There is no doubt that the oil/energy industry is extremely large. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), fossil fuels (including coal, oil and natural gas) makes up more than 85% of the energy consumed in the U.S. as of 2008. Oil supplies 40% of U.S. energy needs. (Visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sources information page for more insight.)
Before petroleum can be used, it is sent to a refinery where it is physically, thermally and chemically separated into fractions and then converted into finished products. About 90% of these products are fuels such as gasoline, aviation fuels, distillate and residual oil, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), coke (not the refreshment) and kerosene. Refineries also produce non-fuel products, including petrochemicals, asphalt, road oil, lubricants, solvents and wax. Petrochemicals (ethylene, propylene, benzene and others) are shipped to chemical plants, where they are used to manufacture chemicals and plastics. (For more insight, read Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)
There are two major sectors within the oil industry, upstream and downstream. For the purposes of this tutorial we will focus on upstream, which is the process of extracting the oil and refining it. Downstream is the commercial side of the business, such as gas stations or the delivery of oil for heat.
Oil Drilling and Services
Oil drilling and services is broken into two major areas: drilling and oilfield services.
- Drilling - Drilling companies physically drill and pump oil out of the ground. The drilling industry has always been classified as highly skilled. The people with the skills and expertise to operate drilling equipment are in high demand, which means that for an oil company to have these people on staff all the time can cost a lot. For this reason, most drilling companies are simply contractors who are hired by oil and gas producers for a specified period of time. (For related reading, see Unearth Profits In Oil Exploration And Production.)
In the drilling industry, there are several different types of rigs, each with a specialized purpose. Some of these include:
- Land Rigs - Drilling depths ranges from 5,000 to 30,000 feet.
- Submersible Rigs - Used for ocean, lake and swamp drilling. The bottom part of these rigs are submerged to the sea's floor and the platform is on top of the water.
- Jack-ups - this type of rig has three legs and a triangular platform which is jacked-up above the highest anticipated waves.
- Drill Ships - These look like tankers/ships, but they travel the oceans in search of oil in extremely deep water.
(For more information on the drilling industry, check out on the Rigzone website.)
- Oilfield Services - Oilfield service companies assist the drilling companies in setting up oil and gas wells. In general these companies manufacture, repair and maintain equipment used in oil extraction and transport. More specifically, these services can include:
- Seismic Testing - This involves mapping the geological structure beneath the surface.
- Transport Services - Both land and water rigs need to be moved around at some point in time.
- Directional Services - Believe it or not, all oil wells are not drilled straight down, some oil services companies specialize in drilling angled or horizontal holes.
The energy industry is not any different than most commodity-based industries as it faces long periods of boom and bust. Drilling and other service firms are highly dependent on the price and demand for petroleum. These firms are some of the first to feel the effects of increased or decreased spending. If oil prices rise, it takes time for petroleum companies to size up land, setup rigs, take out the oil, transport it and refine it before the oil company sees any profit. On the other hand, oil services and drilling companies are the first on the scene when companies decide to start exploring.
The refining business is not quite as fragmented as the drilling and services industry. This sector is dominated by a small handful of large players. In fact, much of the energy industry is ruled by large, integrated oil companies. Integrated refers to the fact that many of these companies look after all factors of production, refining and marketing.
For the most part, refining is a slow and stable business. The large amounts of capital investment means that very few companies can afford to enter this business. This handbook will try to focus more on oil equipment and services such as drilling and support services.
BTUs: Short for "British Thermal Units." This is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Different fuels have different heating values; by quoting the price per BTU it is easier to compare different types of energy.
Dayrates: Oil and gas drillers usually charge oil producers on a daily work rate. These rates vary depending on the location, the type of rig and the market conditions. There are plenty of research firms that publish this information. Higher dayrates are great for drilling companies, but for refiners and distribution companies this means lower margins unless energy prices are rising at the same rate.
Meterage: Another type of contract that differs from dayrates is one based on how deep the rig drills. These are called meterage, or footage, contracts. These are less desirable because the depth of the oil deposits are unpredictable; it's really a gamble on the driller's part.
Downstream: Refers to oil and gas operations after the production phase and through to the point of sale, whether at the gas pump or the home heating oil truck
Upstream: The grass roots of the oil business, upstream refers to the exploration and production of oil and gas. Many analysts look at upstream expenditures from previous quarters to estimate future industry trends. For example, a decline in upstream expenditures usually trickles down to other areas such as transportation and marketing.
OPEC: The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the stability and prosperity of the petroleum market. OPEC membership is open to any country that is a substantial exporter of oil and that shares the ideals of the organization. OPEC has 11 member countries. Output quotas placed by OPEC can send huge shocks throughout the energy markets.
Below is a chart of the world's top exporters of petroleum. OPEC members are denoted by "*". Indonesia and Qatar are also members, but they don't make the top twelve.
|Top World Oil Net Exporters, 2006|
|Country||Net Exports (million barrels per day)|
|5)||United Arab Emirates*||2.52|
|Source: Energy Information Administration|
Analysts and investors often disagree on specific investment decisions, but one thing that they do agree on is their approach to analyzing energy companies. A top down investment approach is almost always the best strategy. We will go through the top down steps below. (For more insight, read A Top-Down Approach To Investing.)
The oil industry is easily influenced by economic and political conditions. If a country is in a recession, fewer products are being manufactured, not as many people drive to work, take vacations, etc. All of these variables factor into less energy use. The best time to invest in an oil company is when the economy is firing on all cylinders and oil companies are making so much money that using excessive amounts of energy themselves has little effect on their bottom line.
Some analysts believe that rather than analyzing energy companies, you should just predict the trend in energy prices. While more analysis is needed for a prudent investment than simply looking at price trends in oil, it's true that there is a strong correlation between the performance of energy companies and the commodity price for energy.
Supply and Demand
Oil and gas prices fluctuate on a minute by minute basis, taking a look at the historical price range is the first place you should look. Many factors determine the price of oil, but it really all comes down to supply and demand. Demand typically does not fluctuate too much (except in the case of recession), but supply shocks can occur for a number of reasons. When OPEC meets to determine oil supply for the coming months, the price of oil can fluctuate wildly. Day-to-day fluctuations should not influence your investment decision in a particular energy company, but long-term trends should be followed more closely. You can find the latest energy supply/demand statistics at the Energy Information Administration.
Rig Utilization Rates
Another factor that determines supply is the rig utilization rates; its close relationship to oil prices is not a coincidence. Higher utilization rates mean more revenue and profits. For drilling companies, it is important to take a close look at the company's rig fleet, because older rigs lack the ability to drill in remote locations or to bore deep holes. Some other factors to consider are the depth of water that the offshore rigs can drill in, hole depth and horsepower. Higher quality rigs will have higher utilization rates, especially during weak periods. This will lead to higher revenue growth. Sometimes this is a double-edged sword; while higher utilization is better, a company that is at its capacity will have difficulty increasing revenues further.
The contracts through which an oil services company is paid also play a large role in supply. Pay close attention to the dayrates, as falling dayrates can dramatically decrease revenues. The opposite is true should dayrates rise. This is because many of the drillers' costs are fixed.
After these wide scale factors have been considered, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty - the financials. And when it comes to the financials, the same old rules apply to oil services companies. Ideally, revenues and profits will be growing consistently, just as they do in any quality company. It's worth digging deeper to see if there are any one-time events that have dramatically increased revenues. Also, the P/E ratio and PEG ratios should be comparable to others within the industry.
On the balance sheet, investors should keep an eye on debt levels. High debt puts a strain on credit ratings, weakening their ability to purchase new equipment or finance other capital expenditures. Poor credit ratings also make it difficult to acquire new business. If customers have the choice of going with a company that is strong versus one that is having debt problems, which do you think they will choose? To do a test for financial leverage, take a look at the debt/equity ratio. The working capital also tells us whether the company has enough liquid assets to cover short term liabilities. Rating agencies like Moody's and S&P say 50% is a prudent debt/equity ratio. Companies in more stable markets can afford slightly higher debt/equity ratios.
If profits are of the utmost importance, then the statement of cash flow is a close second. Oil companies are notorious for reporting non cash line items in the income statement. For this reason, you should try to decipher the cash EPS. By stripping away all the non-cash entities you will get a truer number because cash flow cannot be manipulated as easily as net income can. (For further reading, see Advanced Financial Statement Analysis.)
Porter's 5 Forces Analysis
- Threat of New Entrants. There are thousands of oil and oil services companies throughout the world, but the barriers to enter this industry are enough to scare away all but the serious companies. Barriers can vary depending on the area of the market in which the company is situated. For example, some types of pumping trucks needed at well sites cost more than $1 million each. Other areas of the oil business require highly specialized workers to operate the equipment and to make key drilling decisions. Companies in industries such as these have higher barriers to entry than ones that are simply offering drilling services or support services. Having ample cash is another barrier - a company had better have deep pockets to take on the existing oil companies.
- Power of Suppliers. While there are plenty of oil companies in the world, much of the oil and gas business is dominated by a small handful of powerful companies. The large amounts of capital investment tend to weed out a lot of the suppliers of rigs, pipeline, refining, etc. There isn't a lot of cut-throat competition between them, but they do have significant power over smaller drilling and support companies.
- Power of Buyers. The balance of power is shifting toward buyers. Oil is a commodity and one company's oil or oil drilling services are not that much different from another's. This leads buyers to seek lower prices and better contract terms.
- Availability of Substitutes. Substitutes for the oil industry in general include alternative fuels such as coal, gas, solar power, wind power, hydroelectricity and even nuclear energy. Remember, oil is used for more than just running our vehicles, it is also used in plastics and other materials. When analyzing an energy company it is extremely important to take a close look at the specific area in which the company is operating. Also, companies offering more obscure or specialized services such as seismic drilling or directional drilling tools are much more likely to withstand the threat of substitutes. (For more on oil substitutes, see The Biofuels Debate Heats Up.)
- Competitive Rivalry. Slow industry growth rates and high exit barriers are a particularly troublesome situation facing some firms. Until quite recently, oil refineries were a particularly good example. For a period of almost 20 years, no new refineries were built in the U.S. Refinery capacity exceeded the product demands as a result of conservation efforts following the oil shocks of the 1970s. At the same time, exit barriers in the refinery business are quite high. Besides the scrap value of the equipment, a refinery that does not operate has no value-adding capability. Almost every refinery can do one thing - produce the refined products they have been designed for.
- Department of Energy - Get the latest regulation news and statistics. You name it, this site has it.
- ODS-Petrodata - Both free and fee-based data on rig counts and other key figures in the oil services industry.
- Rigzone.com - News and statistics on the oil and gas industry.
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