Iraq’s move to rush oil bidding could deter some major companies

The Iraqi Cabinet approved a five-year development plan with a target of 6.5 million barrels a day by 2022 earlier this month. Above, a worker operates valves in Nihran Bin Omar field north of Basra. (AP)
Updated 25 April 2018
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Iraq’s move to rush oil bidding could deter some major companies

  • Last month, Oil Minister Jabar Ali Al-Luaibi unexpectedly moved the date to receive bids from late June to April
  • Fourteen companies are qualified to bid for exploration and development rights for 11 underdeveloped blocks

BAGHDAD: Iraq is opening more of its untapped oil and gas resources to foreign developers, hoping to boost revenues after its costly war with the Daesh group, but analysts say the rushed bidding process — now timed to precede national elections — could draw a lukewarm response.
Last month, Oil Minister Jabar Ali Al-Luaibi unexpectedly moved the date to receive bids from late June to April, meaning the bidding would be held before May 12 national elections. Some believe Al-Luaibi, who is campaigning for a seat in parliament, moved up the date for political reasons.
Al-Luaibi hopes to represent the oil-rich southern province of Basra as a member of the Victory Alliance, which is led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who is running for re-election.
“Personal and partisan interests are taking priority over national interests,” said Ruba Husari, managing director of the consulting firm Iraq Insight. “The objective of the exercise is aimed doubtlessly at portraying the ministry — and the minister — as aggressive in developing the nation’s resources ahead of the (elections).”
The Associated Press placed multiple calls to Al-Luaibi’s spokesman, who did not pick up. An aide to the spokesman said Al-Luaibi’s office was too busy with the election campaign to comment on the allegations.
In one of his campaign videos, Al-Luaibi tries to reassure a group of weary Iraqis who are worried about their future.
“Past years have wreaked havoc on everything,” a man in traditional Arab clothing says in the video, referring to the devastation caused by war. “Iraq’s wealth is your responsibility,” says a woman dressed in a conservative abaya — a loose black cloak that covers the body from shoulders to feet.
“I’m confident that with your determination I can protect the wealth of the generations,” Al-Luaibi says at the end of the video.
Thursday’s auction will be the fifth since Iraq opened its vast oil and gas reserves to international energy companies in 2009 for the first time in decades.
In previous bidding rounds, officials spent months hosting conferences, road shows and discussions with companies before issuing final contracts. Last month, the minister changed the date to April 15, but when companies asked for more time it was extended to Wednesday, and then to TSwitch to plain text editorhursday.
Ian Thom, principal analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said the tighter deadline could work against Iraq.
“Companies may be more cautious if they have not fully evaluated the bid terms,” he said. “This may result in bids being less competitive as companies seek a greater margin of safety.”
Fourteen companies are qualified to bid for exploration and development rights for 11 underdeveloped blocks.
Seven are located near the border with Iran, and three others are located near the Kuwaiti border, while the 11th is in the Arabian Gulf, in Iraqi territorial waters.
Encouraged by an improved security situation, Iraq in 2009 began to attract international oil companies to develop its vast untapped oil and gas reserves. Top among major oil companies are the US’s Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, the UK’s BP, China’s CNPC and Russia’s Lukoil.
Since then, Iraq has awarded a handful of oil deals to develop major fields that hold more than half of its 153.1 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Deals to tap natural gas resources were also awarded. As a result, Iraq’s daily production and exports have jumped to levels not seen since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The country is now producing around 4.36 million barrels a day from Baghdad-controlled oil fields, up from nearly 2.4 million a day in 2009, and its daily exports averaged 3.450 million barrels a day last month, making it OPEC’s second-largest producer behind Saudi Arabia. Oil revenues make up nearly 95 percent of the country’s budget.
An economic crisis set in over the course of 2014, when the Daesh group swept across much of northern and western Iraq and oil prices plummeted. Iraqi forces concluded major military operations against the extremists last year, but large parts of the country were reduced to rubble.
In February, Iraq secured $30 billion from international donors to help rebuild devastated areas, far from the $88.2 billion Baghdad estimates it needs.
Earlier this month, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a five-year development plan with a target of 6.5 million barrels a day by 2022.
Iraq’s 2018 budget of nearly $88 billion comes with a deficit of more than $10 billion. It is based on a projected oil price of $46 per barrel and a daily export capacity of 3.8 million barrels.


Nestle streamlines R&D to speed up product innovation

Updated 24 May 2018
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Nestle streamlines R&D to speed up product innovation

LONDON: Food giant Nestle plans to combine its scientific research operations into a single unit in an attempt to speed up development of new products at a time when competition from smaller rivals is intensifying.
The world’s biggest packaged food maker, with brands including Nescafe coffee and Perrier water, has been struggling with slowing sales growth for years. Now it is also under pressure from activist shareholder Daniel Loeb to increase investor returns.
To better compete, the Swiss company told Reuters it would merge its Nestle Research Center and Nestle Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS) into one organization called Nestle Research.
The new entity, to be announced later on Thursday, will continue to be based in Lausanne, Switzerland and will employ around 800 people.
The reorganization, effective July 1, will not involve job cuts or the closure of facilities, a spokesman said.
By linking the “blue-sky” research done at NIHS with the more commercially focused Research Center, it hopes to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into marketable products.
It also hopes this will help it compete with smaller, nimbler rivals who have been eating away at the market share of Nestle and other big firms like Danone, Unilever, Kraft Heinz and Kellogg.
Nestle Chief Technology Officer Stefan Palzer acknowledged earlier this month that his company had to keep pace with rising demand for goods that are organic, gluten-free or vegan.
“Big trends are embraced by smaller companies a bit more actively than the big companies,” Palzer told Reuters before Nestle’s streamlining plans had been finalized.
“We are adjusting our portfolio, doing many innovations and renovations to make the portfolio more relevant and to address those trends, but smaller companies are more agile.”
In the US — the world’s biggest packaged food market — small challenger brands could account for 15 percent of a $464 billion sector in a decade’s time, up from about 5 percent last year, Bernstein Research predicted last year.
The combination of research units is the latest move by Palzer aimed at speeding up development and ensuring research efforts are commercially viable.
Palzer, who took over Nestle’s innovation and research and development operations in January, is also supplementing long-term research projects with incremental product launches made faster by experimenting with new ideas more quickly.
Last month, for example, Palzer and colleagues got the idea for a vegetarian or vegan food product while on a business trip.
“Thursday we had an idea, Friday we returned to Switzerland and Monday evening I was able to taste the first prototype,” Palzer said. “Wednesday, this prototype was shown to the executive board, and Friday it was in the global pipeline.”
He declined to give more details of the product, except to say it is currently being assessed by the operations team to see how long it will take to produce and on what machinery.
Other steps include efforts to apply specific developments to more products, such as Nestle’s recent designer sugar crystals launched in low-sugar Milkybars in March, which will go into other products in the future.
The importance of agility was underlined by Nestle’s recent struggle to capitalize on resurgent demand for frozen foods.
The company says it reformulates one third of its product portfolio every year.
Nestle spent 1.72 billion Swiss francs ($1.73 billion) on R&D last year, down slightly from 2016 but up 22 percent from 2012. The company’s sales fell 2.6 percent over the same period.
As a percentage of sales, its expenditure has fluctuated only a little, but demands on the unit have increased.
Wells Fargo analyst John Baumgartner said that across 10 large publicly traded US food companies, median expenses for R&D and advertising have declined 20 percent over the past five years.
“As voids of ideas and marketing have emerged, start-ups have been more responsive to consumer needs, won the culture and created the emotional connections that drive sales,” he said in a recent note.
Palzer said some industry peers had been outsourcing innovation to cut costs, relying on acquisitions of small brands or partnerships with suppliers.
But he said it was critical for Nestle to maintain scientific expertise in-house to keep its own portfolio fresh and to be an attractive partner for collaboration with others. Nestle does R&D around the world, involving around 5,000 people.
Fundamental scientific research will remain key at Nestle, Palzer said, but he also highlighted the value of external partnerships and acquisitions that can bring in new research or capabilities more easily.
Scientific research and innovation itself is not necessarily the reason why big breakthroughs tend to be rare for multinational companies, said Shaun Browne, investment banker at Houlihan Lokey, who advises food companies on deals.
“They often don’t have the patience or passion that is really required,” Browne said. “Often these things are one individual who is just totally determined and passionate about their product and sees it through.”