Fitch: Australian companies face rising oil price exposure

Fitch Ratings says the Australian oil and gas companies involved in exploration and production face higher exposure to oil price-linked revenues, with an increasing share of liquefied natural gas in their overall production mix amid a low oil price environment.

Australian LNG volumes are typically sold under long-term contracts with oil-indexed prices. Low oil prices will, therefore, have a higher impact on their 2015 margins, given lags against oil price changes.

Any adverse impact on their credit profiles from current low oil prices will, however, be manageable in the near-term. Sustained very low oil prices will, nonetheless, have a meaningful impact on their margins and trim their rating headroom. Companies have responded through announcements of sizeable capex and opex cuts in 2015 to manage the impact of an extended period of low oil prices. These include scale-back and deferral of capex related to exploration and international development activities and a focus on costs and operational efficiencies, but at the cost of long-term earnings potential.

Australian upstream companies will focus on core exploration and production activities in the current low oil price environment and are likely to monetise non-core asset in the medium-term. These will include sales of gas pipelines related to liquefaction facilities under development in Queensland. Falling oil prices and balance sheet pressures faced by other producers, have, however, also presented growth opportunities for the larger Australian producers. For instance, Woodside Petroleum Ltd (Woodside, BBB+/Stable) announced its agreement to acquire Apache Corporation’s (BBB+/Stable) equity in the Australia-based Wheatstone LNG development and in the Canada-based Kitimat LNG project in December 2014; Origin Energy Ltd (Origin, BBB+/Stable) announced its conditional agreement to acquire 40% in two offshore exploration permits in the Browse basin in June 2014.

Australian gas liquefaction capacity will be significantly higher by end-2015 with the start of liquefaction capacity currently under development. Moreover, production capacity growth will remain higher over 2016 to 2018 reflecting a ramp-up across a number of these developments and the expected start of other committed projects under development.

Australian projects, however, face higher development costs, with continuing cost-overruns and schedule slippages. Four out of the seven Australian LNG projects under construction have made cost revisions and schedule change announcements since their first approval. Further announcements of project cost-blowouts and schedule delays are likely as more projects move towards completion. Some 58 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of capacity is presently under development in Australia compared to the 28mtpa in operation at end-2014.

The price for Australian LNG supplies will be lower in 2015 reflecting loose demand-supply conditions in Asia and the flow-on impact of oil prices during the year. High supply costs of Australian LNG and lower Asian LNG prices will moderate buyer appetite for further new Australian projects. We, therefore, expect a slowdown in further capacity additions. There had been a considerable slowdown in approval of new LNG projects since 2011, with no new LNG trains committed in the past two years.

The credit profile of Australian upstream companies will reflect the near-term benefits of their announced capex and opex cuts, with any consequent adverse impact on long-term earnings potential. Furthermore, sales proceeds from any non-core asset sales will support their credit profile. However, the companies are more exposed to lower earnings from a sustained deterioration in oil prices, resulting in lower headroom within their current rating levels. Any upward rating action is unlikely given expectations of a slow recovery of oil prices. Liquidity remains adequate, with sizeable cash balances and undrawn committed facilities as at 31 December 2014.


Source: Fitch Ratings; Image: Woodside

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