investing in oil
The purchase of Calgary-based energy company Nexen Inc. (NYSE: NXY) for $15.1 billion by China's CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE ADR: CEO) is the largest overseas purchase ever by the world's second-biggest economic power.
But it will likely be the last time China, or any other country, takes a big chunk out of Canada's oil sands - the world's third-largest proven reserves of crude oil.
That's because after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper approved the Nexen deal in December, he banned further foreign firms' investment in Canada's oil sands and will allow them only under "exceptional" circumstances.
"The government's concern and discomfort for some time has been that very quickly, a series of large-scale controlling transactions by foreign state-owned companies could rapidly transform this [oil sands] industry from one that is essentially a free market to one that is effectively under control of a foreign government," Harper said in December.
"Foreign state control of oil sands development has reached the point at which further such foreign state control would not be of net benefit to Canada," he added.
But foreign government control isn't the real problem facing Canadian oil sands companies.
Two Reasons to Expect Greater Volatility in Oil Prices
A combination of rising demand and tension in the Middle East means oil prices will continue to climb.
How this plays out in the short term will have a primary impact on the profitability of oil sector investments. One conclusion is already clear. This will once again be a volatile market.
And this time, volatility will be point upward.
That is not to say that the rise will be continuous or without occasional pull backs. In fact, yesterday we witnessed two contrary signals attesting to an ongoing collision of forces.
Both of these are exogenous to market factors, a very important observation to recognize moving forward.
The direct relationship between supply and demand would oblige a rise in oil prices for the simple reason that more end use is moving back into focus.
Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC have raised demands projections for the near term. Those levels are now approaching less than 3 million barrels per day of global supply.
Now we are not going to have a crude shortage anytime soon, although there may be some regional constrictions on the horizon. Ample supplies are available for quick pumping to meet rising demand. Nonetheless, there will be a greater use of unconventional production (tight, shale, heavy, oil sands).
And that means the oil coming on market will be more expensive.
Knee-jerk reactions to global events will again pull on demand sentiment. That, in turn, will spike the volatility. Yet this is likely to be more subdued on the down side than at any time in the last year.
Pundits have also introduced the specter of another (or "double dip") recession and fanning the flames of that fear would prompt the price of oil to move south.
The likelihood of a recession is rapidly dissipating and the prospects of these fear tactics are declining along with that reality. Reversals, therefore, while still inevitable, will be short in nature so long as the current underlying dynamics remain. Those are now pointing up.
I have a series of personal indicators used to determine what should be happening with oil prices. There are 10 of them, designed to estimate the actual composition, strength, and direction of pricing movements. For the past month, six of them have been pointing positive. As of Friday (these are calculated at the end of each week), seven are now moving north.
The upward pressure is building, reflecting the overall higher revisions in forecasted demand by IEA and OPEC. Yet we are once again reminded that the oil market hardly operates in a vacuum.
And that leads me back to those two outside signals we received yesterday.
Why Oil Prices Could Soar 40% by Summer
Oil prices have continued their upward move that began at the end of 2012, gaining over 8% in the past month.
Now, an oil analyst with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) predicts Brent crude could soar much higher in the next few months.
Jeff Currie, GS's head of commodity research, said he wouldn't be surprised "if we woke up in summer and oil cost $150" per barrel.
That would be a 35% gain from Brent's recent price of $111.
Using the narrowing spread between the Brent price and that of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), at $95, Currie's forecast implies a 40% increase in WTI prices.
And there are many reasons oil could hit those highs by summer, or even sooner.
Will the New U.S. Shale Boom Kill Oil Prices?
These days everybody wants to extol the virtues of rising U.S. domestic crude oil production.
From decades of increasing reliance on foreign providers, some hardly sympathetic to American interests, the new prospect of having significant unconventional oil reserves here at home has been a major development.
The assumption advanced says that domestic sources will be cheaper. As a result, this should comprise a positive boon to consumers of oil products but a problem for producers and refiners. In short, the mantra among some commentators is to proclaim the end of the oil market as an attractive option for investors.
As with most such simplistic observations, however, it turns out not to be true.
A number of these "analysts" are actually talking down the prospects of oil prices because they have already shorted the commodity and will benefit their own investments if they can continue the downward push.
Well, oil prices are now going up, with both West Texas Intermediate (WTI) in New York and Brent in London at more than three-month highs.
In addition, the spread between WTI and Brent is narrowing.
The narrowing of that spread is occurring while both benchmarks are rising in price. The mantra of the pricing doomsayers would expect it to be going in the other direction.
There are two broad categories of reasons why matters are not happening as the doomsayers had expected (aside from the obvious - they misunderstood the dynamics from the beginning).
And once you understand both, you'll be in position to profit as prices continue to rise.
Play the Bakken Oil Boom Like Buffett
Many investors have heard of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Montana, but most are unaware of how important this formation is becoming to the U.S. economy.
More germane to investors is the fact that there is still a lot of money to be made from Bakken oil in the months and years ahead.
Just ask Warren Buffett.
He spotted the potential of Bakken oil well ahead of most and bought a non-energy company that would benefit greatly from the boom. Three years ago he bought Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Co. for $26 billion.
That railroad is now one of the main beneficiaries of the Bakken oil boom. (And people thought he just had always wanted to own a train set!)
"We're the 1,000-pound gorilla in the oil markets," BNSF CEO Matt Rose told Bloomberg News. "Crude by rail is going to be really strong for us. It's been a real benefit to us to replace some of that lost coal business."
The Bakken oil formation isn't just an investing opportunity; it's transforming the U.S. energy landscape.
How to Play the Resurgence in Oilfield Services
Whenever a recovery begins in crude oil prices and natural gas, it always begins upstream, usually very far upstream. As I have noted before, this is signaled in the oilfield services (OFS) segment of the energy sector.
My tracking index for OFS companies currently follows 63 providers of early field development and preparation. These include everything from initial geological surveys, through seismic, analysis, test and exploratory wells, to pad preparation, drilling, well completion, maintenance, support, and workover rigs.
Before the improvement is recorded by the operators - the firms actually producing the oil and gas - we should expect a spike to take place in OFS. These are the providers who will experience a push before anything is extractable. Normally, indications of a recovery occur in OFS first.
It appears the recovery is happening again this time. All 63 stocks on my tracking list are up for the week (by an average of 4.5%) and 60 are up for the month (with an average rise of over 14% for all 63).
As we go forward, there's one strategy you should use to play this recovery...
Where Oil Prices Are Headed In the Face of the Fiscal Cliff
You have heard all the stories of what will happen when the U.S. economy falls over the fiscal cliff.
As I write this, it appears that will happen--at least on paper.
Of course, it will take some time for the tax increases to kick in, while the automatic spending cuts may take a month or longer.
That may make it easier for some Members of Congress to act. Since the taxes will have technically increased, it will be easier for them to vote for an artificial tax cut.
I consider this the pinnacle of absurdity.
Subjecting most Americans to this charade-making them vulnerable to cuts in paychecks, dividends, and social security benefits merely to make some political brownie points-is the height of travesty.
But here we are.
Even if there is a this weekend or Monday, nobody will know what that means for several weeks. This will drag the drama on for a while longer as the precocious children inside the Beltway refuse to play on the same ball field.
Now we all know how this will end. There will be a stopgap measure rather quickly (probably around the time most receive that first paycheck of the New Year) to prolong the process into the first quarter - right into yet another showdown on increasing the debt ceiling.
Isn't there anybody else out there as sick of this as I am?
But in the end, we are interested in what the shenanigans mean for the energy sector.
Oddly enough, gas and oil prices have acted as if the cliff were an ant hill.
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2013 Oil Price Forecast: Why Oil Remains a "Must-Have" Profit Play Next Year
One of the most important topics we discussed in Moscow last week were the various forecasts of where crude oil prices are likely to be in 2013.
These 2013 oil price forecasts were all over the place, owing to the high level of uncertainty on a number of basic elements.
According to the Russian Ministry of Energy, or Minenergo, the "official" government estimate has oil prices low - at about $80 a barrel in 2013.
However, there were other estimates floating about. The Ministry of Finance (MinFin) set up what can only be described as a recession approach. That figure puts oil prices at $62-$65 a barrel.
Then there was the Ministry of Economic Development (MED). MED considered both domestic and external trade considerations. The estimate coming from this ministry was lower than that of Minenergo, but at $75 a barrel was higher than that of MinFin.
Against this backdrop of competing forecasts made by battling Russian ministries, estimates from the outside including my own are much, much different-as in decidedly to the upside.
Granted, all of the non-Russian suggestions cite the three unknowns limiting the cost of crude elsewhere: the fiscal cliff, the Eurozone debt crisis, and the expected levels of productivity and demand coming from China.
Nonetheless, a strong consensus did emerge from North American and European experts during our sidebar conversations in Moscow.
The overwhelming view was that oil prices will be moving higher next year, although the continuing volatility will guarantee that this is hardly going to be a straight line advance.
Even still, there will be a number of factors that will push Brent and WTI prices as much as 20% higher next year-particularly in the first quarter.
Here's why oil will still remain a "must-have" investment next year.
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How the Biggest Investors Are Playing the "New World Order" in Oil and Gas
Thanks to the fracking boom of the last few years North America is now on a path toward energy self-sufficiency.
In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) now believes that, thanks to astonishing growth in oil and natural gas output, the U.S. could even become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020, and even net-energy self-sufficient by 2035.
According to IEA estimates, the U.S. is already the world's No. 2 natural gas producer.
The IEA has also indicated that increasing production from Canadian oil sands means North America could become a net oil exporter. And by 2035, it's forecast that nearly 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports will find a home in Asia.
These tectonic energy shifts have not gone unnoticed by OPEC and large state-owned energy companies. Major Asian and Middle Eastern interests have already made major acquisitions in Canada and the U.S., with an eye towards many more.
Every day it seems the energy scene is changing at a lightning pace, creating a new world order in energy.
So to gain further insight into this rapidly changing climate, I recently sat down with energy consultant Peter Barker-Homek, a true energy insider.
Peter is the founder of Eta Draco, an advisory firm focused on building operations and capital structures to provide for enduring growth and to anticipate cyclical downturns for small- to medium-sized enterprises.
Mr. Barker-Homek knows more than a thing or two about the global energy sector.
As the previous CEO at TAQA, the Abu Dhabi national energy company, and a seasoned energy executive in a Fortune 20 company, Peter has completed $40 billion in energy-related transactions.
He has more than 20 years' experience in major markets worldwide, and even served in the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Marine Corps as an Officer/Pilot. He has appeared on CNN, BNN, CNBC, Sky News, Bloomberg TV, BBC Radio, Al Jazeera, and CrossFire, and is regularly cited in industry journals and periodicals.
I think you'll enjoy what Peter had to say during our recent Q&A.
If I did my job right, some of it may even shock you.
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The Impact of Shale Oil Means the Tables Have Turned in Our Favor
The Eagle Ford shale formation lies south of our headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, giving the U.S. Global investment team a firsthand, tacit perspective on the oil and gas industry's growing natural resources phenomenon.
We've witnessed how the oil activity is boosting the local economy with solid-paying jobs, a healthy housing market and strong consumer sentiment, as oil giants such as Schlumberger and Halliburton take a bigger stake in the area.
After seven long decades of importing oil, the U.S. seems only a few years away from reversing the flow, largely from shale technology not only in Texas but several areas around the country.
In 2005, the U.S. reported net imports of 13.5 million barrels per day, or almost two-thirds of its oil needs, according to Raymond James. By the end of 2012, net imports are projected to fall to 8.6 million barrels per day, which is about half of the country's current consumption.
By 2020, the estimated gap between supply and demand narrows considerably. Take a look...
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