Wednesday, July 1, 2015

US Natural Gas

US Natural gas prices have been low since 2008, and are now below the cost of production.  When this happens to a commodity, eventually either its price must go up, or the the cost of production must drop.  The usual value-investment strategy is to buy a lost cost producer which can outlast the competition and will benefit when the commodity price rises later.

In short: I think US Natural Gas prices will rise soon due to falls in production.  But I could not find a stock reasonably priced enough to bet on this.

Natural gas pricing

Since natural gas is difficult to transport and impossible to store, it price is set regionally, not nationally or globally.  US Nat Gas prices reference the Henry Hub (Nymex) price, and gas sold by companies in gas producing areas is sold at a regional discount, reflecting transport costs and the area's supply/demand (gas produced vs outgoing pipeline capacity).   The discount changes over time, for example, in the Marcellus, Cabot had a discount of 10c to 30c in 2013, and 89c in 2Q14.  The Marcellus differential for the last year seems to be around 80c to $1.40 - see the 2 NGI charts here.

One note for calculations: the Nymex price is in btu, but most companies provide their average realised price in mcf.  There's no way to convert between the two.

Production Costs

What is the cost of production, and how do we find the lowest cost producer?

Commodity companies always provide their own version of production costs (e.g.: C1 costs, cash costs, extraction costs, half-cycle costs) in presentations.  These exclude Depreciation, Deletion and Amortisation (DD&A),  General Administrative (SG&A), interest, and sometimes royalties.   Ignore all this rubbish and just use the expenses from the income statements instead.  Use the latest quarter, because the gas industry costs change so fast. Strip out hedging (derivitives), one off costs (e.g.: litigation) or irrelevant costs (transport of 3rd party gas).  Subtract Oil and liquids revenue from the gas production expenses based on whatever price they realised that quarter.  After this, we can get a breakeven cost of gas per mcf.

I checked the 2015Q1 income statements of 7 US/Canadian companies.  Only three were were making money unhedged:

This was period included the Q1 seasonal price spike - so I'm sure that overall production costs are higher than the market price.

Demand vs Supply

US production is around 70-75 bcf/day.

Only one area, the Marcellus has rising - almost exponential - production.  All other areas are flat or declining - See this nice 2013 map and graphs.  Although the Marcellus has the lowest cost of production, it also has the widest differential to Nymex pricing.  There are some indications that national production will peak or decline this year:
  • 2 articles (1) (2) by Bill Powers: the states' Department of Natural Resources and Texas Railroad commission data currently shows flat or falling output.  EIA projections of output increases are wrong.
  • Several companies have indicated flat or lower production in their 1Q 2015 earnings calls. Cabot stated they will reduce their Q2 production by ~10% sequentially, and "continue to monitor the price environment before we make any decisions on selling more gas into the local market".  Chesapeake stated that they shut in some production from December onwards, Q1 Marcellus production growth was "pretty well flat", and they intend to maintain this (albeit with the ability to quickly grow if prices rise).
Couldn't find a cost curve for natural gas.  There's too many players, and the production costs keep changing due to technological advances.

Shale gas wells have a high initial decline rate (See first graph in the first result here), like shale oil.  So we can't ignore DD&A - it represents money that needs to be ploughed back into drilling new wells as current ones decline.

On the demand side, natural gas is in a secular uptrend, due to the fact that its been cheap for so long, and as a lower-carbon replacement for coal.  Everyone knows it will will always be cheap.

Company valuations

The cheapest producers are Advantage, Cabot and Chesapeake.   Southwestern is also profitable, as it gets a higher realised price as most production is outside the Marcellus.

To value a company: I pick a what I think the long term average commodity price should be, project their earnings for that price, then apply a PE ratio to that.  I'm picking a NYMEX price of $4 (roughly $4/mcf on average) - just a guess since I have no cost curve.  I also pick a PE of 12.  Theres nothing magical about that number, but thats where I'd be comfortable buying and holding long-term through hell or high water.


Targets "close to 3 Bcf per day by end of '17".  At a realised price of $3.80/mc ($4 NYMEX and an optimistic 20c discount), I get an annual EPS of $1.80, giving a target price of $21.6.  The stock is now too expensive.


Targets 245 million mcf/day by end 2017.  At a realised price of CAD 4.50 (approximately USD 3.60), I get an annual EPS of CAD 0.75, giving a target price of CAD 9.00 (or USD 7.18).  May be worth investigating further.


Although they have a low cost of production, they also had a terribly low realised price ($1.61 vs Cabot's $2.23).  They gave no reason why: "This was primarily the result of weaker Marcellus Shale basis differentials in the Current Quarter compared to the Prior Quarter and increased gathering and transportation costs. "  Cabot also operates in the Marcellus.  The difference does not seem to be permanent: in 1Q 2014, their realised price was  $3.86, better than Cabot's $3.74.  In between then, they sold off a lot of gas producing assets.  Lets see if their realised prices improve first.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Update on Kweichow Moutai

Moutai stock price is up 130% from its 2014 bottom, and 50% from when I bought.  Two reasons:

  • Good Q1 results: revenue up 15%, operating profit up 30% and EPS up 21% (due to share dilution).  No increase in receivables.  Perhaps the start of a new uptrend after two years of stagnant results?
  • A frenzied bull market in China stocks, encouraged by the government.  Mostly driven by retail traders.  And no one knows how much leverage.

 (Banana seller trading - ZeroHedge)

Moutai is not up for the reasons I bought it.  But better to be lucky than smart.

My gut feeling is that the bull market will continue, as the government needs it to paper over their other problems, take over from their housing bubble, and possibly raise capital for their banks. But expect 10-20% corrections as it pauses to let some air out.

Small caps have been the target of the frenzy, not Moutai directly.  Large caps may benefit from upcoming inflows from foreign ETFs such as Vanguard.

The China bull market has been crazy - no point trying to predict when it will end.  Moutai is still trading at reasonable valuation (~16 times expected 2015 earnings), with excellent cashflow and balance sheet.

I'll hold for now, given its a small position, and the risk reward balance is favourable.  But keep in  mind that all bubbles end.  When it pops, I may not be able to get my money back due to the Shanghai Connect daily quota limit.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sold Dragon Oil (LSE:DGO)

Sold all my 1700 shares at 687.50p on 26th May.

The majority shareholder ENOC indicated in March that they would make an offer, finally mentioning a 735p price on the 21st of May.  Not as much as I'd hoped, and the market seems doubtful the bid will go through.

ENOC is a refiner who badly needs E&P capacity to sell oil domestically.  A previous opportunistic bid in 2009 was defeated by minority shareholders.  Don't know what will happen now - the takeover may fall through, or they may increase the price.

This company is not a long term investment, despite the good numbers.  "Oil" and "Turkmenistan" make it too risky to build a meaningful stake.  Don't want to be left holding it if the takeover falls through.  Better to sell now for a quick 20% gain.

Profit is SGD 4437.43, including dividends.  Right now, the results, and the process - being able to wait for a commodity to become undervalued, find ways to invest in low cost producers while managing risk, and waiting for the payoff - mean more than the money does.  Prove you can make a plan and follow it.

Incidentally, Turkmenistan's president just unveiled  a 65ft high, 24k-gold, overcompensating statue of himself riding a horse.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bought Rolls Royce (RYCEY)

The idea for buying this is clearly explained by Bronte Capital here and here.    It depends on the success for the A350, the B787 Dreamliner (Rolls has about a 30% engine share) and the upcoming A330neo (expected end 2017).  The main competitor for the A350 is the B777X, expected in 2019.

Based on their order numbers for the Dreamliner (~300 planes), A350 (~800 planes) and the a330neo (~140 planes), with Airbus’ expected A350 production rate, I’m guessing a large ramp-up in 2017-2019 (190 planes in 2017, 240 in 2018 and 2019).  The company provided slightly more optimistic charts:

(Source - June 2014 presentation - p21&22)

Roll’s civilian aerospace 2014 income is about 50% recurring (services) and 50% project based (OEM).  The industry is a simple duopoly.  The only risk I can see is something unexpected happening (e.g.: SARS, 911, financial crisis), or the end of a typical expansion cycle where everyone realises too late that the’ve all added excess capacity.  This would affect Roll’s OEM revenue as orders are cancelled, and their service revenue (power-by-the-hour) shinks as revenue/profits are recognised based on expected flight hours.

Underlying PBT guided for 2015 was 1.4-1.55bn pounds, giving at the lower bound, an EPS (before tax) of 73.9p, or EPS (after tax) 56.2p.  At 900p, thats a PE of 16.

The idea of RR selling its under performing assets (1), (2) is unlikely due to the UK government’s golden share.

For me, the potential reward os worth the risk, after buying I'll still be 78% in cash.  Hard to find anything to buy.

Bought 304 RYCEY ADRs at USD 73.0955.  Total cost was USD 22,229.98.

Paperwork stuff:
  • One ADR (RYCEY) equals 5 LSE shares.
  • Later on, check my dividends to make sure the are not taxed: UK shares should not be, neither should their ADRs. Check the fees BNY Mellon charges (should be 1-3c/share) for the dividend payments.
  • Held in my Schwabb account.  Should be a long term holding.  Counterparty risk through Schwab and BNY Mellon.  No way to avoid this for UK shares unless opening a CREST acct.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sold IEO, Bought Genel

Sold 300 IEO shares on Thursday night at $70.85.  Total loss was USD 1042.34.  Only bought them to have some exposure to oil when I couldn't find any stocks to buy.

Bought 1800 shares of Genel at 515p on Friday afternoon (London - Friday morning).  Total cost was SGD 19,393.51.  They dropped 3% in that session.  Shit!  If only I'd waited a little longer.  At 515p, I value them at 12x earnings (@ $70 Brent), excluding failed-exploration costs.

Friday's session was terrible for oil: WT is retesting its lows at $44, Brent closed at $54.64, may soon retest lows around $50.

Still think oil will recover by the end of the year as marginal shale producers go belly-up and cut production.  Providing there is no recession.  Am 40% invested and looking for more companies to buy. US shale producers are still expensive - they did not drop much on Friday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Genel 2014 results and Valuation

Genel Energy released their full 2014 results today, and the stock price has shot up 10%.

Guidance for 2015 is for $350-400m revenue (at $50 Brent), and a 38% increase in production volumes.  Based on that, I estimate 2015 profits to be 26c (or 17p) profit per share, using generous assumptions:

This would give a high PE - fair enough in a cyclical industry.    What if we adjust for a long term price of Brent $70?

  • From their 14th May 2014 Investor presentation, and after going through the flowchart (p38)  Genel's revenue rises/falls by around 6% for every 10% rise/fall in the oil price.
  • So an 40% oil price increase to $70 Brent would give a 24% increase in revenue, to $496m.  Profit would be 60c or 40p.  At a share price of 600p, thats a PE of 15.  Not cheap.  And with a few unrealistic assumptions.
What am I missing?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bought Dragon Oil (LSE:DGO)

2nd Mar 2015 - Bought 1700 shares at 541p.  Total cost: SGD 19.833.97

Held in my DBS Vickers acct.

Brent was around $61 when I bought.