This teaser email has been rolling around for quite some time, I think — it at least triggered some memory bells, but I’ve never written about it and it’s still being actively promoted, so I thought it might be worth a gander.
And of course, it’s an oil services company … so there’s no mystery as to why the ad is circulating widely these days, anyone who can help get oil out of the ground has been printing money of late, so of course we’re all interested in learning about these companies.
Especially top secret ones. The ad is for Andrew Mickey’s Breakaway Investor, which we’ve certainly run across many times, and he’d like you to subscribe to Breakaway investor — in return, you’ll receive his special report, “”Uncovering the World’s 1.3 Trillion Barrels of Secret Oil.”
This teaser is for a company that helps in deepwater drilling, providing services to oil majors and other operators of offshore drilling platforms to help them produce oil.
Here’s how they sell it in the ad:
“This Company is the Only One Who Knows How To Reach 1.3 Trillion Secret Barrels of Oil!
“The new technology oil insiders have tried to keep top secret is about to be let out of the bag and could be worth triple-digit gains in the next 6 months for early investors.”
So what is that technology?
After a long discussion of how difficult and complex undersea driling is, they get to the heart of the problem: That the temperatures change rapidly when you go deep into the cold water, then drill deep into the hot earth and try to get oil flowing. Wax buildup, expansion bubbles, whatever kind of ugly stuff makes it hard for standard drillpipes and risers to work effectively.
This company apparently develops new high-tech systems that help with undersea production … again, in their words:
“A largely unknown U.K. company is providing big name oil drillers with the new technology essential to extracting it from deep beneath the sea at a cost equal to or less than pumping oil from Middle Eastern wells.”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, I’m sure — no matter what your technology is, it’s going to cost more to drill a mile under the ocean than to poke a stick in the ground in Iraq and watch the oil flow out. But still, we get the point.
“Billions of barrels have already been pulled from the sea around the world, but these new reserves have the potential to top all of them in production. Estimates by some experts are that the reserves could hold up to 1.3 trillion barrels of oil.
“Total SA has already started drilling one of the sites off the coast of Africa, and is extracting 650,000 barrels a day from the region.”
And that particular site is the real proving ground for this particular company’s technology, though of course there are lots of other rigs currently extracting oil in roughly similar conditions, and as far as I can tell they’re doing it without this particular company’s technology.
So what else do we learn about the company?
They do have patents — according to the ad, “they’ve got 73 patents for their drilling equipment in force in 20 countries, as well as a portfolio of 92 additional technologies under patent application to back it up.”
And we hear some more hyperbole that sounds to me — and hopefully, to you — like a weeeee bit of an overpromise:
“Global Oil Crisis – POSTPONED – 50 Years … All Thanks To This Company’s Revolutionary Technology
“This oil reserve will give the planet enough energy to sustain itself for another 50 years. And it’s ready to start today!
“This company’s deep-sea drilling equipment is in place and is ready to go to work pulling black gold from the ocean’s floor. This is not a speculative oil play hinging on developmental technology.”
I suppose you can consider that to be true on some level — but remember, just because this company owns a technology for helping to drill in deep water doesn’t mean that it’s “ready to start today” and will immediately solve the current oil supply problem. It takes years and years and years to bring new deepwater oil fields online — the huge discoveries off the coast of Brazil that we’ve all heard about aren’t even booked as reserves yet, and you’d have to assume that it will be at least five years, and that’s very optimistic, before we can fill up with gas from Petrobras’ Tupi field.
Add to that the fact that all the deepwater rigs that will be built in the next few years are already contracted and at least as many old fields are declining as new ones are being discovered, and it’s going to be hard for this to dramatically change the oil supply picture immediately even if it is as dramatic as advertised.
Still, subsea services will be a bit business in the coming years, I’ll go along with that assertion. And there aren’t all that many companies in this space.
But you want to know what this one is, naturally … high tech deepwater drilling innovator, based in London, and the Thinkolator can spit out an answer quite quickly:
Acergy SA (ACGY)
Acergy does have a special riser, called the Hyperflow Riser Tower, that’s working on the big Total field that was teased (the field is called Girassol, by the way). It’s pretty much as described in the ad — it helps to control temperature and flow in deep water (in this case, offshore Africa in about a mile of water).
This is a relatively small market, the construction and engineering of subsea production systems — the term for this particular specialty is SURF — Acergy describes it in their filings thus:
“Subsea construction, Umbilicals, Risers and Flowlines (“SURF”): SURF relates to engineering and construction work relating to oil and gas fields that are developed subsea (meaning the production wellhead is on the seabed), as opposed to surface installations (in which the production wellhead is above the surface on a platform). This includes tieback projects, which involve pipelaying, umbilical installation and trenching or ploughing, to connect a new additional subsea development to an existing production facility. The installation of jumpers and spool pieces, as well as hyperbaric welding, are also typical SURF activities. SURF also includes large multi-year projects encompassing all pipelay, riser and umbilical activities of a complete field development. This category also includes one construction support ship charter and rental of equipment and construction support ROVs.”
So that’s what most of their business is. Who else does this stuff? Acergy has some patents, but they are not the only one with patents, nor the only one who is trying to develop new ways to more effectively produce oil from deepwater wells.
The company itself explained its competitive position in an SEC filing from a couple years back:
“We believe that we are one of only four companies, including Saipem, S.A. (“Saipem) Technip S.A. (“Technip”), and Subsea 7, capable of providing a wide range of offshore services on a worldwide basis in the major offshore oil and gas producing regions. Competition in the SURF market is limited to five main competitors, Saipem, Technip, Subsea 7, Heerema Marine Contractors and McDermott International, Inc. We face strong competition from these offshore contractors, some of whom have significantly greater financial resources than we have.”
So … it is one of a small number of very capable providers of subsea services to the growing offshore industry, but I haven’t seen any indication that their technology is so revolutionary that it will mean that the other competitors have to use it. Maybe it will catch on in a big way, but it’s still fairly early for this new riser design, and offshore rigs are producing in harsh and deep conditions around the world without it right now.
Acergy looks pretty cheap if you believe the analyst estimates for 2009 — they see Acergy earning $2 a share, which is a nice PE of about 10 on the current $21 share price. On the current year’s estimate (their year ends in November), the PE is more like 15.
If you’re looking for a red flag in regards to those analyst estimates, however, it’s fairly easy to find one: The company has missed earnings estimates for four straight quarters. Ouch. That’ll get investors a little hinky even about a growing company in a hot industry.
I don’t know what Acergy’s future looks like — I’d want to take a closer look at some of their competitors before investing (They’re not all easy for US investors to buy: Subsea 7 is listed in Oslo and has a steeper chart both up and down than Acergy, Mcdermott is US listed with the ticker MDR and has had a heck of a year, Technip is listed in Paris but has a pink sheets ADR at TKPPY that has been climbing while Subsea 7 and Acergy fell, and Saipem is affiliated with Eni and listed in Italy, Heerema is private).
But if you want something that is a little bit beaten down in the offshore oil and gas industry, a type of slightly wounded bird that’s sometimes a little bit hard to find these days, then perhaps Acergy is worth a bit of your time for some researchifyin’ — if you form an opinion, let us know.
full disclosure: The largest position in my personal portfolio is a deepwater driller, so you might consider that I could be overly optimistic about this industry, but I do not own shares in any company mentioned above.
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