Update: July 28, 2015. Statoil (STO) reported second quarter results today (July 28) that beat consensus estimates on both earnings (NOK3.15 a share vs. the NOK1.62 consensus) and revenue (NOK138.5 billion vs. NOK124.8 billion analyst consensus.) That doesn’t mean Statoil has found some way to magically sell oil for a higher price than competitors. Second quarter earnings may have exceeded analyst estimates but they still fell 27% year over year. What’s the secret to the Norwegian oil company’s relative success at a time when oil continues a collapse from $108 a barrel in January 2014 to a July 28 close at $53.15 (for European benchmark Brent crude)? Statoil’s quarter is a checklist for what an oil company has to do right these days to stand a chance of navigating a plunge in oil prices that still has a while to run. (Statoil is a member of my Jubak Picks portfolio. The position is down 36.4% since I added it on May 10, 2012. ) First, Statoil announced a further cut to its capital-spending budget to $17.5 billion for 2015. That’s down from $20 billion in 2014 and a projected budget of $18 billion reported last quarter. At the same time as the company continued to cut capital spending production climbed with second quarter production, adjusting for asset disposals, up 7% year over year. Second, Statoil has been able to cut costs—and increase efficiency—so that it is finding and producing more oil even with lower capital spending. Unplanned losses (that is production losses that aren’t the result of planned events such as maintenance but are the result of accidents or weather) have fallen from 12% in 2012 to 5% in 2014. Efforts to increase the percentage of oil recovered from mature and declining off shore fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf have pushed the recovery factor up to 50% with the company targeting 60% recovery. (Increasing oil recovery is an especially profitable endeavor since the company has already built out necessary infrastructure in the region.) Operating expenses fell an additional 15% quarter to quarter. Third, Statoil has either been very lucky or very good at finding new oil to diversify its asset base beyond its traditional concentration in the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The company has announced promising finds in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, off the east coast of Canada, and off both coasts of Africa (Angola and Tanzania.) Statoil has also recently added U.S. shale assets in the Marcellus, Eagle Ford, and Bakken geologies. All this is backward looking, of course. Looking toward the future, Statoil has potentially lucrative positioning as a major supplier of natural gas to Europe at a time when Western European countries are looking to reduce their emissions of green house gases and to find alternative sources of natural gas to reduce reliance on Russian supplies. Looking that that same direction, the big uncertainty is whether Statoil can continue to reduce costs and increase production at rates that will enable the company to maintain the current $0.221 quarterly dividend. Right now the company’s payout ratio is running at 80% to 100%, which doesn’t leave Statoil with a huge margin for further drops in the price of oil. In the conference call, the company said that it projects that it can maintain the current dividend payout (for 2015, management said) while reducing the payout ratio. The stock currently yields 5.4%. As of July 28, looking at the likelihood that oil prices will stay low for a while, I’m cutting my target price to $24 a share by June 2016 from a prior $28 a share. Statoil closed at $16.48 in New York trading on July 28.
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