As always, I'm looking for new ways to profit from new wrinkles in the energy market that I have my eye on.
These new wrinkles revolve around what I call the "energy balance"—and its changing fast.
It involves big shifts in sourcing and systems that will combine with some major revisions in finance that will alter the landscape for investors.
It's not about new energy breakthroughs or big oil discoveries. And it's certainly not about entirely new structures.
Rather, it's about the accelerating changes in elements you're familiar with.
Think of it, if you will, as a "rebalancing" of what already exists.
It's an unstoppable trend that promises to hand us huge profits. . .
The 2014 Plan: Leveraging a Gigantic Advantage
For us, of course, this "rebalancing" gives us a gigantic advantage: we identified this trend a long time ago. In fact, I've discussed it in these pages before.
At present, there are three overarching dimensions to these changes: the energy network itself, the geographical considerations, and the financial arrangements.
As the market rebalances, it will require we change our investment strategy to profit from it -especially the with first two.
As for the third, we have just about single-handedly revised the approach to finance all by ourselves.
Today, however, I want to talk about the networking dimension.
Networking involves the entire sequence of energy (oil, natural gas, electricity) transmission from production, through gathering and transit, to refining, distribution and retail. This remains the upstream-midstream-downstream sequence that has become a mainstay of the energy sector.
In the case of operating companies, our target interests will consider the basins worked, the company's focus, market cap and field size, along with the more or less traditional considerations of management style, balance sheet, and market position.
We will also see some interesting rebalancing in the refinery space, as those processors able to bridge the domestic market and rising oil product exports, as well as the conventional/unconventional sourcing mix, will have a substantial advantage.
And then there are the huge transport revisions that are on the way. We have talked about two of these primary developments before, but will be watching their progress with added interest this year.
Fundamental Changes = Big Opportunities
The first is the fundamental change in the worldwide balance occasioned by the rapid expansion of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.
This remains the single most significant revision globally to take place over the next decade. The rise of LNG exports from the U.S., fueled by the largess of shale and other unconventional gas sources, will be fundamental to this revolution.
On the other hand, there is another revision that may be just as significant in generating investor profits from the export trade.
I'm referring to crude oil, but with some new elements contributing to another change in the balance. I'm talking about oil exports.
In the future, we will see a concerted move to export oil in new directions—starting with transit from the U.S. For some time, exporting oil from the states has been considered a national security issue, making the trade very difficult.
In this case, two exceptions have been allowed: one permitting the export of heavy, lower quality crude from California (for which the argument can be made of an insufficient domestic demand); the other allowing certain tolling contracts.
Tolling is a process whereby raw materials are exported to be processed abroad with the finished product then imported back in. The justification for this allowance has been the concern over maintaining sufficient domestic stock of oil products, especially diesel. That concern has now abated with the advent of significant reserves of tight oil ("shale" oil actually being only one category of such unconventional sourcing).
None of this would have been considered possible only a few years ago. Being dependent on imported oil, American policy makers were understandably dismissive about allowing the export of finished products from U.S. refineries.
But not any longer. . .
As is the case with natural gas and LNG, there is now ample local supply. That opens up the market for rising oil product exports.
As a result, I suspect that tolling will rise again—owing to the limitations on overall U.S. refinery capacity—but will increasingly service a jump in the exports of those products. The cost differential in utilizing foreign processing facilities makes this approach quite profitable.
The Big (And Profitable) Global Changes Ahead
Then there is the expanded use of the completed East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline in Russia.
An earlier spur from ESPO has for several years moved oil south to China. But the new impact of the pipeline on wider Asian demand will become far more pronounced.
ESPO export oil will become a new benchmark crude rate, a major development for all of Asia. As this develops, the ESPO benchmark will replace London's Brent as the standard for trade in wide portions of that market.
This is what makes this so significant. End users in Asia have paid a premium over what it costs to buy the same quality oil for delivery to Europe. ESPO will undercut that tradeoff and provide a genuine boost to Asian economic development. ESPO oil has a lower sulfur content as well meaning it is "sweeter" than Saudi export. That is another big advantage for Asia.
Other export changes will come from a number of geographic market-specific revisions. Western Europe will be importing more LNG as nations like Germany also phase in a wider usage of renewables.
These LNG imports will add pressure on the pricing points for long-term pipelined gas contracts, while improving prospects for investments in the expanded liquefied trade.
What's more, a matter I have addressed before and had meetings about over the last several weeks, has begun to change how people view oil and gas sourcing in the Caribbean.
It involves the emergence of China as a major conduit of energy funding in South America and the rapidly accelerating networking of production, refining, and transport throughout northern South America and the Caribbean basin.
The combination rising Chinese influence and an existing system called "Petrocaribe" will produce some major changes that will impact North American markets.
That moves us into the geographical considerations, our second major rebalancing category.
That provides us with the initial point of departure for our next issue.
Oil & Energy Investor