x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

How to reap the spoils of oil

As crude continues to hold above $105 a barrel, analysts say it is likely to remain a good investment over the long term.

With the price of a barrel of oil sticking above the US$105 mark, analysts say crude is a great long-term investment, particularly in Russia, the United States and Brazil.  Mark Ralston / AFP
With the price of a barrel of oil sticking above the US$105 mark, analysts say crude is a great long-term investment, particularly in Russia, the United States and Brazil. Mark Ralston / AFP

They find oil in all sorts of places these days, not just the Middle East. Saudi Arabia may still be the world's swing producer, while the UAE, Iran and Kuwait are also flush with the black stuff. But there's plenty of oil beyond the Middle East

The United States is the world's second-biggest oil producer, followed by Russia. China, Canada, Mexico and Brazil also feature in the top 10.

With the oil price sticking stubbornly above US$105 a barrel, even in the teeth of a global downturn, oil looks likely to remain a great long-term investment. So where in the world do you go?

You could start with Russia, whose economy floats on a vast pool of oil and gas, says Liesbeth Rubinstein, who manages Invesco Perpetual Emerging Markets. "This brings huge financial benefits to the country, as a steady flow of substantial export revenues boosts government finances and supports the corporate sector."

Wages are growing and investment is pouring into infrastructure. Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation in August, which should reduce trade barriers and help to modernise its economy, Ms Rubinstein says.

"This rich mixture of government spending and private capital can fuel a virtuous circle of higher economic growth and greater affluence," she says.

That makes it a tempting target for investors. The Russian middle class is expected to grow from 20 million to 66 million in the next eight years and they will have more money to spend on retail and consumer goods, financial services and health care. Invest in Russia and you're investing in a lot more than the oil price.

The Russian stock market is also cheap by historical standards. Specialist mutual funds, such as JP Morgan Russian Securities, Neptune Greater Russia and Baring Russia, may be worth a look.

Discovering a new source of energy can transform an economy, even one as big as the US, which is on course to become energy self-sufficient as its vast resources of shale oil and gas become commercially viable.

The shale revolution already means the US no longer needs to import natural gas, says Aris Vatis, a portfolio manager at Fidelity American Fund. "US companies are in great shape, they are international in scope and are operating in a host of attractive industries."

Brave investors could play the shale oil price by investing in an individual company, such as National Oilwell Varco, a drilling technology specialist in Houston, Texas.

"It has 50 per cent market share in the global oil drilling equipment market," Mr Vatis says. "Strong barriers to entry should protect its position, deliver strong returns on investment capital and maintain strong, free cash flows."

Investors in energy must brace themselves for volatility. Natural resources and commodities are notoriously cyclical and even new discoveries aren't always good news for investors. Fears that shale will lead to a glut of natural gas has sent prices plummeting.

The share prices of many companies exposed to this sector, including National Oilwell Varco and Weir Group, a Scottish engineering firm that makes specialist equipment for the shale industry, have been volatile.

Canada is another energy hotspot, thanks to tar sands and shale, says Sam Lee, a portfolio manager for the Toronto-based Melchior Resources Fund. "Better still, Canada is easy to invest in, with a business-friendly government."

China has taken note and is making a beeline for the country, Mr Lee says. "Canada has the resources, but it needs foreign capital to develop them. CNOOC, the Chinese state-owned oil company, is seeking approval to buy Canadian oil producer Nexen for $15 billion in cash, the largest ever overseas takeover by a Chinese company. India is also looking to invest."

This is giving a huge boost to the Canadian economy and currency. "Demand for oil and gas stocks bottomed out earlier this year due to slowing Chinese demand. Now is a good time to invest because you can buy these assets at attractive prices and benefit when they recover," Mr Lee says.

By some estimates, Brazil is on course to be the world's fourth-largest oil producer by 2020, after Saudi, the US and Russia. The country's state-owned Petrobras could even replace Exxon as the world's biggest oil company.

But Brazilian oil and gas reserves are buried deep offshore and hard to access.

Nicole Vettise, an investment specialist for the JPM Natural Resources Fund, picks another Latin American country as a brighter prospect. "We see the greatest potential in Colombia, which has potential capacity of one million barrels of oil per day. The government is encouraging investment in its storage facilities and reducing taxation. Some companies have seen their share price rise 200 per cent.

"Diversification is always important; you should never put all your eggs in one basket, but we like what's going on in Colombia. We are also very excited about Kurdistan and Liberia."

So will the oil price stay high? We are in the fourth year of recession, yet a barrel of Brent crude consistently costs more than $100 a barrel, says Angelos Damaskos, who runs the Junior Oils Trust, a mutual fund that invests in small oil exploration companies.

"Demand for oil isn't going to fall. The world has become accustomed to a certain standard of living and won't want to cut its energy usage now."

Political instability in North Africa and the Middle East will also sustain oil prices, as will any conflict between Israel and Iran. "Aside from shale gas in the US and Canada, there are no major new sources of energy. The switch to sustainable energy will take a long time and requires huge capital expenditure. It won't happen overnight."

Oil majors such as Exxon, BP and Shell are popular investments, but there are better ways to profit from a rising oil price, Mr Damaskos says. "A large part of their business is storage, transportation, refining, chemical processing and retailing. This won't necessarily benefit from rising demand for oil."

Smaller exploration companies with identified reserves may be a better bet, if you can stand the volatility. Their share prices have fallen recently, as nervy investors backed away from riskier assets, but they could rebound when the global economy finally starts motoring again, rewarding brave investors who take the plunge now.