TOM NELSON and CHARLES WHALL, portfolio managers at Investec Asset Management, explain why they believe the oil price is unlikely to stay this low for an extended period of time.
The sell-off has been driven by Opec’s surprise actions and not, as popularly believed, a ‘supply glut’.
We believe the oil price is unlikely to stay below the industry’s cash operating cost for too long.
We expect the recovery in the oil price will likely surprise investors in its speed and scale.
ANIMAL SPIRITS OF TRADERS AND CHANGING SAUDI BEHAVIOUR
Oil prices have fallen steadily since the Opec meeting on 27 November 2014. The realisation that Saudi Arabia would not moderate production to support oil prices has let loose the animal spirits of traders who continue to sell oil aggressively. Brent crude oil is hovering at $50 per barrel (bl), WTI is in the high $40s, and energy equities continue to underperform. As a reminder, the average price of Brent oil in 2014 was $99/bl. We must not lose sight of the fact that the collapse has been in near-term prices as evident through the longer-term futures price which is currently trading at $78 today.
The Opec meeting was a significant negative surprise to us and to the rest of the market. The change in Saudi behaviour cannot be overstated, and far outweighs the demand weakness which we expect to be transitory. Saudi Arabia has decided to defend market share at the expense of price for the first time since the 1980s, which will cause oil prices to fall excessively – beyond a level which rational supply/demand economics would dictate.
Without a market moderator to smooth the supply/demand balance – a role Saudi Arabia had played skilfully for a number of years – the traders can sell oil with impunity, at least for now. Opec’s decision has changed the way oil markets will function in the short term. This new era of volatility will cause a material slowdown in spending and investment which will balance the market – and this will lead in time to an oil price overshoot to the upside. Neither scenario is helpful for major oil producers: the net effect will be less investment, at a time when the sector is already struggling to combat steeper production declines and a startling lack of exploration success.
However, reflecting on the Opec meeting, we are at least now clearer on Saudi intentions, namely to slow down supply from key non-Opec producers: US shale oil and Russia. To recap, Opec had expected nonOpec supply to increase by 1.4 million bl/day in 2015. We think this scenario is optimistic.
HOW LOW CAN OIL GO?
The rational, if unanswerable, question at the moment is ‘how low can oil prices go?’. We base our oil price analysis around the four pillars of supply, demand, marginal cost and Opec – but recognise that short-term trading momentum, driven by financial speculation, is still to the downside.
Opec: The next meeting is scheduled for 5 June 2015, but we should not discount the possibility of an emergency meeting being convened before that date. Brent was trading at $78/bl when they met in late November. In our view, Saudi Arabia is waiting for clear evidence of a slowdown in US shale oil production, which could come towards the end of the first quarter.
Marginal cost: At $50/bl Brent oil we are already well below the marginal supply cost, defined as the cost of pumping the last and most expensive barrel required to satisfy demand, for the industry. Spending is being reduced, projects are being delayed, and investment in the sector is falling. We estimate the marginal cost for US shale to be around $75/bl.
Demand: 2014 was a weak demand year, but still a year of demand growth. We believe that 2015 demand will be stronger, stimulated by lower oil prices (the traditional cure for low oil prices). To reiterate, the oil price collapse has not been caused by a collapse in demand, which was only 0.5% less than estimated. Chinese strategic buying of oil – for which there is ample storage capacity – could surprise the market in 2015.
Supply: 2015 is the most difficult year to model since 2008 due to the sharp slowdown in spending. Regarding US shale oil: we calculate that spending by US shale oil producers will fall by 30%. Most importantly, we estimate that US shale oil production growth – which has been 1 million bl/day for each of the last three years – will fall to less than 0.5 million bl/day. The challenge is pinpointing the delay between reduced drilling and reduced production. Such is the efficiency of drilling and tying-in wells, this lower spending will be evident with a drop in production growth coming towards the end of the first quarter in our view.
Outside US shale oil, 2015 is expected to be a lean year for new conventional field start-ups, as we have written before. The changing tax regime in Russia has incentivised Russian producers to boost production in December and January, but the effect of sanctions and underinvestment could pull Russian production materially lower in 2015.
OUR OIL PRICE FORECASTS FOR 2015
With all of this in mind we forecast that Brent oil will average $60/$70/$80/$85/bl in the four quarters of 2015, to give a full-year average of $70-75/bl, representing 40-50% upside in the commodity price from today’s level. We model no premium for geopolitical risk but note that Saudi Arabian succession, Venezuelan debt default and Nigerian elections stand out as supply-side risks.
Overall, we are positioning the portfolio for a recovery in the oil price in 2015, as described above. We believe the sell-off has been driven by Opec’s surprise actions and we expect the equities to recover in anticipation of a move higher in the commodity price. The recovery is likely to surprise investors in its speed and scale, just as the sell-off has, and we fundamentally believe that we are approaching the bottom in terms of sentiment, investor positioning and valuation. We believe the oil price is unlikely to stay below the industry’s cash operating cost for an extended length of time.
The future of Botswana’s largest copper and silver operation, Khoemacau Copper Mining, looks promising as the new owners, MMG Group, commit to the mine’s expansion plans. MMG, an Australian headquartered company owned by China, has expressed its dedication to doubling Khoemacau’s production and transforming it into one of the most significant high-grade copper operations in Africa.
Nan Wang, the Executive General Manager for Australia and Africa at MMG, stated that while the immediate focus is on maintaining a consistent production level of 60ktpa, there are solid plans to increase Khoemacau’s production capacity. The company aims to double its production from 3.65Mtpa to 8.15Mtpa, resulting in an increase in payable copper from approximately 60ktpa to around 130ktpa.
To achieve this expansion, Khoemacau has completed a pre-feasibility study on the project and a solar power initiative. The next step is to conduct a feasibility study, which will pave the way for increased production capacity. Additionally, Khoemacau has identified extensive exploration opportunities across its license area, positioning the company for an exciting new phase of development.
The current Khoemacau operation reached full production and nameplate capacity in December 2022, following over a decade of investment totaling over P10 billion. This significant investment allowed for an intense exploration program, resulting in the development of the most automated underground mining operation in Botswana. The first concentrate was produced in June 2021, and the product entered the export market in July of the same year. Throughout 2022, the company has been working on the pre-feasibility study for the expansion project, with the feasibility study scheduled for the following year.
The expansion plans will involve the construction of a new world-class process plant in Zone 5, where the current mining of ore takes place. This new plant will be larger than the existing one in Boseto, which currently receives ore from Zone 5. The expansion will also involve the development of new underground mines, including Mango, Zone 5 North, and Zeta North East. These additional mines will bring the total number of underground shafts at Khoemacau to six. The ramp-up of production from the expansion is expected to occur in 2026.
Khoemacau, which acquired assets in the Kalahari Copper Belt after the liquidation of Discovery Metals in 2015, currently employs over 1500 people, with the majority being Batswana. The Khoemacau Mine is located in north-west Botswana, in the emerging Kalahari Copperbelt. It boasts the 10th largest African Copper Mineral Resource by total contained copper metal and is one of the largest copper sedimentary systems in the world outside of the Central African Copperbelt.
The mine utilizes underground long hole stoping as its mining method and conventional sulphide flotation for processing. Resource drilling results have shown the existing resources to have continuity at depth, and there are several exploration targets within the tenement package that have the potential to extend the mine’s life or increase productivity.
The Zone 5 mine has already ramped up production, and further expansion in the next five years will be supported by the deposits in the Zone 5 Group. The estimated mine life is a minimum of 20 years, with the potential to extend beyond 30 years by tapping into other deposits within the tenement package.
In conclusion, the commitment of MMG Group to Khoemacau’s expansion plans signifies a bright future for Botswana’s largest copper and silver operation. With the completion of pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, as well as significant investments, Khoemacau is poised to become one of Africa’s most important high-grade copper operations. The expansion project will not only increase production capacity but also create new job opportunities and contribute to the economic growth of Botswana.
Khoemacau Copper Mining, a leading copper mining company, has recently announced its acquisition by MMG Limited, a global resources company based in Australia. This acquisition marks a significant milestone for both companies and demonstrates their commitment to continued investment, growth, and sustainability in the mining industry.
MMG Limited is a renowned mining company that operates copper and other base metals projects across four continents. With its headquarters in Melbourne, Australia, MMG has a strong track record in mining and exploration. The company currently operates several successful mines, including the Dugald River zinc mine and the Rosebery polymetallic mine in Australia, the Kinsevere copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Las Bambas Mine in Peru. MMG’s extensive experience and expertise in mining operations make it an ideal partner for Khoemacau.
MMG’s commitment to sustainability aligns perfectly with Khoemacau’s values and priorities. Khoemacau has always placed a strong emphasis on safety, health, community, and the environment. MMG shares this commitment and applies the principles of good corporate governance as set out in the Corporate Governance Code of the Hong Kong Listing Rules. As a member of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), MMG adheres to sustainable mining principles, ensuring responsible and ethical practices in all its operations.
Over the past 12 years, Khoemacau’s current shareholders have made significant investments in the development of the company. With approximately US$1 billion deployed in the project, Khoemacau has successfully transformed from an exploration and discovery phase to a fully-fledged operating copper mine. The completion of the ramp-up of the Zone 5/Boseto operations has set the stage for the next phase of expansion.
With the acquisition by MMG, Khoemacau is poised for an exciting new chapter in its development. The completion of a pre-feasibility study on the Khoemacau expansion and a solar power project has paved the way for increased production capacity. The feasibility study will be the next step in doubling the production capacity from 3.65 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) to 8.15 Mtpa, resulting in a significant increase in payable copper from approximately 60,000 tonnes per annum (ktpa) to 130,000 ktpa. Additionally, Khoemacau has extensive exploration opportunities across its license area, further enhancing its growth potential.
The CEO of Khoemacau, Johan Ferreira, expressed his gratitude to the current owners for their stewardship of the company and their successful transformation of Khoemacau into a fully operational copper mine. He also highlighted the company’s focus on the expansion study and its vision for the future with MMG. Ferreira emphasized that the partnership with MMG will ensure Khoemacau’s long-term success, delivering employment, community benefits, and economic development in Botswana.
MMG Chairman, Jiqing Xu, echoed Ferreira’s sentiments, stating that the acquisition of Khoemacau aligns with MMG’s growth strategy and vision. Xu emphasized MMG’s commitment to creating opportunities for all stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, and communities. He expressed confidence in Khoemacau’s expansion potential and the company’s ability to realize its full potential with the support of MMG.
The sale of Khoemacau to MMG is subject to certain conditions precedent and approvals, with the expected closing date in the first half of 2024. This acquisition represents a significant step forward for both companies and reinforces their commitment to sustainable mining practices, responsible resource development, and long-term growth in the mining industry.
In conclusion, the acquisition of Khoemacau Copper Mining by MMG Limited signifies a new era of investment, growth, and sustainability in the mining industry. With MMG’s extensive experience and commitment to responsible mining practices, Khoemacau is well-positioned for future success. The partnership between the two companies will not only drive economic development but also ensure the safety and well-being of employees, benefit local communities, and contribute to the overall growth of Botswana’s mining sector.
The Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) has taken a significant step towards diversifying its energy mix by signing a power purchase agreement with Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village. This agreement marks a major milestone for the energy sector in Botswana as the country transitions from a coal-fired power generation system to a new energy mix comprising coal, gas, solar, and wind.
The CEO of BPC, David Kgoboko, explained that the Power Purchase Agreement is for a 6MW coal bed methane proof of concept project to be developed around Mmashoro village. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy in the energy mix. The use of coal bed methane for power generation is an exciting development as it provides a hybrid solution with non-dispatchable sources of generation like solar PV. Without flexible base-load generation, the deployment of non-dispatchable solar PV generation would be limited.
Kgoboko emphasized that BPC is committed to enabling the development of a gas supply industry in Botswana. Sekaname Energy, along with other players in the coal bed methane exploration business, is a key and strategic partner for BPC. The successful development of a gas supply industry will enable the realization of a secure and sustainable energy mix for the country.
The Minister of Minerals & Energy, Lefoko Moagi, expressed his support for the initiative by the private sector to develop a gas industry in Botswana. The country has abundant coal reserves, and the government fully supports the commercial extraction of coal bed methane gas for power generation. The government guarantees that BPC will purchase the generated electricity at reasonable tariffs, providing cash flow to the developers and enabling them to raise equity and debt funding for gas extraction development.
Moagi highlighted the benefits of developing a gas supply industry, including diversified primary energy sources, economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. He commended Sekaname Energy for undertaking a pilot project to prove the commercial viability of extracting coal bed methane for power generation. If successful, this initiative would unlock the potential of a gas production industry in Botswana.
Sekaname Energy CEO, Peter Mmusi, emphasized the multiple uses of natural gas and its potential to uplift Botswana’s economy. In addition to power generation, natural gas can be used for gas-to-liquids, compressed natural gas, and fertilizer production. Mmusi revealed that Sekaname has already invested $57 million in exploration and infrastructure throughout its resource area. The company plans to spend another $10-15 million for the initial 6MW project and aims to invest over $500 million in the future for a 90MW power plant. Sekaname’s goal is to assist BPC in becoming a net exporter of power within the region and to contribute to Botswana’s transition to cleaner energy production.
In conclusion, the power purchase agreement between BPC and Sekaname Energy for the production of power from coal bed methane in Mmashoro village is a significant step towards diversifying Botswana’s energy mix. This project aligns with BPC’s strategic initiatives to increase the proportion of low-carbon power generation sources and renewable energy. The government’s support for the development of a gas supply industry and the commercial extraction of coal bed methane will bring numerous benefits to the country, including economic diversification, import substitution, and employment creation. With the potential to become a net exporter of power and a cleaner energy producer, Botswana is poised to make significant strides in its energy sector.