x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dragon Oil reports Caspian output rises 21% with larger pipe

Dragon Oil, the exploration company majority-owned by Dubai, has overcome production bottlenecks and is expected to approve its first dividend payout next month.

Dragon Oil has reported output in the first quarter rose 21 per cent over the same period last year after the company cleared production bottlenecks.

The company, which drills offshore in the Caspian Sea and has a minority stake in three exploration blocks in Yemen, spent US$74 million (Dh271.7m) in the first three months of this year on installing a wider pipeline and drilling three new wells.

That allowed the company to increase its average daily production to 57,800 barrels from 47,600 in the same period last year.

Analysts at the investment bank Nomura increased their target price for Dragon Oil, traded on the Irish and London stock exchanges, to 765 pence from 755 pence in light of expected production growth.

"Our recent visit to Dragon Oil's facilities suggests that operational delivery is on track and management's recent update confirms that view," analysts at Nomura said in a note to investors yesterday.

Shares of Dragon Oil rose to 571 pence on the London Stock Exchange yesterday, a 4 per cent increase on Wednesday's close. The Government of Dubai owns 51 per cent of Dragon Oil through Emirates National Oil Company (Enoc).

Dragon Oil's shares have traded at a discount compared with British exploration and production companies, said Vishal Gupta, one of the Nomura analysts who wrote yesterday's note.

Mr Gupta added that investors were reluctant to put money into a largely single-asset company that already had a majority owner.

"It would always remain at a bit of a discount to the other companies, because of the 51 per cent Enoc share that's going to always be there," he said. "We think that it's overdone, the discount."

Dragon Oil had been contemplating where to put about $1.3 billion of available cash, Emad Buhulaigah, Dragon Oil's general manager of petroleum development, said in February.

An estimated $72.2m of that will go towards the company's first dividend, a payout of 14 US cents a share that is expected to be approved at the annual shareholder meeting next month in London.

Dragon Oil was also negotiating for potential acquisitions in Africa and the Caspian Sea, Mr Buhulaigah said in February. "We have to find something that is worthwhile," he said.

Even after paying a dividend, the company should have plenty of cash for acquisitions.

"It's a zero-debt company and they have cash worth $1.3bn on their balance sheet," said Mr Gupta. "If they do go for a bigger deal, then they have enough to raise debt from the market."

ayee@thenational.ae