularly into 2014. That's when one analyst has forecast earnings of $0.24 and cash flow of $0.28 per share, which I agree with. An important point to remember about why it can see such good earnings is that it gets $15-16/Mcf for selling gas into China, or approximately four to five times what natural gas gets here.

    TER: That's definitely one to keep an eye on. You also talked about a company in the services business.

    ML: Right. That's Bri-Chem Corp. (BRY:TSX), which announced the takeover of Kemik Inc., a chemical blending and packaging niche company that will add to Bri-Chem's cash flow and earnings. Bri-Chem has been very strong in the drilling fluids, cementing and steel pipe business sector, supplying the oil and natural gas service area. Now it will have even better earnings and cash flow in the next two years if U.S. gas drilling activity starts to turn up this year. And last week Bri-Chem closed another U.S. fluids wholesaler acquisition of General Supply Co. in Oklahoma. At this stock price level it's certainly one that people should be looking at and expecting appreciation in 2013.

    TER: Do you have any new names in the oil and gas sector that look interesting?

    ML: We've started to follow a company called Strategic Oil & Gas Ltd. (SOG:TSX), which is a very interesting play in the Steen River area of western Canada. It has primarily light oil, which sells at a premium to WTI or Edmonton light. It's done a great job of increasing production-more than doubling it in the last year. Another recent acquisition added approximately 10-12% to its production numbers. It's well capitalized and with such a good balance sheet, we see it going forward in 2013 with work that can further increase its light oil production.

    TER: So, where's that one trading these days?

    ML: It's trading around $1.20 per share. When we first looked at it three or four months ago, it was trading at $0.70. It's been a nice winner, given the performance of the rest of the TSX Venture market, which has gone from 2,450 in 2011 down to 1,200 at the end of 2012. Strategic Oil's big increase in production and the fact it produces light oil has caught the attention of the marketplace.

    TER: The other energy sector that seems to be coming back is nuclear. Prices had been pretty weak for several months and then suddenly jumped up to over $46/lb. Did the Japanese election have something to do with that? What's the outlook from here?

    ML: Yes, the Japanese election was the key factor in moving the price strongly in just a few days. Before that, people were only starting to wake up to the fact that the end of the Megatons to Megawatts program will take about 24 million pounds (Mlb) out of the marketplace by 2013 year-end. Clearly, the fact that the Japanese government won with a largely pro-nuclear position was a major catalyst. They need to stimulate the economy and will be facing potential electricity shortages if they don't begin restarting more of their nuclear plants over the next year; mind you restarts require new environmental assessments that the government has now said will be done in June.

    TER: So that's expected to create enough demand to justify higher prices?

    ML: That, and there are some other factors too. There are 66 reactors under construction worldwide as we speak. If the Japanese bring back even 20 of their 56 that are off-line in the next year and more new reactors built come onstream in the next one to two years, then you can see some significant demand increase for uranium. In addition to the Megatons to Megawatts program phaseout, Cameco Corp. (CCO:TSX; CCJ:NYSE) has deferred its Kintyre project in Australia and BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP:NYSE; BHPLF:OTCPK) has deferred expansion of Olympic Dam. Then Uranium One Inc. (UUU:TSX) canceled its Zarechnoye project in Kazakhstan. Higher demand and lower supply lead us to expect significantly higher uranium prices in the next one to three years.

    TER: Have there been any interesting developments with the uranium developers you talked about in August?

    ML: Fission Energy Corp. (FIS:TSX.V; FSSIF:OTCQX) had some very good drill results in the Athabasca Basin, at Waterbury Lake and Patterson Lake South. This caused the stock price to almost double in about a week and remain close to that peak. One of its properties is very close to the Hathor property that was ultimately acquired by Rio Tinto Plc (RIO:NYSE; RIO:ASX; RIO:LSE; RTPPF:OTCPK), so we view Fission as a potential takeout candidate. It's going to do more drilling to define additional resources, but it's a company that has some pretty good potential.

    TER: A lot of companies are working the Athabasca Basin, where most of the North American uranium development has taken place.

    ML: Right. The two other big areas are Wyoming and New Mexico, where another company we mentioned and have followed for a number of years, Strathmore Minerals Corp. (STM:TSX; STHJF:OTCQX) has projects. Its Gas Hills project is in Wyoming and the Roca Honda project is in New Mexico. I've liked Strathmore over the years because, whenever management told me they were setting certain milestones, they met them. I've spent a number of years in the uranium business and always thought the Gas Hills project area was one of the best in the U.S., and it's now owned by Strathmore. I also really like its New Mexico play, and the company has considerable depth in its property portfolio for a junior. Strathmore expects to see production in the next three or four years; that would make it a relatively low cost and fairly significant uranium producer in the U.S. If I'm right about uranium prices going a lot higher in the next three years, this stock will be trading at considerably higher than present levels.

    TER: Do you have any new companies that look interesting?

    ML: Forum Uranium Corp. (FDC:TSX.V) is one I've watched for a while. Its two main projects are in the Key Lake area of the eastern Athabasca Basin near Cameco's Key Lake Mill. It's also on-trend with Hathor's Roughrider discovery and Forum has two plays in the western Athabasca. Its management team of President, CEO and Director Richard Mazur; Vice President of Exploration Ken Wheatley and Chief Geologist Dr. Boen Tan are three of the best guys that I've known in the whole Athabasca area. These guys have actually discovered over 300 Mlb of uranium throughout their careers.

    The company also has a very interesting play in the North Thelon, in Nunavut. I think there's some significant upside there, and it just announced some very good drill results. Many juniors aren't doing much these days, but these guys are out there drilling, raising money and moving their projects forward. That's important, because if we get the uranium prices I suggest, the markets are going to be looking at players who have been forging ahead.

    TER: Does it have money in the till to be able to do more work?

    ML: It has some money to do part of its next work program but will likely look to raise more. The company consolidated its shares Jan. 3. This is an interesting play also because of its partnerships with Rio Tinto and Cameco. I used to look at about 60 small uranium explorers and now I'm down to only about 10 that I think have a legitimate chance of doing something down the road. Forum is definitely one of them.

    TER: Any other ones?

    ML: There's Purepoint Uranium Group Inc. (PTU:TSX.V), which is also a player in the Athabasca Basin and has done a lot of work this year. It signed a joint venture agreement with Cameco and AREVA (AREVA:EPA) on its Hook Lake uranium project and completed an NI 43-101-complaint technical report there and on its Red Willow project. Purepoint just raised some money and Chris Frostad, Purepoint's president and CEO, is continuing to move it forward. He'll be doing a lot more drilling over the next year with some big people behind him. Again, it's a micro-cap company, but if you're going to buy some micro-cap companies, buy the ones with active management, good properties, some money in the bank and good joint venture partners. Then you at least have a good chance of success down the road.

    TER: These didn't all start out being micro caps.

    ML: No they didn't, and that's an interesting point. I can remember when it was trading at $1.60 back in the better uranium days. It's way more advanced now at $0.07, which shows you what happens when you have such a bad market environment. The market doesn't seem to differentiate, at this point, between uranium players that have stronger odds at being successful and those that don't. They're all in the same basket. Once we get better uranium prices, I think investors will start to focus on which companies actually have not been sitting on their hands.

    TER: So what does the year ahead look like for energy stock investors and where do you feel they should be focusing their attention for maximum upside?

    ML: I'm expecting a moderate upward movement in oil prices, but certainly not a boom. North American natural gas should move higher. Natural gas prices in Europe and China offer some pretty exceptional opportunities for companies selling into those markets. My three-year outlook on uranium is way above the consensus. I actually see uranium trading this time next year at $65/lb, compared to the current spot price of $44.75/lb. Then I see it at $80/lb at the end of 2014, and $90/lb in 2015, all based on the supply and demand factors I mentioned earlier.

    TER: That would certainly bring life to a lot of these cheap uranium stocks. People are going to be all over uranium again if you get a double in the price.

    ML: A lot of people may think I'm overly optimistic, but I would point out that when we first liked uranium at $10/lb in 2001, we thought there was some pretty good upside. I never expected it to go to $135, like it did in 2007. But, it does show you that when the uranium market starts to move, it usually moves fairly significantly and can create some definite investment opportunities.

    TER: So there's something that people certainly should focus on in the next few months to a year. We greatly appreciate your time and input today, Mark.

    ML: Thank you.

    Mark Lackey, executive vice president of CHF Investor Relations (Cavalcanti Hume Funfer Inc.), has 30 years of experience in the energy, mining, banking and investment research sectors. At CHF, Lackey involves himself with business development, client positioning, staff team coaching and education, market analysis and special projects to benefit client companies. He has worked as chief investment strategist at Pope & Company Ltd. and at the Bank of Canada, where he was responsible for U.S. economic forecasting. He was a senior manager of commodities at the Bank of Montreal. He also spent 10 years in the oil industry with Gulf Canada, Chevron Canada and Petro Canada.

    Want to read more exclusive Energy Report interviews like this? Sign up for our free e-newsletter, and you'll learn when new articles have been published. To see a list of recent interviews with industry analysts and commentators, visit our Exclusive Interviews page.

    DISCLOSURE:
    1) Zig Lambo of The Energy Report conducted this interview. He personally and/or his family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
    2) The following companies mentioned in the interview are sponsors of The Energy Report: Fission Energy Corp. and Strathmore Minerals Corp. Interviews are edited for clarity.
    3) Mark Lackey: I personally and/or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I personally and/or my family am paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I was not paid by Streetwise Reports for participating in this interview.
    4) CHF Investor Relations: Greenfields Petroleum Corp., Primeline Energy Holdings Inc., Bri-Chem Corp., Strathmore Minerals Corp. and Forum Uranium Corp. are clients of CHF Investor Relations and pay cash fees to CHF; and CHF may have stock options or own stock in these companies.

    Streetwise - The Energy Report is Copyright © 2012 by Streetwise Reports LLC. All rights are reserved. Streetwise Reports LLC hereby grants an unrestricted license to use or disseminate this copyrighted material (i) only in whole (and always including this disclaimer), but (ii) never in part.

    The Energy Report does not render general or specific investment advice and does not endorse or recommend the business, products, services or securities of any industry or company mentioned in this report.

    From time to time, Streetwise Reports LLC and its directors, officers, employees or members of their families, as well as persons interviewed for articles on the site, may have a long or short position in securities mentioned and may make purchases and/or sales of those securities in the open market or otherwise.

    Streetwise Reports LLC does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported.

    Streetwise Reports LLC receives a fee from companies that are listed on the home page in the In This Issue section. Their sponsor pages may be considered advertising for the purposes of 18 U.S.C. 1734.

    Participating companies provide the logos used in The Energy Report. These logos are trademarks and are the property of the individual companies.

    101 Second St., Suite 110
    Petaluma, CA 94952

    Tel.: (707) 981-8204
    Fax: (707) 981-8998
    Email: jluther@streetwisereports.com

    Jan 09 4:50 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Byron King's Shocking 2013 Predictions

    Source: Brian Sylvester of The Energy Report (12/20/12)

    http://www.theenergyreport.com/pub/na/14869

    Byron King Byron King, editor of the Outstanding Investments and Energy & Scarcity Investor newsletters, is expecting surprises in the energy sector in 2013. In this interview with The Energy Report, King discusses his forecasts for fracking's impact on oil and gas prices, a worldwide uranium shortage and a possible change in the economics of alternative energy sources.

    The Energy Report: Let's start with a recent takeover deal that's been getting a lot of criticism in recent weeks. Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (FCX:NYSE) made a $9 billion takeover offer for the oil and gas explorer McMoRan Exploration Co. (MMR:NYSE) and Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production (PXP:NYSE). Are you happy with this deal?

    Byron King: It came as a surprise. I've held McMoRan Exploration in Energy & Scarcity for about two years. I like what McMoRan is working to do with deep gas in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, I recommended that readers take their money off the table with this deal. Sell the shares, take the cash and we'll find other opportunities.

    McMoRan Exploration nearly doubled after the Freeport announcement, going from $8 to $15 per share. You can't walk away from that kind of potential gain. Take your money, pay your taxes at the lower 2012 rates and do something else with the money next year.

    There's another angle to this takeover. Freeport and Plains together already own about 36% of McMoRan. There are a lot of ties here, between key individuals. I think this deal was driven by the impending tax changes next year. Freeport, the copper play, is borrowing a lot of money to fund this whole process. Fortunately, interest rates are very low, so it's borrowing cheap to do a big takeover, which will give a lot of people a really sweet payday, and they'll get to pay capital gains taxes at much lower rates this year than if they wait until January 2013.

    TER: James "Jim Bob" Moffett, who founded McMoRan, is also paying himself. He was a significant shareholder in McMoRan Exploration. He's taking from his left pocket to put it in his right pocket.

    BK: Wall Street hated this deal. Freeport's share price dropped by about $6/share within a few minutes of the deal being announced.

    TER: This whole deal really hinges on the Davy Jones well offshore of Louisiana and whether or not it can make that play. Can it turn this around? Can it make it a viable, producing well?

    BK: Davy Jones is all about using new, deep-drilling and production technology to make this type of well work in the Gulf of Mexico, albeit in shallow water-20 feet or so. Sad to say, the Davy Jones well isn't quite where it needs to be. But it's coming, and likely sooner than most people believe.

    "I'm forecasting that oil prices are going to rise."

    The components of the technology are all there, I'd say. I've seen super-strong well casing. I've seen advanced valve systems. I've seen blowout preventers that can handle the stresses. It's just that I have seen these things in vendors' offices and warehouses in Houston. Now the trick is to systematize it all, and make the Davy Jones concept work as a deep gas producer with economics that won't break the bank.

    The next question is what's going to happen with natural gas prices in the U.S.? Whether it's Davy Jones or a new well, companies are drilling wells that need $6, $8 and $10 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) gas. Yet, on a good day, gas is selling at $3-3.50/Mcf. Are the economics going to work? That's a whole other discussion.

    TER: How does this change the landscape among the hard asset players? Are we returning to the 1970s, when mining companies and oil and gas companies were one and the same?

    BK: Back in the 1970s, when oil prices went up and the economy realized that energy was a key component of everything, a lot of oil companies started to get into other resources. They did these types of rollups in the 1970s, and then they spent a big part of the 1980s divesting and spinning these things back out. Right now, in this era, McMoRan may be a one-off idea. It's a unique play. It's not quite time to break out your old 1970s leisure suits and hang the disco balls or anything.

    TER: Let's get to what you're calling "taxageddon." How will this affect investors?

    BK: When the tax code changes dramatically on Jan. 1, a lot of people are going to feel the sting. We'll get hit by that 2% increase in the FICA Social Security in every paycheck. The capital gains tax rates will effectively double on Jan. 1, including the Obamacare increase. The personal rates will go from 15% to the 30-35% range. It's a big hit.

    TER: Are you managing the Outstanding Investments portfolio differently than you were a year ago? Are there more yield-bearing stocks in that portfolio?

    BK: In the last year, I've focused more on identifying yield-bearing stocks. I added one this fall called Linn Energy LLC (LINE:NASDAQ).

    TER: In recent editions of Energy & Scarcity, you have discussed declining rates at fracking wells across the U.S. Do you believe this is an across-the-board problem or is it limited to certain plays or geology?

    BK: It's pretty much all of the shale gas wells. A fracked well that does not decline quickly is truly the exception. Last week, at a conference at the University of Texas, the overall decline rates that were tossed around were absolutely shocking. The decline rates on wells in their first year are in the range of 35-40%, and it is a similar number in the second year. By year two, a company will have produced perhaps 75% of the ultimate recoverable hydrocarbon out of a well.

    It utterly wrecks the economics of a gas well to produce most of its output up front, during a low-price environment. These frack plays are astonishing wells, in a technical sense, but the economics are very problematic.

    TER: If the production rates are rapidly declining and there is not as much natural gas as first thought, won't that ultimately lead to higher natural gas prices?

    BK: Natural gas prices are already starting to climb back up. About a year ago, the number of rigs devoted to drilling for gas fell off a cliff. I am bullish on natural gas in general. The natural gas price could double to the $7 range within the year.

    TER: One of the companies in your Outstanding Investments portfolio is Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDS.A:NYSE; RDS.B:NYSE), which is moving heavily into natural gas. Is that a smart move?

    BK: Royal Dutch Shell is moving to gas. Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:NYSE) is moving to gas. Chevron Corp. (CVX:NYSE) bought Chief Oil and Gas LLC in western Pennsylvania to establish itself as a major player in the Marcellus region. However, the executives from these companies will tell you about the very tight economics of these projects. Actually, Rex Tillerson of Exxon said that up until now, Exxon has been losing its shirt on these things.

    "I am bullish on natural gas in general."

    I'm not going to say that Royal Dutch Shell has done the wrong thing. It bears watching. These big companies have deep pockets, and will have to work their way through this storm the same as everyone else. The good news is that the big guys can afford to take risks that small companies, or even large independents, can't take to drill gas plays and test new technology that might change those decline rates from being so steep.

    TER: What are some other senior oil and gas producers in the Outstanding Investments portfolio?

    BK: Over the years, I've focused more on international names. Statoil ASA (STO:NYSE; STL:OSE) of Norway is a large, well-run company. I like that the Norwegian government has a large stake because it seems to be mature enough to let Statoil operate as an oil company, collect the dividends and benefits, but not interfere in the day-to-day operations. Statoil has wonderful technical capabilities. It's a nice dividend payer.

    French company Total S.A. (TOT:NYSE) is also a large, global company that operates in a lot of jurisdictions that France has close ties with. It pays a nice dividend. Total has been good.

    BP Plc (BP:NYSE; BP:LSE) has been in the portfolio for a while. I kept it through the Gulf of Mexico blowout. BP's shares dropped terribly right after the blowout, although I told people to buy back in at $28/share, and it wound up going up to the $40s.

    Yet BP has been a very frustrating company for a lot of reasons. Of course, there is the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but it has other issues related to people's perception of its safety culture. Fair or not, people write books about it, like Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit, by Loren Steffy of the Houston Chronicle. That hurts BP's share value.

    Plus, BP hasn't done itself any favors with the confusion over its partnership with TNK-BP. I'm still thinking through what to do with BP. On the one hand, it has a lot of great people and assets. It has an aggressive aspect to its exploration and production in the future. On the other hand, there is informed speculation that BP could be worth more in a broken-up state. It's going to be interesting to see how BP evolves over time.

    TER: Most natural gas is used to heat homes and to create electricity at large utilities. Could declining output from fracked natural gas wells ultimately be a boon to green energy sectors like solar, geothermal or wind?

    BK: Cheap natural gas has completely altered the economics of the electric utility system in North America. Natural gas base rates are now considered the number to beat, even when people are proposing nuclear power. That's a very odd dichotomy because a natural gas well can be set up and generating electricity in a few years. With nuclear, it can be a 25-year process to acquire a site, get the permitting and navigate the maze of regulation and public acceptance for a reactor. What may be a temporary glut of natural gas is truly altering the long-term investment climate for nuclear power.

    TER: Are you less bullish on uranium plays as a result?

    BK: I'm bullish on uranium because there's not going to be enough new uranium mined and milled to meet demand. China has an aggressive plant-building program. Every one of those plants needs to lock down a 20- to 30-year supply early in the development cycle. There are not enough new mining plays coming on to supply that.

    An entire level of uranium supply is also going to go away in a year. Russia is not renewing its agreement with the Megatons to Megawatts program, which purchased nuclear reactor fuel that had been converted from enriched uranium in old nuclear weapons.

    TER: Are there any particular uranium plays that you're bullish on?

    BK: Uranium Energy Corp. (UEC:NYSE.MKT) extracts uranium via in situ recovery, by washing the uranium out of sandstone using hydrogen peroxide in Texas. It is producing uranium yellowcake at an internal loaded cost of about $18-20/pound (lb), which sells into a spot market at $50/lb.

    "These frack plays are astonishing wells, in a technical sense, but the economics are very problematic."

    UEC's numbers are going up. It just had a brand new permitting approval at Goliad, Texas. It will be using a fairly simple technology, drilling wells that are less than 1,000 feet deep. It's pumping the fairly benign substance hydrogen peroxide, along with a few other odds and ends, into the sandstones. It is pulling it out with resins and taking it to a fully licensed plant at Hobson, outside of San Antonio.

    I've visited the facility. It's all good: The people are good. The technology is good. The economics seem good. I like Uranium Energy as a long-term play. It will be very sensitive to rising uranium prices that I forecast in the next year or two.

    TER: Any others?

    BK: Over a longer time frame, there is a Canadian company operating in South America called U3O8 Corp. (UWE:TSX; OTCQX:UWEFF). U3O8 has very early-stage uranium deposits in Colombia, Guyana and Argentina. I've visited the Colombian play. It is polymetallic, which means that in the process of recovering the uranium, it is going to be able to pull out phosphate, silver and some intriguing quantities of rare earths. It's very early stage. It is still doing the drilling out in the jungle. It is a speculative play for long-term investors who know how to ride these junior resource markets.

    TER: The green energy sector is in the midst of hard times. It's had more downs than ups during the past few years. How would you characterize alternative energies right now?

    BK: The renewable energy space has been very frustrating for most investors. It's not to say that you can't produce energy using solar, wind or geothermal. Of course you can. But it gets back to that well-known critique about how, when the wind doesn't blow, you have no power. When the sun doesn't shine, you have no power. What's the answer?

    Europe has a lot of wind and solar power. It creates so much power during windy and sunny times that it actually disrupts the fossil fuel baseload within Europe. Yet, for every windmill and solar field, Europe still needs fossil fuel backups to kick on if the alternative source goes down. This kind of overdevelopment of so-called renewables may feel good to the green side, but it has completely disrupted the economics of a lot of utilities across Europe. Many European utilities have ceased being investment-grade assets.

    "What may be a temporary glut of natural gas is truly altering the long-term investment climate for nuclear power."

    We haven't built renewables to that scale in the U.S. If we do, we would have a similar problem. Rapid overbuilding of green power will degrade the investment quality of many public utilities, which are among the few things that pension funds and institutions can still count on. It's something that investors need to keep an eye on. We blew up the stock market in 2008 with a housing meltdown. Do we want to risk blowing up the market again with a utility meltdown? We're not there yet, but we could be on that track.

    The Holy Grail for renewable energy is backup battery storage that charges up batteries for continued use after the wind or sun dies down. I've been focusing on American Vanadium Corp. (AVC:TSX.V), which is developing a vanadium redox battery that's very intriguing and scalable. It's capable of storing immense amounts of electricity.

    TER: They're only being used right now in Japan, right?

    BK: The Japanese are leading the charge of commercializing it. The Chinese are close behind. In the U.S., it's the typical story of caution and underinvestment, relating to the problem of industry working with public utility commissions (PUCs). Will the PUCs of America build this new tech into the rate base?

    Nobody wants to be the first one to approve a vanadium redox battery system for a public utility. People don't want to put their necks on the block. But I suspect that a lot of people would love to be the second players at bat. Unfortunately, we are very risk averse in the U.S., whereas Japan and China are charging ahead-if you'll excuse the pun. Looking ahead, if we crack the code on reliable, large-scale storage, it could truly alter the economics of alternative energies.

    TER: If you were to speculate on which one of those renewable energy sectors will be the first one to be commercially viable, where would your money be?

    BK: Solar panels are becoming less costly, which is improving the economics for use on a much larger scale. It will be geography dependent. The sunny Southwest and West regions ought to see solar penetration the soonest and in the greatest degree. The idea that there could be a solar-powered Boston or Minneapolis is probably not as realistic.

    TER: One issue with solar is the lack of baseload power. That's a big advantage of geothermal over solar. However, if you want to talk about frustrated investors, look at geothermal energy.

    BK: I started out Energy & Scarcity Investor with a number of geothermal ideas. I truly believed that these things were on the way up, but the technical problems and capital requirements have been absolutely overwhelming. The fact is that the largest geothermal power producer in the world is Chevron. It picked all that up when it bought Unocal. In 2005, Unocal had developed a lot of geothermal in Indonesia. A lot of green-power people hate it when I say that Chevron is the biggest geothermal player.

    TER: Geothermal is working in Central America. Why isn't it happening in the U.S.?

    BK: It's started to happen here in certain areas, such as Nevada. I drove by a geothermal facility on Interstate 80 when I was in Reno recently. Where it works, it works well. But it's getting it to work that's the hard part. The foremost reason is that there are few geologists and engineers who understand this space. It's tough to build a technical team and keep the lights on long enough to make it all work. It's been very frustrating.

    "I'm bullish on uranium because there's not going to be enough new uranium mined and milled to meet demand."

    Even more frustrating is that geothermal is struggling to spread in an environment that is supportive of renewable energy. California and Nevada state legislatures are telling the public utilities to have a certain percent of power coming from renewables by certain dates. The Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are supportive at the regulatory level. There are tax benefits and low interest rates. Still, the geothermal space has not worked out.

    TER: Have you stopped following geothermal companies?

    BK: I haven't stopped. I just don't spend a lot of time on them. There are too many other ideas that offer a better return on investment.

    TER: To conclude, what investable themes in energy should investors look for in 2013?

    BK: In terms of oil and gas, people should look for surprises. I'm forecasting that oil prices are going to rise. There are conventional oil plays that still offer excellent returns to investors.

    Natural gas prices are also going to drift up as the year goes on. The rapid depletion rates on fracked wells from the past two and three years are going to kick in, and probably with a vengeance.

    There could be interesting breakthroughs in the alternative space. 2013 could be the year when investors start to better understand energy storage. This could be the year that the investing community is going to begin to realize it's out there and that could lead to the beginning of a rebound in the solar and energy storage spaces.

    TER: Will we see a dramatic rise in uranium prices in 2013?

    BK: I think the spot price will start to drift up late in the year. People are going to have a lot more on their plates to worry about in the first six months of the year. For some strange reason, a lot of investors have allowed their investment horizons to shorten up. What people ought to be worried about now is that at the end of 2013, there is going to be a big uranium shortage worldwide. It will happen. I don't think that it cannot happen.

    Byron King writes for Agora Financial's Daily Resource Hunter. He edits two newsletters: Energy & Scarcity Investor and Outstanding Investments. He studied geology and graduated with honors from Harvard University, and holds advanced degrees from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and the U.S. Naval War College. He has advised the U.S. Department of Defense on national energy policy.

    Click here for a free copy of Bryon King's award-winning Outstanding Investments.

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    DISCLOSURE:
    1) Brian Sylvester of The Energy Report conducted this interview. He personally and/or his family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
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    3) Byron King: I personally and/or my family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I personally and/or my family am paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview: None. I was not paid by Streetwise Reports for participating in this interview.

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