Into the Wild
05/19/2010 12:01 am EST
Two ambitious UK oil explorers have ventured far afield in search of the big score, writes Elliott H. Gue in The Energy Strategist.
Afren (London: AFR, OTC: AFRNF) is primarily an oil-focused independent producer and represents a pure play on Africa. To date, the company’s strategy has focused on acquiring proven fields in West Africa that remain largely undeveloped. These overlooked gems may not be able to move the proverbial needle for a major integrated oil company like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), but can be huge successes for a relatively small firm like Afren, whose market capitalization is $1.5 billion.
Afren already produces oil, and the company’s output should grow tremendously in coming quarters. In fact, its production is already expanding at an impressive clip: In 2009 Afren averaged 22,100 barrels per day (bbl/day) of oil, up from 3,800 bbl/day in 2008. Management estimates that the company will produce over 60,000 bbl/day of oil by the first half of 2011—roughly triple the rate of production in 2009.
Fields off the coast of Nigeria form the center of Afren’s operations. Much of Afren’s current production comes from Okoro, an offshore field in the southeastern part of Nigeria, not far from the border with Cameroon.
Afren also has interests in blocks off the coasts of Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire, some of which are located along the same trend as the Jubilee, Twenboa, and Venus finds that have attracted so much attention from producers in recent months.
Afren has exactly what I look for in an exploration-focused firm: multiple near-term catalysts, strong production growth, and a book of planned prospects with different risk levels. Afren [is] a Buy under 115 pence ($1.75). I recommend that all investors buy this stock on the London exchange rather than purchasing the US over-the-counter stock—the latter lacks sufficient liquidity.
Based in Scotland, Cairn Energy (London: CNE; OTC: CRNCY) is an oil-focused exploration and production company with two main upside catalysts: growing production from its projects in India and exploratory activities in Greenland.
Cairn Energy’s Indian plays are in an advanced stage of development, and the company expects strong cash flows from its Indian projects to support exploration under way in Greenland.
Whereas Cairn Energy’s Indian operations offer fairly reliable up side, its endeavors in Greenland represent more of a speculative growth story. Cairn Energy estimates the probability of sinking a successful well in this area is just 9% to 14%. These odds are actually better than average for a reservoir this unexplored and remote. And the upside is enormous: Cairn has estimated that the area might contain over four billion barrels of recoverable oil if it proves out.
I expect the company to produce a steady stream of well results over the next year and a half. Don’t expect the stock to get crushed if the wells come up dry; most investors have already factored in the play’s high risk. But any exploration success could have huge upside implications, because it would raise the value and odds of Cairn Energy’s success across all of Greenland’s acreage.