Changing Global Energy Landscape with US Shale Gas – Part II

In mid- 2012, Kinder Morgan’s acquisition of El Paso for $38 billion,  resulted in a combined company called Kinder Morgan, Inc which is the largest operator of natural gas pipelines in the U.S. with 22% of the U.S. natural gas pipeline network,  connecting almost every gas field and consuming market in the U.S. The expanded pipeline network resulting from the Kinder Morgan-El Paso deal is expected to be especially significant in supplying gas to higher-priced electricity markets such as New York and Florida. The expanded pipeline network will permit the natural gas “bubble” to move downstream, in enough abundance to stimulate new products and locations.

This deal was a game changer because thousands of wells drilled to produce the record-setting “bubble” now have a record-setting pipeline network to get to market. This transaction affirms the potential of the shale gas discoveries, while countering apprehensions regarding stability of the natural gas market.

Sasol has announced a $10-billion facility in Louisiana to manufacture diesel fuel from natural gas, thus creating a new market for Haynesville Shale gas. That’s not all. Dow has announced plans to build shale gas downstream capacities based on ethane and propane on the Gulf Coast, and Shell has also made known of their plans to build an ethylene cracker in Appalachia near the Marcellus Shale.

There are domestic and export implications for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as well. Last year, Cheniere Energy was the first company in 35 years to receive export approval for LNG from its Sabine Pass liquefaction facility and has signed an $8-billion contract with BG for supplying LNFG and another one with Spain’s Gas Natural Fenosa for a total 7 million tons/year of LNG over 20 years.

The LNG exports are likely to be directed primarily to Asia, where in addition to the strong demand for LNG, the prices being paid for LNG are four times as high as the prices in the U.S. This demand for LNG in Asia is dominated by Japan and South Korea . These two countries together imported 64 percent of global LNG. Japan is replacing nuclear electricity generation capacity lost as a result of the earthquake and tsunami with LNG. Additional demand comes from China and India. China’s import of LNG has increased considerably, driven by demand for electricity generation and air quality concerns. The oil companies of India &China have made significant investment in U.S. shale plays in an attempt to bring in supply to their own markets.

The tide has turned — the U.S. is on its way to being not only the supplier of the world’s LNG, but other fuels as well. The U.S. is already on course this year to be a net exporter of gasoline, diesel and other fuels for the first time since the post-World War II economy of 1949 — a prospect that was unimaginable even a few years ago.

-Guest Post

Changing Global Energy Landscape with US Shale Gas – Part I

In the year 2009, United States surpassed Russia to become the world’s leader in natural gas production, with production continuing to increase to 80 billion cubic feet/day in 2012. U.S. natural gas reserves are at their highest point since 1971, and year-on-year reserve additions doubled from 2010 to 2011, as a result of shale production. Shale gas, a natural gas found trapped in sedimentary rocks, made up only 1 % of U.S. natural gas production in 2000. It now amounts to 25 % of U.S. natural gas production and is expected to increase to nearly 50 % by 2035.

Natural gas, cost-competitive with coal at half the carbon emissions, is becoming the fuel of choice for electricity generation. New EPA regulations on particulates, mercury, and other toxic emissions are forcing the closure or retirement of 28 GW or more of coal-burning capacity, or about 8.9 percent of total U.S. coal-burning capacity. Recent increases in coal transportation costs are also problematic for coal. In addition, demand for electricity is forecast to exhibit slow but steady growth over the next few decades. These factors, taken together, are expected to be the primary driver of demand for natural gas in electricity generation over the next several decades. Utilities and end users are choosing the lower emissions and lower capital requirements of natural gas-fired facilities over other fuels, sending the clear message that the risk of natural gas price volatility is a risk worth taking in the current difficult policy environment for coal.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 223 GW of new generation capacity will be needed between now and 2035, and that at least 60 percent of capacity additions are expected to be natural-gas-powered. However recently EIA has conceded that “the shale oil and shale gas resource estimates are highly uncertain and will remain so until they are extensively tested with production wells”, thus raising concerns the prospects of shale gas. Industry consultants and federal energy experts have privatelyvoiced scepticism about shale gas prospects. 

Scepticism also arises mainly due to the lack of marketability that has not only kept the natural gas price below $4/MMBTU, it has even resulted in the flaring of more than one-third of produced natural gas in 2011 in North Dakota. Without a pipeline, natural gas is not marketable. It’s immobile, “stuck” near the production site. Pipelines are long-term investments that generate low returns. Revenue to the pipeline operators is generated by transmission fees on long-term contracts, insulating the operators from fluctuations in the natural gas commodity price.

Notwithstanding the cynicism,  shale resources and other upstream assets continue to drive U.S. merger and acquisition activity, attracting foreign investors in the process.  In the next part we will look into some deals that validate that the potential of the shale gas discoveries.
– Guest Post.

 

 

Norms and Stereotypes in Corporate India

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India is fast emerging as an innovation base and presents a large market opportunity to companies that are creating economical products and solutions for the country. At the same time, India also has its share of challenges in terms of lack of adequate infrastructure, bureaucratic bottlenecks, complex labor and taxation regulations etc. But besides these major policy or investment constraints, there are these few other norms & stereotypes typical of the Indian corporate culture, which though are commonplace for most of us living in India, but if changed will work towards projecting a much better image of Indian businesses.

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US Immigration Bill – impact on Indian IT industry

The Indian IT industry will be cautiously following the US immigration bill to be introduced this week by the US Senate, with the objective to provide for comprehensive immigration reform, increase visas for skilled workers; and beef up border security.

Passage of the bill could be a boon to high-tech companies like Intel Corp.  or Facebook Inc., who would be able to hire more highly skilled workers from abroad. But the US immigration bill is likely to impede the operations of the Indian IT services cos.

The IT services industry grew rapidly in the 1990s.  Due to the Y2K hype, businesses were apprehensive about their IT systems and so there was demand for IT service providers. Once the Y2K hype was over, the customers became conscious of their IT spending. Consequently, the suppliers had to hire overseas, particularly in India, and that paved way for the off-shoring trend that is currently seen.

Indian consulting firms like TCS and Wipro introduced off-shoring by charging lower prices per consultant. These firms basically enjoyed the labor arbitrage due to large number of consultants working in India enjoyed and competed in terms of pricing. Big IT consulting houses like IBM and Accenture had to hire IT professionals in India and charge similar prices per consultant.

In order to maintain their cost advantage, besides deploying a large pool of offshore resources, the Indian IT services companies also paid lower wages to employees travelling to the U.S on H-1B or L-1 visas, as compared to equivalently skilled Americans.

The proposed US Immigration bill proposes wage parity between guest workers in the U.S. and equivalently skilled Americans. As such the Indian outsourcing companies that have a large no of on-site employees on US work permits, will need to pay them higher salaries. This will negatively impact the cost advantage that the Indian IT services companies have enjoyed so far.

As per the proposed bill, the companies will have to pay a $10,000 fee per additional worker if the employer has 50 or more employees and more than 50 per cent of these workers are H-1B or L-1 employees without a green card petition pending. Domestic companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro will have to pay USD 10,000 for each additional H-1B employee they would be hiring.

On the positive side, it will also enable 11 million workers in the US including 2.4 mill Indians to obtain American citizenship. Another proposal is to award residency to those who earn doctorates from U.S. universities in mathematics, engineering, science or technology.

Management of Indian IT services companies are concerned about the increase in compliance cost and higher turnaround times, which would fundamentally affect competitiveness and the margins of these companies.

As it will take a few more months for the bill to be implemented, the Indian government, and outsourcing industry will be closely following the debates. Meanwhile the Indian IT services companies may need to look at revamping their business models to remain competitive.

Markets – On the Roller Coaster

 

The excessive market euphoria that was apparent in the beginning of the month has faded and has given way to apprehensions for investors worldwide.

Even as the markets seemed to recover from the concerns over Cyprus bank run, tagging it a one off event, the news of political turmoil in Italy shook the European stock markets. Greece’s ATHEX Composite was off 4.8%. US indexes opened in red today. This certainly signals nervousness and dampened sentiments of investors. The Asian markets will also be impacted negatively.

Bank deposits that were so far considered as safe investment options, no longer seem to be safe after the Cyprus government decided to levy taxes on deposits, in a bid to secure bailout package from the European Union. The banks have remained closed for about a week and are likely to reopen with the imposition of capital controls by Cypriot authorities.

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Global Markets – Riding high on sentiments

 

Worldwide markets are echoing bullish sentiments.

The US Dow Jones Industrial Average index has surpassed its 2007 high and continues to make new all-time highs. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index too is trading at post-2007 highs. Asian & European markets are rallying too based on cues from the US market. Indian markets are recovering from February lows.

All this barely a week after the US sequestration set in on March 1, 2013!!

The bullish markets have revived positive sentiments and created excitement, but it also warrants cautiousness.

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Market Reaction to new CEO announcement

 

On 21st Nov, Indian generic drug maker Cipla Ltd. announced its plans to acquire South African firm  Cipla Medpro. Subsequent to the announcement that is likely to boost its prospects in Africa, and is expected to be accretive to earning, Cipla Ltd. shares rose by more than 3 % after the announcement and were trading at Rs 390 on NSE.

On 22nd Nov, Cipla Ltd announced the appointment of Mr. Subhanu Saxena as Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Saxena has rich work experience of over 25 years, in industries as varied as FMCG, consulting, banking and pharmaceuticals. Following the announcement of the appointment of new CEO, Cipla share fell down during the day while the NIFTY index showed a upward movement. Cipla share price clearly did not follow the pattern in sync with the movement of NIFTY.

 

This weak movement of the share price on 22nd Nov could have something to do with the announcement of new CEO appointment. Generally some market reaction is expected around the announcement day of a CEO appointment. In considering CEO candidates, boards of directors and selection committees are almost always concerned about the market reaction on the company’s share price.

 

At times markets tend to react unfavourably to the announcement of a new CEO, as investors may anticipate some amount of uncertainty involved with the change in CEO. There are other instances when there have been positive abnormal returns around the announcement of an outside CEO appointment. In such cases, results suggest that new outsider CEO appointments can be considered as beneficial to investors because they bring in knowledge from other organizations and can objectively evaluate and challenge the current strategy of the company and incorporate new and fresh ideas.

Though the initial market reaction is in anticipation of  the CEO’s likelihood of success, however a  latest research by HBR shows that there is no positive correlation between how a company’s stock fares upon the announcement of a new CEO and the share price over that CEO’s tenure so the initial market reaction should not be considered an indicator of the CEO’s likely performance.

Irrespective of the initial market reaction, it will only be evident over a period of time how the new CEO steers the Cipla towards higher levels of growth and creates value for the shareholders.

 

Challenges facing India’s Infrastructure Sector – Part II

In my last post, I had written about the challenges faced by infrastructure sector in India. If we were to look into the reasons behind the challenges in India’s Infrastructure sector, we see that the problems can be broadly categorized into structural or procedural in nature.

Structural reasons:
  1. Faulty incentives: Government organizations as well as the concessionaire are wrongly incentivized while implementing the infrastructural projects. Government contracts are generally awarded on the basis of lowest price and this encourages private players to undercut each other in prices for winning the contracts, thus resulting in poor quality bids and shifts the focus from long term viability of the project to short term gains, while transferring the risk to debt owners or the tax-payers.
  2. Oligopoly of project proponents:  Infrastructure projects require very high capital contribution and bank funding. Since India is still young in terms of numbers and complexity of infrastructure projects executed, at present we find only a handful of companies bidding and being awarded with projects in the country leading to a situation of “managed competition” where projects theoretically can be “distributed or shared”.
  3. High cost of funding : High cost of borrowing both from bank loans and bonds, has off late increased reliance of companies on ECB to reduce cost, which exposes the project to currency volatility, underestimates cost over the project period and increases the risk of correctly forecasting cost of borrowing subsequently when refinancing.

Procedural reasons:

  1. Underassessment of risks: The quality of data/ information on which key assumptions are based have a great role to play on the integrity of the project. Underassessment of risks due to faulty assumptions, allows the bidder to quote low price for end users charges, which after a while may not be sustainable as can be seen in the cases mentioned in my last article, leading to situations where the concessionaires attempt to re-negotiate contract, citing some excuse, often soon after being awarded the project. Government agencies with the responsibility of evaluating the bids, need to take a objective view of the nature and severity of risk involved. On solution could be that the Government agency entrusted with the implementation of the project could fix boundaries for various parameters including end user charges, so that bids are within band in which bidders compete on the basis of better understanding and forecasting of risks, efficient use of resources and quality of management, rather than reckless gambling.
  2. Reduction of promotor’s stake in risk and reward:  As is the international practice, in project finance/ PPP projects, some of the consortium members and equity contributors are also providers of goods and services for execution of the project. Such companies always have some room to recover their investment through innovative pricings of sub-contracts much before the cash waterfall would allow payback to equity providers. If such a thing does happen, it leaves the founder companies with virtually no risk and creates ground for them to be opportunistic during subsequent bargaining for revision of prices.
  3. Delay in fixing accountability: The slow judicial system in the country causes delays in enforcing liabilities in case of mistakes committed by companies or when companies try to put themselves at an advantageous position vis a vis other stakeholders. Delays can cause erring parties to get away with playing around in the grey zones of the contractual agreement and passing on the burden to the end users and tax payers
All these factors point to the need for a more favorable environment, with institutions, mechanisms and improved governance standards to bring in the required efficiencies for allowing PPP to evolve and mature.

Public Private Participation in India – Issues & Challenges

Infrastructure development had been identified as a critical prerequisite for sustaining the growth momentum of the Indian economy. Given the huge infrastructure deficit that India is facing, government has increased the target for infrastructure outlay during the twelfth plan period (2012 – 2017) to one trillion dollars, about half of which is envisaged to come from the private sector, including an annual $30 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. Attracting such astronomical sum of investments will require the government to create a conducive environment with robust institutions and improved governance standards to ensure consistency and predictability of returns for the investors and to mitigate the risks of financing. Ensuring improved governance standards has so far emerged as the main challenge in meeting the country’s infrastructure shortages.

The infrastructure projects, though significant for the economic development, are highly capital intensive, require investments with a long time frame and hence are fraught with uncertainty. So Public Private Participation (PPP) are being seen as an efficient way to bridge the country’s infrastructure deficit, by engaging both the public and private sector and thereby distributing the associated risks.  PPP projects are basically implemented in Project Finance mode where the liabilities of the company are non-recourse. The projects are usually undertaken by a consortium of developers who execute the project and a consortium of lenders who provide debt. Such projects may require a number of rounds of financing during its life time. The greatest challenge in PPP projects is to understand the risks and adequately distribute and manage them to make it beneficial for all the key stakeholders involved in it.

A series of events bring out the flaws in execution of PPP projects in India.

  1.  Independent Power Producers/ Ultra Mega Power Producers including those promoted by powerhouse like Tatas and ADAG have appealed for upward revision of power off take price much before the contracts are due for renewal. The steep increase in tax introduced by major coal exporters like Australia and Indonesia, have severely impacted the cost of operations of the power plants using imported coal. It is apparent that the project developers had failed to reasonably assess this risk at the time of submission of their proposals.
  2. There have been reports of violation of Concession agreements in toll road projects including few cases where the concession agreements were terminated. Many such cases have gone into litigation. In highway development, most of the disputes have arisen due to controversies in payment and collection of toll for finished projects and rolling of credit and interim payments as concessionaires missed completion deadlines in projects under execution. According to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the Gurgaon Expressway Project, that was supposed to be the showcase for tolled highways in India has everything going wrong with it — corruption in toll collection, substandard construction and maintenance, chaotic traffic management and unsafe ride.
  3. The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) approved an increase of 346 per cent in airport charges by Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), to help them recover the cost of operating the airport. This has adversely impacted thousands of passengers and resulted in Delhi being the most expensive airport in the Asia-Pacific region. Both domestic as well as major international airlines operating out of India have challenged the steep increase in airport charges and dragged DIAL to court.
  4. Airport Metro Line in Delhi, used by over 15,000 commuters daily, was suspended after safety concerns of the elevated tracks were raised by Reliance Infrastructure-led consortium, which operates the line. As a public-private project, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has built the civil structure on the Line and Reliance Infrastructure is responsible for operations and maintenance. There operations have been incurring losses; this has led to the speculation if financial losses are the reason for suspension of services. .

While the concerned parties do have a right to protect their interest, repeated disagreements and litigations point to basic faults in the way PPP is being implemented in the country. So one would obviously ask- why the project developing consortiums were unable to predict the turn of events and did not provide for it in their bids and why did the Government accept their overtly ambitious and faulty bids.

In the next section, we will further analyze the issues facing the infrastructure sector in India.

Invisible Innovation In India

TurtleOver the past few decades, India has become a global hub for back office services and software development’. This has created a common belief in the west that people from developing countries such as India are generally good as software developers.

As Indians too, we often wonder that why as a country we have not been able to produce to produce world class innovations like a Google or an Apple so far. What is lacking in the country that holds back innovation?

Dr Nirmalya Kumar, Professor of Marketing and Dr Phanish Puranam, Professor of Strategy at the London Business School say that a part of the answer lies in how we look at innovation.

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