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A Close Look at Iran’s Post-Sanctions Growth Story

Iran’s emergence from economic isolation in 2016 was considered by many industry experts as the largest market opportunity since the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), paving way for plethora of new business opportunities. They expected massive influx of foreign direct investments (FDI) and a rapid economic growth in the country. As a result, many business delegations traveled from all over the world to Iran, hoping to tap its lucrative industry opportunities. Over a year later, we take a close look at Iran’s progress so far and whether it has truly leveraged its growth potential.

At first glance, multinationals saw the lifting of sanctions as the opening up of paths for foreign investments and international trade in crucial sectors such as oil and gas, automotive, aviation, mining, tourism, and financial services. In addition, Iranian president Rouhani’s long-term political vision with its focus on various domestic structural reforms and the stance on improving relations with the West were viewed by the international business communities as promising signs. Iran achieved 6.6% GDP growth during 2016-2017 as well as a drastic decline in annual inflation to 8.9% from nearly 40% during 2013.

Despite the economic growth achieved, a closer look at the ground realities in the country depicts a different picture, especially when comparing the expectations and the country’s actual achievements so far. The growth achieved in 2016 was largely due to the oil sector’s rebound in both production and exports. Growth in non-oil sectors was mere 0.9% during the first half of 2016. In the same year, unemployment rate also increased to 12.8% from 11% in 2015. There are still serious questions about the country’s ability to sustain its economic stability in the long run. To add fuel to the fire, Iran’s ballistic missile testing and accusations of sponsoring terrorism in the region have brought the nuclear deal again in jeopardy, eroding newly-regained investor confidence.

Although the FDI saw a massive 600% increase in 2016, it is still nowhere near the government’s projections. While several MoUs were signed, not many have converted into actual deals till date. It was realized soon by many that Iran still remains a challenging place for multinationals to conduct business due to high levels of state interruption, bureaucratic bottlenecks, lack of transparency, and outdated business and financial systems. Iran still continues to be isolated from the global financial systems. Majority of international banks are reluctant to re-engage in Iranian transactions mainly due to potential links with terrorism they might be implicated in and massive financial repercussions such transactions could entail. Therefore, investors are holding their horses amid current ambiguity over local and global political developments (Trump’s final stance on nuclear deal as well as President Rouhani’s reforms post elections).

Automotive

The automotive sector is Iran’s second largest industry after oil and gas, contributing around 10% of the GDP. Iran Khodro Company (IKCO) and SAIPA, the two major companies (state funded), have long benefitted from monopoly and protectionist policies, and therefore are reluctant to innovate. Currently, Iranian cars are considered to be of inferior quality mainly due to lack of technological innovation and outdated production platforms. The industry also suffers from price controls, unfavorable import tariffs, and other state interventions.

Since the lifting of sanctions, many expected car prices to decline and FDI to increase, both of which have not materialized quite yet due to the overall financial and political hurdles the country currently faces. Despite 19 MoUs already signed by global automakers, only few have progressed so far. With the new reforms pertaining to local content and export requirements, and the government’s ambitious plan to boost domestic production from 1.6 million cars at present to 3 million cars by 2025, the automotive industry presents a lucrative opportunity for foreign investors. Vehicle sales are projected to grow at a CAGR of 13% by 2020. Joint ventures with foreign automakers and deregulation are the top priorities for the government to unleash the industry potential.

Aviation

Due to the years of economic isolation, Iran’s aviation industry has failed to stay abreast with the latest industry developments, which we discussed in detail in our article New Wings to Fly – Post-Sanction Scenario of Iran’s Aviation Industry in April 2016. The sanctions restricted Iran to procure new planes as well as any maintenance or repair services for its existing fleet. As a result, the nation remains inherited with an outdated fleet that requires immediate modernization. Iran requires nearly US$220 billion in investment to uplift its aviation industry. Besides investments, Iran will have to make significant changes to the existing business and financial policies that have become outdated and unprofitable. The current pricing and finance management strategies have resulted in many local airline companies running with severe losses.

In the post sanctions era, Iran has signed four major procurement deals for over 240 new passenger aircrafts. However, industry experts believe that it will be challenging for Iran to finance these deals. The delivery of third Airbus A330 was postponed recently (March 2017) and banking restrictions were cited as the main reason. Considering the heavy investments required in this sector as well as the current ambiguity of political developments and financing bottlenecks, Iran’s aviation industry will still take a few good years to start its journey towards growth trajectory.

Oil & Gas

Iran’s underdeveloped oil and gas industry has attracted the eyes of many. This was evident from the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to the country just weeks after the sanctions were lifted. Oil production has increased rapidly from 3.2 million barrels per day (BPD) in 2015 to 3.7 million BPD in 2016. The total output is expected to reach 4.2 million BPD in 2017. Similarly, exports in the post-sanctions period have also witnessed a rapid surge as many countries resumed purchasing Iranian oil. Experts suggest that Iran also has the potential to supply Europe with around 35 billion cubic meters of gas each year by 2030.

While many multinationals have recognized the country’s potential, various legal, political, and financial hurdles are holding them back from acting on their interest. As a result, despite the high number of initial MoUs signed throughout 2016, only the joint deal between Total, Petropars, and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has materialized so far. With the current government’s strong focus to develop and boost the petrochemicals industry as well as to improve contract politics and terms to attract more investments, there are signs of growth in the medium to long term. The need of the hour for Iran’s oil industry is to attract FDI and technology to improve the current infrastructure in order to meet its long-term goals.

Implications for an Average Iranian

The nuclear deal and its expected socio-economic rewards are yet to yield significant benefits for an average Iranian. Before the recent elections, sentiments were mixed as many Iranians felt that their living standards have not improved as expected. In a recent 2016 survey by University of Maryland, only 46% of Iranians believed the country’s economic situation was good, compared to 54% expressing the same opinion in 2015. It is important to note that structural reforms at a national level and FDI deals require longer timeframes to be implemented and show their true impact on the economy as well as society. For example, it will take years for Airbus and Boeing to complete their deliveries and for Total to start pumping oil, and even longer for the financial benefits of these and other deals to trickle down to general population. Attaining economic prosperity as a result of investment deals is a time-consuming process and not something that happens overnight, hence, it is too early to judge the success or failure of the nuclear deal as of yet. Keeping in mind Iran’s current volatile environment, it will take at least few more years for Iranians to slowly start reaping the rewards.

EOS Perspective

The lifting of sanctions has helped Iran to boost its GDP, oil production, and trade, while at the same time, the country’s continuation of testing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism has dampened investor confidence and business opportunities. The political and financial risk of doing business with Iran has forced many multinationals to refrain from pursuing new opportunities. In the current context, Rouhani’s recent victory echoes public acceptance towards his overall political propaganda including economic liberalization. The election results are expected to have a positive impact on Iran’s prospects in the next four years, as the government will continue to work towards reviving the economy by improving foreign relations and business policies.

In order to sustain the current economic recovery and to rekindle investor confidence, the government will have to implement major reforms with regards to its state-owned enterprises, financial systems, and business policies. In its second term, the government will have to push for investment promotion, upgrade its outdated policies, promote competitiveness, and business-friendly environment to encourage FDI. Further, with the current level of unemployment and present economic framework, it is clear that the pace of job creation is inadequate. There is a pressing need to diversify the economy and develop private sector free of current bureaucratic challenges. In the long run, the key question is whether Iran can leverage its natural resources to diversify its economic structure and ramp up its economic modernization.

Looking at the promising developments that Iran’s automotive, aviation, and oil and gas sectors have shown so far, there is no doubt about their growth potential in the long term. Over the next year or so, Iran should attempt to re-integrate itself into the global trade and finance systems. This would boost trade and open up more business opportunities, fueling growth in key industry verticals. In the short-term however one can only expect moderate growth.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mexico’s Energy Reforms – The Balancing Act

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto seems to be a man on a mission. Since his term started in July 2012, he has worked towards weeding out the inefficiencies and monopolies plaguing several sectors in Mexico and has received much appreciation for that. But this time, has he gone too far? With Pemex being Mexico’s much-guarded jewel, the attempt to bring in private investment seems much more ambitious than the previously introduced overhaul in the labor laws and telecom sectors.

President Enrique Peña Nieto took a bold step in June 2013 by reforming the country’s quasi-monopolistic telecom sector, voicing his seriousness about bringing real changes to Mexico’s economy by tackling inefficiencies and welcoming foreign investment. While the results of the telecom reforms remain yet to be seen, he has moved to an even more ambitious project – to allow foreign investors to enter Mexico’s energy sector, which has been closed to private participation since 1938.

Pemex, which is the world’s 10th largest oil producer, has been a government monopoly for over 75 years. The country’s oil output has been falling since 2004, as a result of its inability to explore unconventional (deeper) sources driven by lack of investment and outdated technology. It is expected that if further exploration is not undertaken, Mexico will become a net energy importer.

To combat this, the president sent a bill to congress that aims to end the state’s 75-year old monopoly over the energy sector. According to the proposed bill, private oil exploration companies would gain access to the Mexican oil reserves under profit-sharing contracts for upstream oil and gas development (exploration and production).The bill also cover reforms regarding the restructuring of Pemex to make it more transparent and accountable.

The bill also encompasses reforms in the electricity market, wherein it looks to allow private participation in electricity generation, while maintaining transmission and distribution under state control. While few amendments to partially allow private participation in the electricity sector have been introduced in the past, they have left much to be desired. The current amendments only allow private companies to generate or import electricity for self-supply or to undertake cogeneration. In addition, Independent Power Producers that produce less than 30 MW of electricity and exclusively sell to the state-owned Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) or export to other countries are allowed to generate electricity under the existing amendments. As against the state-owned CFE choosing the players from which it would like to purchase electricity, these reforms would boost competitiveness in the sector by establishing an independent system wherein power generator participation would be decided based on lowest generation costs.

These reforms are expected to boost investments in the oil sector by about US$10 billion per annum. Further, an influx of investments is expected to help Pemex offset its current US$60 billion debt. In addition, they are also expected to bring down electricity prices in the country (which are 25% higher than that in the USA), boost employment, and strengthen the participation of renewable energy in the energy mix primarily underpinned by private participation in electricity generation.

While these reforms spell out immense benefits for Mexico’s economy, their implementation and outcome are a different story altogether. The Mexican population that applauded and supported the government through the education and telecom reforms, is now much less convinced regarding this arm of reforms. Mexicans have for long considered Pemex to be symbol of their national independence and the oil found beneath Mexico’s soil and water, a part of their national heritage. Moreover, March 18th – the day when president Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the country’s oil industry in 1938 is celebrated proudly as a national holiday. Unlike the case of the previous successful reforms, the government faces much opposition from the leftist groups. However, with full support for the reforms from Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) parties, which control more than two-third seats in congress, there are strong chances of this proposed law becoming a reality.

The bill also falls short from the point of view of leading global oil exploration companies. While the reforms give foreign companies access to extract and exploit oil, share risks and profits, they would not be able to have a share in the resources. This makes the Mexican agreements far less lucrative for large oil players when compared with proposals offered by neighboring oil-producing countries, such as Brazil and Columbia, which allow the producers to own a certain amount of oil in their books. Thus, although leading oil companies, including Shell, Chevron, BP, and Exxon Mobil have welcomed the wave of reforms in Mexico, their participation will largely depend on the nature and attractiveness of the final profit-sharing agreements.

Therefore, while these reforms look at altering history, it remains extremely premature to predict their outcome. These reforms run the risk of offering ‘too much’ from the eyes of the Mexican public or ‘too little’ from the point of view of resource-hungry energy companies and can only be a success if they manage to find the perfect balance between both the stakeholders. Thus, the key question that remains is not regarding the approval of reforms, but if these reforms will actually manage to stir foreign investment into the Mexican oil sector.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Will Shale Gas Solve Our Fuel Needs for the Future?

At first glance, shale gas might look too good to be true: large untapped natural gas resources present on virtually every continent. Abundant supplies of relatively clean energy allowing for lower overall energy prices and reduced dependence on non-renewable resources such as coal and crude oil. However, despite this huge potential, the shale gas revolution has remained largely limited to the USA till now. Concerns over the extraction technology and its potentially negative impact on the environment have hampered shale gas development in Europe and Asia on a commercial scale. However, increasing energy import bills, need for energy security, potential profits and political uncertainty in the Middle East are causing many countries to rethink their stand on shale gas extraction development.

How Large Are Shale Gas Reserves And Where Are They Being Developed?

An estimation of shale gas potential conducted by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2009 pegs the total technically recoverable shale gas reserves in 32 countries (for which data has been established) to 6,622 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf). This increases the world’s total recoverable gas reserves, both conventional and unconventional, by 40% to 22,622 Tcf.


Technically Recoverable Shale Gas Reserves

Continent
Shale Gas Reserves and Development
North America Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,931 Tcf
Till now, almost whole commercial shale gas development has taken place in the USA. In 2010, shale gas accounted for 20% of the total US natural gas supply, up from 1% in 2000. In Canada, several large scale shale projects are in various stages of assessment and development. Despite potential reserves, little or no shale gas exploration activity has been reported Mexico primarily due to regulatory delays and lack of government support.
South America Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,225 Tcf
Several gas shale basins are located in South America, with Argentina having the largest resource base, followed by Brazil. Chile, Paraguay and Bolivia have sizeable shale gas reserves and natural gas production infrastructure, making these countries potential areas of development. Despite promising reserves, shale gas exploration and development in the region is almost negligible due to lack of government support, nationalization threats and absence of incentives for large scale exploration.
Europe Technically Recoverable Reserves: 639 Tcf
Europe has many shale gas basins with development potential in countries including France, Poland, the UK, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden. However, concerns over the environmental impact of fracturing and oil producers lobbying against shale gas extraction are holding back development in the region with some countries such as France going as far as banning drilling till further research on the matter. Some European governments, including Germany, are planning to bring stringent regulations to discourage shale gas development. Despite this, countries such as Poland show promising levels of shale gas leasing and exploration activity. Several companies are exploring shale gas prospects in the Netherlands and the UK.
Asia Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,389 Tcf
China is expected to have the largest potential of shale gas (1,275 Tcf). State run energy companies like Sinopec are currently evaluating the country’s shale gas reserves and developing technological expertise through international tie-ups. However, no commercial development of shale gas has yet happened. Though both India and Pakistan have potential reserves, lack of government support, unclear natural gas policy and political uncertainty in the region are holding back the extraction development. Both Central Asia and Middle East are also expected to have significant recoverable shale gas reserves.
Africa Technically Recoverable Reserves: 1,042 Tcf
South Africa is the only country in African continent actively pursuing shale gas exploration and production. Other countries have not actively explored or shown interest in their shale gas reserves due to the presence of large untapped conventional resources of energy (crude oil, coal). Most potential shale gas fields are located in North and West African countries including Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.
Australia Technically Recoverable Reserves: 396 Tcf
Despite Australia’s experience with unconventional gas resource development (coal bed methane), shale gas development has not kicked off in a big way in Australia. However, recent finds of shale gas and oil coupled with large recoverable reserves has buoyed investor interest in the Australian shale gas.

What Are The Potential Negative Impacts Of Shale Gas Production?

Despite the large scale exploration and production of shale gas in the USA, countries around the world, especially in Europe, remain sceptical about it. Concerns over the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, lack of regulations and concerns raised by environmental groups have slowed shale gas development. Though there is no direct government or agency report on pitfalls of hydraulic fracturing, independent research and studies drawn from the US shale gas experience have brought forward the following concerns:


Shale Gas Challenges

Will Shale Gas Solve Our Future Energy Needs?

Rarely does an energy resource polarize world opinion like this. Shale gas has divided the world into supporters and detractors. However, despite its potential negative environmental impact, shale gas extraction is associated with a range of unquestionably positive aspects, which will continue to support shale gas development:

  • Shale gas production will continue to increase in the USA and is expected to increase to 46% of the country’s total natural gas supply by 2035. USA is expected to transform from a net importer to a net exporter of natural gas by 2020.

  • Despite initial opposition, countries in Europe are opening up to shale gas exploration. With the EU being keen to reduce its dependence on imported Russian piped gas and nuclear energy, shale gas remains one of its only bankable long-term options. Replicating the US model, countries like Poland, the Netherlands and the UK are expected to commence shale production over the next two-five years and other countries are likely to follow suit.

  • Australian government’s keenness to reduce energy imports in addition to the recent shale gas finds has spurred shale gas development the country. Many companies are lining up to lease land and start shale gas exploration.

  • More stringent regulations from environment agencies are expected to limit the potential negative environmental impact of shale gas exploration.

  • Smaller energy companies that pioneered the shale gas revolution in the USA are witnessing billions of dollars worth of investments from multinational oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, Shell, BHP Billiton etc. are keen on developing an expertise in the shale gas extraction technology. These companies plan to leverage this technology across the world to explore and produce shale gas.The table below highlights major acquisitions and joint venture agreements between large multinational energy giants and US-based shale gas specialists over the last three years.

Major Deals in Shale Gas Exploration

Company

Acquisition/Partnership

Year

Investment
Sinopec Devon Energy January 2012 USD 2.2 billion
Total Chesapeake Energy January 2012 USD 2.3 billion
Statoil Brigham Exploration October 2011 USD 4.4 billion
BHP Billiton Petrohawk July 2011 USD 12.1 billion
BHP Billiton Chesapeake Energy February 2011 USD 4.75 billion
Shell East Resources May 2010 USD 4.7 billion
Exxon Mobil XTO Energy December 2009 USD 41.0 billion
Source: EOS Intelligence Research


Shale gas production is expected to spike in the coming three-five years. Extensive recoverable reserves, new discoveries, large scale exploration and development and technological improvement in the extraction process could lead to an abundant supply of cheap and relatively clean natural gas and reduce dependence on other conventional sources such as crude oil and coal For several countries including China, Poland, Libya, Mexico, Brazil, Algeria and Argentina, where the reserves are particularly large, shale gas might bring energy stability.

The need for energy security and desire to reduce dependence on energy imports from the Middle East and Russia (and hence to increase political independence), are likely to outweigh potential environmental shortfalls of shale gas production, and some compromise with environment protection activist groups will have to be worked out. Though the road to achieving an ‘energy el dorado’ appears to be long and rocky, it seems that with the right governments’ support, shale gas could become fuel that could significantly contribute to solving the world energy crisis over long term.

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