Overshadowed by Shell's $51 Billion Acquisition, Statoil Keeps Making Discoveries

04/16/2015 4:31 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Though MoneyShow's Jim Jubak thinks the odds are good we’ll finish 2015 near the $65 a barrel level, he feels his target price for this Norwegian oil & gas company—which keeps making discoveries—is a bit ambitious, so he’s cutting it as of April 16.

The acquisition of BG Group by Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) has grabbed all the oil sector headlines. $51 billion deals will tend to do that, especially when they’re priced at a 52% premium to the pre-deal market price for BG Group. The acquisition makes Royal Dutch the biggest player in the world in the liquefied natural gas sector, expands the company’s presence in Brazil’s pre-salt oil projects in the South Atlantic, and gives Royal Dutch a big presence in waters off the east coast of Africa, one of the world’s most promising new areas for exploration. In short, it’s not a bad deal, although it is expensive: Credit Suisse calculates that the deal will dilute earnings at Royal Dutch by 10% in 2016, the year the acquisition will close, 5% in 2017, and then 1% in 2018, the year when the acquisition turns earnings positive.

The big deal headlines have overshadowed a series of announcements from Norway’s Statoil (STO) that—on a smaller scale—promise to continue the transformation of Statoil from a company focused on the North Sea to one with a major presence in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic frontier, and the same East African waters that Royal Dutch has just bought into.

For example, on March 30, Statoil announced the discovery of an additional 1 to 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at an exploration well in the water off Tanzania. That brings the company’s discoveries in the area to 8.

I think Statoil’s discoveries, the much bigger finds by Italy’s ENI (E), and BG Group’s exploration success in the area has put the natural gas reserves of East Africa over the top. There’s now clearly enough natural gas in the area to make the investment in liquefied natural gas facilities to export LNG to Asia a viable and attractive proposition. Statoil already exports liquefied natural gas from its fields on the Norwegian continental shelf. Now it will be able to export LNG to the highly lucrative Asian markets from fields much closer to those markets.

Shortly after that announcement, Statoil reported another find, this one in the Gulf of Mexico. Statoil, the operator of this well has a 50% interest in its oil production with Anadarko Petroleum (APC) holding a 37.5% interest.

And then, finally, on April 14, Statoil announced another natural gas find near its Aasta Hansteen field in the Norwegian Arctic. Statoil put the find at 2 billion to 7 billion cubic meters of natural gas. In the last year, Statoil has increased its estimates of the size of this field by about 25%.

It’s hard to tell if it’s time to buy Statoil. The company’s total costs are relatively high because of taxes imposed by the Norwegian government and hefty depreciation. That has helped push Statoil’s New York traded ADRs down 24% in the last 12 months, as of April 15, but it also means that Statoil is very highly leveraged to any recovery in the price of oil that takes the Brent benchmark back towards $65 a barrel.

The ADR’s chart looks like it shows a pattern of higher highs and higher lows over the last six months, but the pattern isn’t especially strong, with the December 2014 high at $18.55, the February high at $19.62, and the ADRs closing at $20.18 on April 15. The dividend yield is 4.84% at the moment, but Statoil isn’t covering that dividend from operating cash flow—and won’t until 2016—so it’s not clear how safe it is.

I’ve owned this stock in my Jubak’s Picks portfolio since September 2009 and it is down 10.4% in that time. Certainly I can’t tell you when the plunge in oil prices is over, but I think the odds are good that we’ll finish 2015 near the $65 a barrel level that would work well for Statoil. I am cutting my target price today since I think $37 is a bit ambitious. The new target is $28 a share by October 2015.          

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