MOSCOW – Sergei Kudryashov likes pizza, poker and American jazz. He's also deputy head of the Russian Ministry of Energy (Minenergo) and former VP at NK Rosneft OAO (LSE: ROSN), the No. 1 state-controlled oil producer.
I've known Sergei for almost two decades now. We compare notes whenever I'm in Moscow. This time, I briefed his team on key developments in the international oil markets. And, as usual, I came away from the meetings with some incredibly valuable information – information the public simply can't get on its own.
So let me share what I've just learned. It's a tremendous opportunity to profit from Russian oil – without investing a dime in the country itself. Indeed, as you'll see in a minute, there are several ways to make money right here at home.
First, here's what's going on.
Russia's Oil Heyday is Ending, and That Means Profits for You
Russia's traditional oil fields are maturing rapidly. Production declines are accelerating. I just witnessed this in my travels to Timan-Pechora, where I met with executives from several major Russian oil companies. For those unfamiliar, this region is the western Siberian center for Russian oil production.
And it's drying up.
Even with substantial secondary recovery programs (water, associated gas, and even carbon dioxide injections), extractable oil volume will continue to drop.
Rosneft and LUKOIL (OTC ADR: LUKOY), Russia's No. 2 producer and largest private oil company, matter-of-factly estimate a decline of up to 7% by 2012.
At current levels, that translates into almost 257 million barrels in lost annual production.
Having less oil to sell will be catastrophic to central planners. That's because taxing oil and gas production and exports comprises more than 65% of the federal budget. So, as I explained last week, Russia needs to move production into new and more expensive locations – north of the Arctic Circle, into eastern Siberia and out onto the continental shelf.
This isn't so easy, though.
All three regions require considerably greater investment commitments, application of updated technology and access to foreign infrastructure and transport systems. Having made a statement last year with new legislation aimed at retaining the larger, more promising fields for Russian-only control, the Kremlin now finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
Under that law, only a handful of companies can run shelf projects – companies that are controlled by the Russian government and have at least five years of offshore experience. That leaves just two – Rosneft and and Gazprom OAO (OTC ADR: OKZPY). Or three, if we consider Gazprom's oil unit, JSC Gazprom Neft (OTC ADR: GZPFY), which is likely to bid separately for projects.
What's more, only Russian companies (state-controlled or private) can be the majority owners of strategic onshore deposits. Majority owners are defined as those having more than 50 million tons (366 million barrels) of crude or 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas.
When the law emerged, of course, oil was racing beyond $120 a barrel. And the government wanted to keep profits at home. But now that it needs foreign help, the Kremlin will be making changes to the law.
There's no way around it.
Major international oil companies simply don't enter a foreign project if it can't book a percentage of field reserves. In other words, if it won't make their stock go up, they won't do it.
I'll let you know as the Kremlin begins to phase in their changes to the law.
In the meantime, there are several ways to profit.
The Four "Profit Routes" to Russia's Oil
- Outside companies will benefit as a minority partner in a large Russian producer. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), which owns a 20% position in LUKOIL, is the best current case in point. But others are quickly developing. China National Petroleum Corp. (accessible over the counter via CNPXF [CNPC Hong Kong]), for example, has parlayed $20 billion in bank credit for Russia's East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline into a likely position in Rosneft.
- Foreign majors will continue to profit as minority partners in specific projects. Despite its acrimonious departure from controlling the Sakhalin II project, Royal Dutch Shell ADR (NYSE ADR: RDS.A, RDS.B) is nonetheless well positioned for solid profits in its minority status in the project. Other majors finding a similar niche are ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) in Sakhalin I and Total SA (NYSE ADR: TOT) at Kharyaga.
- Majors have signed on to provide services for huge, carefully selected projects. That virtually guarantees discounted volume, Russian market access and the possibility of future involvement. Norwegian StatoilHydro (NYSE ADR: STO). They both provide extensive technology and expertise to the giant Shtokman deposit in the Arctic.
- Finally, a number of well-structured and intentionally limited smaller companies are positioning themselves to become field owners below the strategic threshold – those that foreigners can still control outright. Several leading the list trade on the London Stock Exchange (LON: LSE), or the LSE's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) – for instance, Timan Oil & Gas PLC (LSE: TIMAN), Sibir Energy PLC (AIM: SBE), or Swedish Lundin Petroleum (LSE: OGYK).
Unlike they did in the past, these four "profit routes" will benefit from protection under Russian law. And they'll get considerable support from large Russian companies interested in developing joint ventures and sharing technical and infrastructure expertise.
That's great news for these companies… and their stocks.
[Editor's Note: Dr. Kent Moors, now a regular contributor to Money Morning, is the executive managing partner of Risk Management Associates International LLP, a full-service global management consulting and executive training firm. He is an internationally recognized expert in global risk management, oil/natural gas policy and finance, cross-border capital flows, emerging market economic and fiscal development, political, financial and market risk assessment, as well as new techniques in energy risk management.
Dr. Moors has been an advisor to the highest levels of the U.S., Russian, Kazakh, Bahamian, Iraqi and Kurdish governments, to the governors of several U.S. states and the premiers of two Canadian provinces, a consultant to private companies, financial institutions and law firms in 25 countries and has appeared more than 1,400 times as a featured television and radio commentator in North America, Europe and Russia. He has appeared on ABC, BBC, Bloomberg TV, CBS, CNN, NBC, Russian RTV, and regularly on Fox Business Network.]
News and Related Story Links:
- Money Morning Special Report:
Why Russia's Oil Fields Will Soon Be Crawling with Westerners.
East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) oil pipeline.
- Money Morning Special Report:
Profit From the Looming Spike in Crude Prices That the U.S. Oil Lobby Doesn't See Coming.
- Money Morning:
New Technology Turns Coal Into Clean, High-Powered Gas
- Money Morning News Analysis:
BP Caving to Kremlin Pressure Over Joint Venture.
About the Author
Dr. Kent Moors is an internationally recognized expert in oil and natural gas policy, risk assessment, and emerging market economic development. He serves as an advisor to many U.S. governors and foreign governments. Kent details his latest global travels in his free Oil & Energy Investor e-letter. He makes specific investment recommendations in his newsletter, the Energy Advantage. For more active investors, he issues shorter-term trades in his Energy Inner Circle.