Canada's Long Term Oil Opportunity
Joshua is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
Investing is a waiting game. Some may make fortunes overnight, but the majority find profits through years of planning and execution. The world's energy system is going through major challenges and changes. There are a number of Canadian oil companies which stand ready to profit from these trends. The key is that investors must be willing to watch and wait in order to take advantage of these gains.
Currently, North America's midstream infrastructure is lacking. The midstream sector plays the important role of transporting oil and gas to the refineries, where they can be transformed into useful products. The future is never certain, but it is expected that companies will have to wait until 2020 for the majority of midstream issues to be resolved.
A number of large producers are starting to see declines in production. Mexico may become an oil importer by 2020. Underinvestment and geological challenges do not paint a positive future. On the other side of the Atlantic the United Kingdom is also dealing with a number of challenges in their declining fields.
Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ) is focused on the oil sands found in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It's also involved off the coast of West Africa and the northern coast of the United Kingdom. Its low return on invested capital is understandable, with around 25% of its production coming from natural gas. The natural gas market continues to be depressed, and it is expected to remain this way for a couple years.
This company's long-term prospects make it an interesting play. It owns the largest natural reserve base in Western Canada. It's planning expansions of 40,000 to 60,000 barrels per day approximately every two years until 2029. Its total debt-to-equity ratio of 0.35 is one of the higher debt loads of the firms examined here, but it is not excessive. Even with its low return on investment of 7.5%, it's still able to post a relatively strong profit margin of 14%. Once North America's midstream constraints are removed, Canadian Natural Resources will be a great growth position given their large amount of undeveloped land.
Suncor Energy (NYSE: SU) is a major oil sands player with a host of midstream and downstream assets. It still feels the effects of midstream constraints, but its refineries provide strong diversification for its upstream assets. The company recently took a writedown on its Voyaguer project and is undergoing an examination to ensure its future profitability. Even without this project, it will be able to support future production growth with the Firebag projects and the Hebron project off the coast of Newfoundland.
Out of all of the Canadian oil companies, Suncor is one of the best. Its mix of upstream and downstream assets gives the company an important hedge against market volatility. Its total debt to equity ratio of 0.26 is healthy, and does not suggest any balance sheet issues. Currently, the company has a return on investment of 9.6%, which is acceptable for a large oil firm. Investors looking for a dependable way to investing oil will find a fit with Suncor.
Cenovus Energy (NYSE: CVE) has some natural gas, but it's mainly focused on oil. It has a large number of oil sands projects between Foster Creek, Cristina Lake, Narrows Lake, and a few more. Cenovus expects these projects to be fully brought online by 2020, although first production will be much earlier. It also has downstream assets that can refine 235,000 to 255,000 barrels of heavy oil per day. The current midstream constraints have forced the company to use rail to transport a portion of their production.
Its total debt to equity ratio of 0.46 shows that the company has the highest amount of debt of any of the firms here. It hopes to grow its bitumen production from 2012 levels around 100,000 barrels per day to 400,000 in 2021. Cenovus' return on investment of 9.4% and profit margin of 7.9% are very similar to the numbers posted by Suncor. Over the long term, Suncor appears to be the stronger option with less debt.
Where to Invest
In 2020, North America's energy sector will look very different, with more midstream infrastructure and expanded oil stream production. Suncor is a good option for conservative investors looking for stability. Suncor may not grow as quickly as some of their competitors, but it offers a broad mix of assets. Canadian Natural Resources has large reserves and should see very strong growth over the coming decade. This company is a tad more speculative, but as long as natural gas does not hold it back, it will continue to expand.
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