As we move toward the conclusion of a difficult year across the energy space, it’s time to contemplate what surprises – upward or downward – the industry may experience in 2016.
What might work next year that was a disappointment in 2015, and who might the folks be to make magic happen again in the oil patch? As such, we went to the analysts, accountants and bankers who are intimately involved with the success or failure of oil and gas in North America.
Between mid-November and early December, we surveyed our panel of experts – J. Marshall Adkins, director of research at Raymond James & Associates; Ethan Bellamy, managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co.; Deborah Byers, U.S. oil & gas leader and managing partner at EY; John England, vice chairman and U.S. oil & gas leader at Deloitte; Jason Spann, partner and Texas marketplace leader of mergers and acquisitions services at Deloitte; Stephen Trauber, vice chairman and global head of energy at Citi; and James West, senior managing director for oil services, equipment and drilling at Evercore ISI – each of whom shared their perspective on the state of the industry ahead.
Rigzone: What will be the hottest plays for investment in 2016?
Bellamy: The Permian’s economics likely draw the lion’s share of capital spending in upstream, while the midstream [sector] should see most of its capital focused on Northeast gas takeaway projects. To a lesser extent, [investors should] look to field level development in the Delaware Basin, the Terryville, and Mexican gas export projects. Pro forma for the Williams merger, Energy Transfer looks to be its own mini-industry, driving huge capital projects such as Lake Charles LNG, Rover in the Northeast and their Bakken export pipeline.
Byers: The Permian/Mid-con plays are going to be the ones to watch in 2016, along with a continued concentration into the core in other plays. The potential outlier next year will be Mexico’s deepwater.
Spann: We have seen a lot of interest and transactions around the Permian basin and would expect that to continue. Permian offers buyers a combination of resource upside, play optionality, infrastructure and supply chain for resilience in today’s price environment.
Trauber: The hottest plays are going to be anything Permian. Investors like to find increased opportunities to invest there, and if they’re not already in, they will be trying to get in. I think you’ll see some investments in the Utica as well, and then candidly, I think the others will be limited, more consolidation-type plays [will be driven] out of need to take out costs and become more efficient.
West: North American shale; the Permian in particular. The pressure pumping stocks will be the best performers.
Rigzone: How much lower, for how much longer?
Adkins: Oil and stocks will bottom in the next four to five months.
Bellamy: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? You tell me what the Saudis will do, and I will tell you when oil will rebound. In the absence of a Saudi proactive response, we will be long [on] oil until their balance sheet is exhausted, which is roughly four years from now. I expect we grind marginally higher toward $55 through this period, with weather and geopolitically induced volatility adding fun to the ride.
Byers: We don’t foresee an end in sight without some major geopolitical shock, or a decision by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to alter its recent strategy to protect market share rather than price. While Saudi Arabia has been resolute, there are reports of increased tensions within OPEC – and from other non-OPEC Middle East producers as well – because of sustained low oil prices. OPEC has delayed the release of an internal report on long term strategy because of the tensions. Algeria, Iran and Venezuela are said to support language in favor of maximizing revenue. Any price rebound will be met with a response from U.S. producers to the extent possible given the declining investment in new wells – plus additional Iranian supply is expected to enter the global market sometime in the second half of 2016 and should put downward pressure on WTI, Brent and other global crude oil prices. Expect equilibrium pricing in the $45-60 range with possible dips below $40. A more significant shock to the supply side might lead to a period of higher pricing (a couple years maybe depending on the magnitude), but U.S. will eventually spool up.
England: We expect some positive pressure on prices as North American production declines and low prices trigger demand response. Factors that could potentially make upside price scenarios more likely include any number of black swan events affecting supply or the perception of supply scarcity. However, since oil markets are highly cyclical, they tend to overshoot or undershoot most long-term outlooks. The current price environment has and will continue to curb many development plans. These can be restarted in the future once the pricing environment becomes more favorable, but the lag could just be the catalyst for pushing the market back into a scarcity mindset sooner than expected.
Trauber: Well, we did fall into the $30s [per barrel]. It’s come back a little from that, but I think there could still be a lot of pressure on oil prices over the next quarter or two where we could definitely see something in the $30s. We have probably 500,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil coming into the marketplace early in the first quarter and we should see some pressure from refinery turnaround. We still see OPEC producing as much as they can. We see Iraqi production at record levels. I think there’s a lot of pressure from a supply perspective and a lack of storage perspective, so I think we’ll see more pressure on oil prices before we start to see demand-driven recovery.
West: Oil prices are likely to start a methodical rise in 1Q.
Rigzone: Who are the superstar managers that may grab attention in 2016?
Adkins: Brian Mcshane – he runs an energy portfolio for Encompass Capital.
Bellamy: Paul Rady and Glenn Warren at Antero. This market will separate the haves and the have nots, and Antero stands out in all the ways an independent producer should, aided by a highly integrated midstream strategy.
Trauber: On the upstream side, I think you’ve got to look at Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of Total S.A., who has been in the seat for a short period of time but I think wants to find opportunities for growth. He’s done a good job already in taking out costs and preparing the balance sheet for growth.
BP plc’s CEO Bob Dudley – I think once they recover and they settle the Macondo litigation, certainly in the first half, I think you’ll see BP thinking about growth opportunities on a global basis.
And I think you’ve got to turn your attention to people inside the Permian Basin. You’ve got to look at guys like Scott Sheffield [CEO, Pioneer Natural Resources] and Tim Leach [CEO, Concho Resources] and Travis Stice [CEO, Diamondback Energy], who are proven leaders in the Permian Basin and that could seek further opportunities in the basin as well.
Rigzone: If oil prices remain in the $40 to $50 per barrel range – or if they dip even lower – what happens to the market?
Adkins: If oil stays at $50, drilling activity will fall between 40 and 50 percent in 2016, versus 2015.
Bellamy: Equity market fund flows are governed by oil prices. Energy equities will continue to underperform if $45 per barrel is the best we can do in 2016. The significant divergence in performance of quality and risk we’ve seen in 2015 will widen without a lift in oil prices. The fundamental landscape will continue to see marginal players pushed out, either as sellers or as bankruptcies … Lenders have proven to be toothless. A lack of liquidity when revolvers get tapped will be what forces bankruptcies or sales in the upstream. Most leadership teams won’t call it quits unless they are staring down the barrel of a gun.
Byers: We expect significant contraction/consolidation: exploration and production (E&P) will not contract, but the number of holders will. OFS will need a reset of capacity levels, especially in the commoditized D&C [drilling and completion] services, which will lead to many going out of business and a lot of assets scrapped. TheSchlumberger/Cameron and Baker Hughes/Halliburton combinations will add to the challenges for smaller companies as these two large entities will be able to operate more efficiently and competitively – and after the closure of smaller businesses will be able to extract more favorable rates – some say setting the stage for a bit of a comeback for OFS most likely in 2017.
The upside is that the protracted downturn has spurred further innovation and efficiency in U.S. shale producers and service providers, while many of the traditional OPEC producers have relied on maturing fields with no need for further innovation. This positions U.S. producers to dominate in a longer term recovery. This implies the long run OPEC strategy of imposing capital discipline on U.S. producers has worked to not only make them more efficient in deploying capital but also to innovate production and down-hole technologies faster than the rest of the world.
England: A leaner, stronger industry – more than anything else in business, I believe that in the power of free markets. Just as I believe the high prices of natural gas was a critical impetus for the development of the shale gas revolution, I believe today’s low crude prices are forcing an equally powerful innovation in the way oil is being developed and produced. Price forces innovation and we are still in the early stages of what can be achieved in terms of reducing unit costs of oil production. The endgame is an oil and gas industry that will be stronger, leaner and built for the future.
Trauber: It’s bifurcated. You’re going to have the need for many companies that don’t have the balance sheets – the small-caps and mid-caps – that are going to need to consolidate to drive efficiencies and improve profitability, take out costs and drive scale. I think you’re going to see a lot of the larger-cap major oil companies seek acquisitions because of the opportunistic nature of the environment. While we haven’t seen a lot of those to date, in 2016 we may, particularly if we start to see commodity prices fall a little further. You’ll see a lot of people trying to add to their portfolio, attractive long-term assets.
West: More bankruptcies, more financial stress and much lower oil production.
Rigzone: Where is the silver lining in these challenges? Who will benefit from turmoil in commodity prices?
Adkins: Oil and industry is poised for a multi-year rebound with strong oil prices in 2017/18.
Bellamy: The main beneficiaries of this downturn will be lawyers, equity short sellers and distressed credit shops. Larger firms with staying power, less levered entities, midstreamers with rock solid contracts and credit-worthy counterparties and deep value players with cash to deploy will come out of this cycle ahead, but it will be tough sledding for everyone. Those who entered 2015 with marginal assets, high leverage, and an inability to keep up in a declining cost environment will either expire or spend the next few years as zombies roaming the post-energy apocalyptic landscape. Investors should make sure they have a samurai sword to cut losses accordingly. Laid off roughnecks or frack sand miners should seek employment in another industry. To that end, managers, geologists and energy financiers employed at firms without staying power through the cycle should prepare for a bloodbath or null bonuses at year-end. Don’t believe any sugarcoating you hear from decision-makers – it’s bad out there. And El Nino isn’t giving us the wintertime reprieve we all need.
Byers: Companies will become more operationally efficient and flexible – and the strongest will survive. Automakers, airline companies, general dividend to the economy – within the energy space, likely the larger diversifieds, well capitalized efficient operators and new entrants will benefit. In a world of unintended consequences, the OPEC strategy has been the shot in the arm needed to make the U.S. energy industry the leanest and strongest on the block.
Spann: We expect the strong will get stronger as they will find opportunities to consolidate or buy assets that will be accretive to their portfolios. I also expect to continue to see private equity deploy a lot of capital as the bid ask spreads on businesses and assets narrows, and you will see a lot of new businesses built by [public equity] backed capital. In a longer term view of the cycle, this will provide opportunity for buyers to put money to work near a bottom.
Trauber: Consumers certainly should. Chemical companies and energy intensive companies should benefit. In the Gulf Coast region of Texas, you see an industrial revolution of sorts as chemical facilities being built, plastics facilities being built. And then obviously, the consumer. Right now, we have yet to see that consumer put incremental saving from lower prices at the pump, and use that to pay down debt and put it into savings. But it’s not driving the economy.
And at the end of the day, I think a potential winner this year will be private equity firms. They have massive amounts of capital looking to help support quality companies and quality management teams in an environment where the debt-capital markets and the public equity markets have been much more resistant to putting in capital. And I think the beneficiary of the will be a private equity fund that has ample opportunity to put that capital to work.
West: The companies with the best balance sheets that are making strategic investments during the downturn.