Marcellus disappoints

An important report from Oil Drum, published at the Business Insider, explains that the Marcellus shale play will not break even when natural gas is selling at less than $7/Mcf, as the result of faster than expected decline rates for the wells.  Why then do companies continue to drill?  The report says:

Returning to the broader subject of shale plays in general, why do operators keep drilling while their own over-production has depressed the price of natural gas by half of its value since January 2010? It seems fairly clear at this time that the land is the play, and not the gas. The extremely high prices for land in all of these plays has produced a commodity market more attractive than the natural gas produced.

Foreign companies invest in U.S. shale plays for different reasons but the most often-stated reason is to learn about the technology that they may be able use to their advantage in future shale plays around the world. It is possible that some companies enter into joint ventures with U.S. shale operators for strategic reasons based on fears of future resource scarcity particularly as China expands its efforts to control everything from petroleum and minerals to rare earth metals around the world.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/marcellus-shale-disappointment-2010-10#ixzz144mz6QDy

But with currently reported natural gas futures at $3.84, it does not seem like this play is going to be viable.  Indeed, the report explains that while debt for Marcellus-focused companies has gone up and reserves have increased somewhat, shareholders’ equity has dropped dramatically.   To add insult to injury, the states of Pennsylvania and New York are placing moratoriums on new drilling in the play for fear of the new fracking technology that is used to exploit these wells, and in the case of Pennsylvania, because of a dispute between the republican legislature and the democrat Governor Edward Rendell over the drilling tax; of course, it’s the democrat who is insisting on a higher rate and has thus issued the moratorium.  I wonder if Governor Rendell has read the Oil Drum report showing that the drilling is largely unprofitable in the region.  This is no golden goose.  But I suppose a brass goose can also be strangled by taxes.

As a result of this, I’ve decided to sell 50% 75% 100% (update 11 Nov) of my holdings in Enerplus (ERF.un: TSX; ERF: NY) which has a large Marcellus shale operation.  This follows an excellent run for Enerplus, which still has many other great holdings.  Along with Marcellus, Enerplus recently acquired some lands on the US side of the Bakken.  I am uncomfortable with their large stake in the US with Obama at the helm–he illegally shut down  drilling in the Gulf and he and the other democrats in the US intend to destroy the US-based energy industry, all while subsidizing Brazil and Soros.  I will probably sink the funds that are now freed up into Pengrowth Energy and Penn West Energy, which are both listed as Action-List Buys by TD Newcrest.  These can also be bought on the New York Stock exchange and they can thus add to my US dollar carry trade.

The bad news for Marcellus shale may turn out to be good news for conventional natural gas plays in Canada, and it would come at an excellent moment.  The shale plays in the US have put great pressure on the prices causing a glut of available gas. I am maintaining my shares of Perpetual Energy (PMT:TSX) which dropped about 7% immediately after being trashed on BNN by Eric Nuttall of Sprott Asset Management (hat tip: Devon Shire), who said it is due for a dividend cut if natural gas prices don’t improve soon.  Some think that dividend cut is already factored into the current price. I’m looking to buy in at $3.85-4.00. Nuttall, a cognoscente of the Canadian oil industry, claims that no managed funds own Perpetual, only retail investors because of its high dividend yield.  Ouch!  He excused himself for previously recommending Terra Energy (TT:TSX), a natural gas weighted junior (which I started buying recently).  So Nuttall is not inerrant. 

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A HELOC Strategy: How to use a home equity line of credit to create investment income

Jonathan Chevreau of the National Post is one of the best financial columnists in Canada and I admire him because of the practical information that he provides to Canadians wanting to know how to invest their retirements savings.  He now has a column about HELOCs — home equity lines of credit:  Be wary of home-equity lines of credit.  Chevreau writes:

Veteran mortgage broker Michael Maguire has seen too many clients with balances at or close to the limit. Lenders portray HELOCs as assets, but they are debt products, making them potentially dangerous for those not disciplined in handling money. “Most seem to find it too easy to borrow and end up living at their limit,” says Mr. Maguire, of London, Ont.-based Mortgage Wise Financial.

I agree.  One should never use a HELOC to create consumer debt or bad debt (see my post, “Is debt sin?“).  But it is an excellent product for the small business owner.  I know a local businessman  in my neighborhood who bought the commercial unit in which he has his store with a HELOC.  He has a low interest rate (it was prime) and he can pay it off or draw from it depending on the cash flow of his business.  It is has been an extremely useful debt product for his business.

When the credit crisis hit in earnest in the Fall of 2008, we opened up a line of credit, and it has been a major boost to our investments.  I was able to pick up some serious value on the TSX in stocks whose distributions were many percentage points above the interest rate.  This helped me to formulate a strategy for investing.  As a conservative investor, I try to keep my line of credit low, at no more than about one-fifth of the credit limit so that  if the market goes down, there is still sufficient credit to “average down” by picking up larger positions of the same stocks as the prices plummet during a bear market.  Thanks to the HELOC, I’ve now been able to establish a steady income based on these distribution paying stocks (mostly in the Canadian oil and gas sector).

There are some serious risks:  (1) Most of these distribution paying stocks began to lower their payouts almost the moment I started using the HELOC because of the drop in commodity prices.  But then their share prices plummeted too as direct result.  Consequently, I was able to pick up even more shares at unbelievably low prices and to keep the income well above the interest payments.   (2) The interest rates could climb.  But from the time I started this strategy until today, interest rates have gone down and stayed at historical lows.  In anticipation of interest rate hikes, I regularly pay down the line of credit as fast as possible.  When it’s at zero for a while, then my risk appetite increases again.  (3) The share prices of my stocks could plummet.  But by using only a fraction of the HELOC, I pick up more positions as the market goes down.  So when the prices went down it actually helped me even though it created initial unrealized losses.   Eventually, from March 2009 until today, we’ve been in a relentless bull market–so that with a couple of exceptions, everything has gone up, up, up.  (4) Since your home is the collateral for this debt product, one has to be restrained in using it for fear of becoming homeless as result of bankruptcy.  This is another reason for using only a fraction of the credit limit.  (5) My stock portfolio is not diversified.  It is therefore highly susceptible to the volatility in the commodities market.  This choice is made because some Canadian equities in the oil and gas sector pay well, especially in the income trust sector.  Many of these will convert to dividend paying stocks in January 2011 because of rule changes and this may result in a lower yield.

Since this strategy aims at establishing an income, I’ve only done a very minimal amount of trading (i.e., “buy low, sell high”).  It is therefore a strategy of investing which is much closer to what is called “value investing” than “day trading”.  Here is a list of companies that I’ve established long positions:  erf.un, cpg, nae.un, pmt.un, day.un, bnp.un.  Those which are weighted heavily in natural gas have done less well than those which concentrate on oil.  But fortunately, the gas-weighted companies like pmt.un and erf.un have hedges that have made it possible for them to maintain their distributions at a high rate in proportion to their share price.

If there is a lesson in this for those who aspire to be righteous investors, it is to first establish equity:  the bank will not lend at the lowest interests rate without the security of some form of collateral, which usually means home equity.  This means for many years making the sacrifice of not spending money on every whim in order to pay down the house mortgage as soon as possible.

Here are some numbers to give an example of how the above strategy can work:

Using a HELOC, $31,200 spent on CPG (TSX) would buy 800 shares $39.00 per share.  The interest in the first month at 3.25% (current TD Canada Trust HELOC rate) would be $84.50; the dividend from 800 shares of CPG at .23 per share is $184:  Thus, the net in the first month is $99.50 or .32 % of the total capital put at risk.

Sino-US Relations (Updated)

Obama has slapped a 35% tariff on Chinese tires. They are retaliating with other small measures. Obama better be careful. If he angers the Chinese too much they may decide to stop buying US debt: the Chinese are one of the major financiers of the US government’s 1.8 trillion dollar deficit this year. The one who depends on another’s money is not ultimately in control of the relationship.

Update:
The following video is available from Techticker:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Obama Playing with Fire U.S. Will Los…“, posted with vodpod

Pento says that we need China’s contribution to our debt, and if they don’t buy it, we will be in trouble. This is exactly my point here, where I say that if we don’t borrow the money for the US budget deficit, we will be looking at hyper-inflation.

I have personally taken positions against the dollar by borrowing US currency to invest in a Canadian Oil Company (ERF) and a Caribbean utility company in Grand Caymen (CUP.U, Toronto).