Tuesday April 24, 2012
by Elliott Gue, editor The Energy Strategist
On March 25, France-based Total (TOT) announced that it had detected a natural gas leak at its Elgin Platform in the UK portion of the North Sea.
Although the leak inevitably led to hasty comparisons to what transpired in the Gulf of Mexico, the two disasters bear scant similarity to one another and savvy investors now have a great opportunity to pick up these shares at a bargain price and lock in a dividend yield of roughly 6 percent.
The well that’s the source of the Elgin leak hasn’t been in production since February 2011. In fact, Total had been working to plug the well for permanent abandonment.
Whereas operators struggled to plug the blown-out Macondo because the source of the spill was almost 1 mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, the hydrocarbons leaking into the North Sea are coming from equipment installed on the surface platform.
Management has assigned a price tag of about $1.5 million per day to this lost production, while the cost of responding to the spill has been roughly $1 million per day. Drilling the relief wells will ratchet up this expense to about USD1.5 million per day.
The firm will also likely face fines from the UK government and could be sued by Royal Dutch Shell and other producers that have been forced to halt operations in the area.
Total shouldn’t have any problems paying these bills. One of the largest energy firms in the world, the company has $19 billion in cash on hand and about $10 billion in undrawn credit lines.
In addition, the company has roughly $750 million in third-party insurance coverage for liability and more than $1 billion in coverage for property damage related to the Elgin spill.
In short, the Elgin spill shouldn’t present a major obstacle to Total’s growth story; the recent selloff in the stock appears overdone, especially when you consider the company’s myriad upstream growth projects around the world.
As one of the world’s largest energy companies, Total’s biggest challenge is growing its annual production. For 2012, the company is allocating USD20 billon of its $24 billion budget toward upstream operations.
Total’s planned expenditures on exploration and production represent an almost 18 percent increase from year-ago levels and are among the most aggressive of its peers.
These efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Total in 2011 announced the discovery of three giant oil fields: the Zaedyus field in French Guyana, the Aquio-X1001 in Bolivia and the Absheron field in Azerbaijan. This marked Total’s best ever year in term of finding giant oil fields.
Total also has exposure to exciting deepwater projects in the US Gulf of Mexico, Asia and offshore South America. However, the firm’s particularly strong offshore Africa–a region in which it has a long operating history–offer the best growth prospects.
Total’s American depositary receipt (ADR) rates a buy up to $57 and is new newest member of the Conservative Portfolio. I’ve also added the stock to my Best Buys list.
At its current share price, Total is one of the cheapest major integrated oil stocks available and offers a dividend yield in excess of 6 percent, largely because of overblown concerns about the natural gas leaking from the Elgin field.
Learn more about this financial newsletter at Elliott Gue's The Energy Strategist.