On days like today, I don’t have to spend much time deciding which of the dozens of teaser pitches we receive to cover — it’s unanimous, Gumshoe readers are crying out for a solution to the latest pitch from Dr. Kent Moors.
Moors is an energy expert and Duquesne professor, and he sells the expertise he’s gained as an energy consultant over the years by turning it into stock ideas that are sold through both an entry level newsletter (Energy Advantage) and an “upgrade” letter for those folks who want his very best super-secret ideas called Energy Inner Circle.
That basic strategy is not, of course, unique to Dr. Moors or to his publisher, Money Map Press — every newsletter publisher’s goal is to break even on the $39 subscriptions and use those people as the marketing pool for their super-lucrative $300 or $1,200 or $5,000 newsletters. From the comments I get this makes readers crazy (“I already paid for this guy’s information that he promised would be awesome, why is he now offering to sell me something better for a lot more money?”), but it also must work great … because everyone does it.
(That’s one reason I offer only one level of paid subscription here at Stock Gumshoe, by the way, I know a lot of my thoughts and musings are worth nothing much, and some of them are valuable to some people, but how would I decide which insight or snippet of analysis is worth $49 and which is worth $500? I may have to stop the lifetime subscriptions or raise the price of those next year, but they get the same thing as everyone else — they just get it for longer).
But anyway, most of you don’t care about this “behind the veil” stuff about newsletterland — you just want the stock idea, right? So let’s try to ID it for you.
Dr. Moors’ pitch is based on the Russian push to dominate the next wave of oil discovery and production in the Arctic — they got a lot of attention for planting their flag on the sea bed at the North Pole six years ago, part of a global dispute over territory in the arctic, territory that is becoming open to energy exploration and additional sea traffic partly because of receding ice and partly because of new technologies. Norway, Denmark, Canada, the US and several other countries with arctic borders are disputing Russia’s claim that it “owns” the 2/3 or so of the subsea arctic that extends North of their land mass, and the current international agreement is for a 200 mile “economic zone,” so the political squabbling will no doubt continue for a long time — and become much more vociferous if natural resources can feasibly be extracted. Moors reports the claim that 20% of the world’s oil and gas reserves are waiting to be discovered or developed deep under the northern ice, and it’s a huge area so, well, who knows?
But his big claim for this pitch is that the other pundits who recommend the arctic explorers and the oil majors who are staking claims off of Greenland or Alaska or north of Russia or Canada aren’t the best idea for making money — largely because it will take years and years before any of this bears fruit.
No, he says that the best way to profit immediately is by buying the subsea pipeline expert that can build the infrastructure for this arctic work.
Here’s a taste of the big picture tease, just to get you up to speed:
“According to my contacts in Russia, all hell is about to break loose in the Arctic Circle.
“It revolves around $43 trillion worth of ‘Ice Oil’…
“Or the equivalent of roughly 80% of all the money in the world right now.
“And Vladimir Putin can’t wait to get his hands on it.
“It’s found around an obscure place at the top of the world called the ‘Lomonosov Ridge’ ….
“It’s buried under two and a half miles of frigid Arctic water in one of the most brutal environments in the world…
“A place where the slightest misstep can lead to catastrophe.”
He goes on to talk about the first Russian ice-resistant rig that’s producing oil & gas now, the Prirazlomnaya, and that Russia will need to build a massive network of these rigs and subsea systems to expand their production … with a possible catalyst being the opening up of Russian oil to foreign explorers. I wouldn’t hold my breath on companies eager to deal with Putin after so many Western oil companies have been shut out or effectively had their assets expropriated by state-owned companies, but if there’s a lot of oil to be found I guess oil companies will keep crawling to the front of the line to have a shot at it.
But, as I said, he doesn’t think the explorers or producers will be the moneymakers — he focuses on the need for subsea systems and pipelines and the difficulty of engineering and building these systems to withstand both the cold and the shifting ice, including the threat of icebergs that “gouge” the sea floor as they move by.
So here’s how he describes the actual investment he’s pitching:
“The fastest, biggest, and most immediate gains to be had all hinge on the specialized expertise of a company that can make pipe to withstand the unbearable strain of the Arctic, like in the picture you see.
“This Arctic oil ‘wild card’ play could easily earn investors gains as high as 500% if you know what I know.
“It’s a company that doesn’t have to wait for billions of barrels of Arctic oil to start hitting the market before it can make investors filthy rich.
“In fact, this company’s rise to greatness is already starting.
“Just weeks ago — on October 9th…
“This small firm inked a joint venture with a global oil equipment player that’ll put as much as $85 million into its pockets.
“That’s just a drop in the bucket, though.
“As I’m about to show you, this company’s about to make some SERIOUS money on the Arctic oil.”
So … that counts as a wee bit of a clue, but in the interconnected and interdependent oil services sector we need all the hints we can get … any other clues?
“It’s specialty is designing and building pipelines that don’t fail… even under the most brutal conditions.
“It’s a small, UK-based company with a polar cast of all-stars including some of the Arctic drilling community’s most esteemed engineers.
“From the early exploration of the Beaufort Sea… through the development of the Northstar pipeline… and several other high-profile Arctic projects…
“This company’s polar expertise has been critical in some of the most innovative and groundbreaking frontier projects in the industry.
“A world-wide leader in the field, this relatively unknown polar outfit also provides cutting-edge technology and experience in the worst Arctic environments including:
- Site management services
- Maintenance and related services”
And then, one last little tidbit to throw in for you:
“…. they are practically already in the door with a prestigious contract utilizing their expertise in the Shtokman gas field in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea….
“It trades on the London exchange — but I’ve found a way to trade it directly here in the U.S.
“Now, to be sure, this is a small company…
“And maybe a bit of a ‘wild card’ play.
“But in the energy industry, small companies can turn into big ones in a hurry.”
Well, “small” is a relative term and those clues don’t make it easy to be 100% definitive — but the Thinkolator comes out pretty quick with our answer here, the best match is: John Wood Group, sometimes called just Wood Group (WG in London, WDGJF on the pink sheets — if you ever trade pink sheets tickers of foreign stocks, take care to use the home exchange price to set your limit orders, pink sheets quotes aren’t alway fair or current. At 797 pence for the last London close the US price should be roughly $12.73 currently, best prices for the pink sheets trades are typically available in the morning when both US and UK exchanges are open concurrently). It is a UK company, though many of their employees are spread around the world (including big groups in North America), and they’ve been built up through M&A over the years like many big oil services, engineering and construction companies — two of their subsidiaries, JP Kenny and IMV Projects (now part of what they call Wood Group Mustang) have been major subsea, offshore, and harsh environment pipeline players for decades.
And yes, they do claim experience in the Arctic, including early participation in the Beaufort and the development of the Northstar project offshore Northern Alaska, along with other projects like the famous Sakhalin project off eastern Siberia — it’s not surprising that Moors doesn’t mention Sakhalin, since it is another example of an early joint venture project with non-Russian oil companies (including Shell, who sunk probably $20 billion into this harsh-environment LNG export project) where the non-Russian companies got squeezed out once their capital and expertise had been used. I’m sure there’s another side to that argument, too (Shell and others were forced out in part because of environmental concerns, I have no idea whether Gazprom solved them when they took over … Putin sure said they did), but throwing out the word “Sakhalin” doesn’t make people excited about investing in Russia.
And Wood Group is, through their JP Kenny subsidiary, already involved in designing the pipeline to bring gas from the Shtokman field (also in the Arctic, in the Barents Sea northeast of Finland) home to the mainland. I don’t know how this project will turn out — the initial plan, involving Statoil and Total as junior partners, fell apart when they couldn’t reach an investment agreement by the deadline (this past Summer, I think, though maybe it was last year), so it may be that Gazprom is going it alone now — not clear if they’ll still use Wood Group for the pipeline work, but they have certainly worked in Russia and in the Arctic before.
Will this make you rich? Well, it’s not exactly a tiny company — Wood Group is a $5 billion company, which is small compared to some (like Shlumberger), but still quite large. That’s not a surprise — you’re not going to find expert companies who can undertake massive projects who are tiny fish, this kind of expertise builds up in engineering companies over time (some acquired, some “organic” experience), and you wouldn’t trust the design of a decade-long project with huge economic and environmental ramifications to a tiny little upstart. There are other competitors, of course, but Wood is the best match for this tease that your friendly neighborhood Gumshoe can find.
How about that joint venture? Well, that’s a match in word if not in spirit — Wood Group did enter into a joint venture with Siemens on October 9 of this year, and it does have the potential to help Wood substantially, but it’s not really in the pipeline part of their business … the agreement is more about sales and service of gas turbines, largely (but not entirely) in North America, an area where, as I read between the lines, it looks like both companies were seeing mediocre performance and they thought a meeting of the minds might help.
And that’s about all I know about Wood Group — they have been beaten down a little bit this year, largely because their activity in Western Canada has been slower than hoped and that’s made them a bit tepid in their guidance (we’ve heard similar from lots of companies in the last couple years — thanks at least in part to less investment in those deeper and more expensive gas projects in Western Canada), but they did grow nicely in the first half of 2013 and there are those who are thinking it might be a bargain after falling from 900p to right around 800p over the last month or two. You can see their last interim report, in full presentation form, here on Wood Group’s website if you want a fuller look at their operations. Note that although the price for the shares is set in London in pence, the reporting is largely done in US$.
It’s still not dirt cheap by any means, this is a low-margin business and they trade at about 17X trailing earnings (13X expected full year 2013 earnings, according to Bloomberg), and the dividend, while growing quickly, is quite small (somewhere in the 1.5% neighborhood) so you do need to anticipate some growth in order to talk yourself into liking an investment in Wood Group. Whether or not the growth will continue as the rush for Arctic oil heats up again, well, that I don’t know. The Arctic is certainly a part of their business and a component of the expertise they claim — but it looks to me like other projects, including US shale pipeline expansion and the buildout of Papua New Guinea’s LNG projects among others, is at least as meaningful to their bottom line as the North Pole.
But I can sure tell you that I didn’t become an expert on Wood Group in the few hours I spent sniffing around for you today, and I know less about what Russia is calling their “continental shelf” (pretty much everything between Siberia and Santa Claus), so if you want to put your money to work, by all means, go out there and learn more about it and build yourself an opinion. If you’re moved to learn more, please share it with the rest of us with a comment below — thanks!