New China Investment in Canada

Well good news to investors comes today from an agreement between Ottawa and Beijing to allow Chinese insurers access to the capital markets in Canada, which would bring in potentially billions of new dollars into the TSX and the Canadian bond market; this will undoubtedly help push up asset prices in our relatively small market, as the Chinese seek to diversify their holdings out of US Treasury instruments.  The Finacial Post says:

The China insurance pact comes on the heels of the decision by Ottawa to stop a proposed bid by Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd. to acquire Saskatoon-based Potash Corp. The ruling sparked widespread worry among policy experts that Canada would find it difficult in the future to attract foreign investment, which is required to help boost innovation, domestic competition and lacklustre productivity.

The Financial Post suggests this is welcome news in the light of recent events. The Canadian journalist community had convinced themselves that the failed Potash bid of Australian mining company BHP would send a negative message to foreign investors.  However, according to a very thorough article in the Globe and Mail on the failed deal, the fault lies entirely with BHP, starting with their low-balling the initial bid, making it so that neither the Potash board of directors nor the province of Saskatchewan were much interested in the offer.  In other words, if you want Canadian assets, you better be ready to pay a premium for them, and that is as it should be.  The BHP bid of $130, though 20% above the price of the day of the offer, was ridiculously below POT all time high over $244.

In my view, this is another reason to be bullish on the Canadian oil and gas sector.  In China, there is a growing demand for energy and a diminishing stock pile, as the WSJ has pointed out (hat tip Devon Shire).  I believe that the Chinese insurers will seek out energy stocks as one of their main interests, as they know their own demand for the products will continue to force up the price.  Meanwhile, there are still deals to be made in the TSX.  For example, Petrobakken has made a serious dip since its quarterly report, as investors were disappointed with less than spectacular results caused  by wet weather which hindered drilling.  Penn West Energy and Pengrowth Energy are both dipping, having both been downgraded by TD Newcrest from Action Buy List, to Buy–based only on their recent, dramatic increase in share price.

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:

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.