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Why has the oil & gas sector underperformed?

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Crude oil prices, refining margins and petrochemical spreads have been rising throughout CY2010-11. In spite of this, the oil & gas sector has underperformed the broader index with the BSE Oil Index dropping by 2.7% as against a gain of 11.3% in the BSE 100 Index year-to-date.

The reasons for the above are not hard to find. Lack of clarity regarding the subsidy sharing mechanism hangs like an albatross around the necks of the upstream companies (ONGC, OIL India) as well as the refining & marketing companies (IOCL, BPCL, HPCL). The positive effect of petrol deregulation has been nullified by the relentless rise in crude prices (Brent crude touched $ 99/bbl couple of weeks ago). This has increased the projected under recovery for FY11 to Rs 73,000 cr, compared to the projection of Rs 53,000 cr made post petrol deregulation in Jun 2010. Hopes of diesel deregulation in FY11 have been nipped in the bud by the Government in the face of 8% plus inflation levels. The Government, which is expected to provide for half of the total under recoveries, will find it tough to rein in fiscal deficit as it has abolished the practice of issuing oil bonds.

Cairn India, whose stock price has a correlation of 95% with crude price, has not performed in line with crude prices, as it awaits Government approval of its take-over by Vedanta Plc. RIL has turned in a stellar Q3 performance on the refining & petrochemicals front, however, ramp up of gas output from the prolific KG D6 basin remains uncertain. This delay is also raising questions on optimum capacity utilization of the pipeline network that is being set up by GAIL (India) and GSPL in the near term. Petronet LNG will be the beneficiary of the developing gas shortage scenario in the country.

As a response to India’s over dependence on crude imports, the Government is considering a system of OALP (Open Acreage Licensing Policy) where oil firms can choose the blocks they want to explore without waiting for the Government to put them on offer. This will minimize the lead time between bidding & commencement of exploratory activities, which can be as long as 3 yrs. The Government also needs to apply its mind towards simplifying the maze of price controls, duties and taxes being charged on the regulated petroleum products so that investors gain clarity on the working of the oil & gas sector.

Written by Fundamental Side

January 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm

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