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Team of Rivals

By Peter McKenzie-Brown

A year ago, Stan Odut was chairman of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (SEPAC), and he was deeply worried about the industry’s immediate future. “The sources of capital for the junior sector are equity, debt and cash flow,” he said, “but many companies are already mired in debt and credit lines are being pulled. You can’t get additional debt coverage. You can’t raise any equity because there is no reason for investors to put money into the energy business right now (because of collapsing commodity prices). And governments (provincially in particular) have strangled cash flow. So help me with the equation: you’ve got to get one of those factors to change to get the business going again.”

In the last year, what has changed? I put the question to Gary Leach, SEPAC’s executive director. He describes a cautious sense of optimism within the junior sector of Canada’s petroleum industry. There’s been a strong recovery in oil prices, for example, although gas prices are still languishing. “In recent months equity markets have been more supportive of the industry,” he adds, although they have been “selective”. They are targeting companies with “strong management, in certain commodity niches. But there is no tide that is lifting all boats.” Bank credit is still a problem for some companies; many are carrying a lot of debt, and lower commodity prices have reduced the value of their assets in the ground. Technically, this is known as a double-whammy.

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