Recently our Premier went on TV to warn the public of a “Bitumen Bubble” here. Essentially Alberta’s oil is landlocked. With limited pipeline capacity and increased American oil production (primarily in the Bakken) the prices of Western Canadian Select has decreased relative to the more traditional Texas Crude.
You can see from the video that the Albertan government was caught flat footed. They push blame to the Canadian government for poor forecasting. To me that’s like myself passing blame to an analyst for me losing money on an investment.
The Edmonton Journal does a good job visualizing the situation here.
Aside from that, the government was not alone in being caught off guard. Yours truly wasn’t paying enough attention to the potential impacts for my investments and (more importantly) career. Many companies have been cutting spending which has led to lay-offs. My company alone let go of 15% of the workforce. If you consider what the expectations were at the start of 2012, we are talking closer to 25% less staff then expected. It’s huge.
Many Albertans are still ignorant to the effects. It is actually quite amazing how little we know about what drives our economy.
Here in Alberta it is nothing new to have the price of Western Canadian Select differ slightly from West Texas Crude, but recently things have been quite interesting. Alberta production has finally started to climb and many (if not all) projects need to produce to lower the overall cost of production, even at $50. Here is a look at Alberta production courtesy of ERCB. Shown are the barrels per day.
Unless a pipeline (or even a massive rail line) is built then this phenomenon is likely to continue. The longer it continues, the further down the economy will go. The other concern is how much of Alberta’s seemingly cheap Residential Real Estate market is because it is being propped up by high wage earners in the oil sands. The potential for a domino effect is scary.
There are several ways to play this from an investing (more like speculating) standpoint. Many companies are heavily exposed to drilling activity here in Alberta. The easiest picks would be producers, but with high debt loads you would have to be very precise on timing in order for them not to do damage to the balance sheet and for earnings to rebound.
An alternative would be the drilling and service companies. This would be my preference. Many have stronger balance sheets, though some are very levered. To be clear, I do think that the only competitive advantage any have would be those that are run conservatively. Most (if not all) drillers and service companies have been increasing the amount of capital expenditures and now (for the first time since the recession) there is likely more supply than demand. This is pushing down gross margins.
The final alternative would be companies that provide some sort of service or product beyond the obvious, like mobile trailers to drilling sites or catering services to camp sites.
I don’t have an idea why so many of these debt heavy cyclicals pay dividends, I am a little perplexed. Many could continue though I think they shouldn’t. Maybe the nadir for the sector would be the cut in dividends. I don’t know how much of that is priced in at this point, but it would likely lead to some large institutional selling.
The last type of company to purchase would be one that will benefit from new pipeline development directly. I don’t have any names, but I am looking. Please send some names if you have them.
I lay out the case to not immediately buy, but to scale into names when we get an announcement on pipeline or some sort of solution that oil from the WCSB will no longer be landlocked. Many have little or no analyst following, which tends to lead to a sleepy Mr. Market. I have intentionally picked more conservative companies for extra margin of safety. They may or may not rise as fast as their peers in an oil price spike. All names are Canadian listed. Many have exposure outside the WCSB as well.
Drillers: AKT.A, XDC, CDI
Traditional Service: SDY, SVY, NWE, FRC
Unique Service: HNL, WTA, BRY
Something I wanted to point out was the fact that I didn’t rant about our elected officials and how dumb it is to rely on oil and gas resources to be our main value proposition to the world. You’re welcome.
Disclosure: No position in anything mentioned.