Abu Dhabi ties help OMV pivot to Middle East

The logo of Austrian oil and gas group OMV at a gas station in Vienna. Above, OMV has bought a 15 percent stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s (ADNOC) refining business. (Reuters)
Updated 18 June 2019
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Abu Dhabi ties help OMV pivot to Middle East

  • OMV is shifting attention toward the Middle East as its chemist chief executive chases his vision of making the Austrian oil and gas group a major supplier of plastics
  • OMV boss Rainer Seele has spent more than €4 billion ($4.5 billion) — 40 percent of the group’s M&A budget until 2025 — for oil and gas concessions in the region

VIENNA: After years of largely banking on low-cost Russia for growth, OMV is shifting attention toward the Middle East as its chemist chief executive chases his vision of making the Austrian oil and gas group a major supplier of plastics.
OMV boss Rainer Seele has spent more than €4 billion ($4.5 billion) — 40 percent of the group’s M&A budget until 2025 — for oil and gas concessions in the region, a 15 percent stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s (ADNOC) refining business and a to-be-formed trading joint venture with ADNOC and Italy’s Eni.
“We want to have a fully integrated business model in Abu Dhabi — from the well via the refinery and the petrochemicals all the way to marketing and trade in international markets,” the chief of Austria’s second-largest listed company told shareholders last month.
OMV traditionally earns its money from producing, distributing and refining oil and gas in Europe. A focus on low-cost oil and gas fields in Russia — a source of investor concern due to US and EU sanctions — helped the group get back on its feet financially in recent years and become one of the best cash-flow generators in the sector.
After fixing a price this month for the purchase of Siberian gas assets from Gazprom, OMV has largely achieved its Russian expansion plans.
The Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, of which OMV is a financing partner, could face delays. However, OMV’s downside risks are limited to the €950 million it has committed, of which it has paid €644 million so far.
“This is already captured by its discounted valuation relative to its peers,” analysts at Berenberg said in a note.
Seele’s new, Middle East-focused strategy stems from a shift in the environment surrounding OMV’s business model, with challenges created by the politically promoted rise of renewable energy and increased use of electric vehicles.
Consultancy Wood Mackenzie forecasts that demand for oil in developed countries will revert to structural decline next year and drop by about 4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2035. In contrast, it expects demand in developing economies, mainly in Asia, to increase by nearly 16 million bpd in the same period.
The rise in developing-country demand is seen largely driven by the petrochemicals industry, which uses oil to make the plastics needed for fertilizers, packaging, detergents and clothes, as well as for electric-car parts, solar panels and wind turbines.
This is where Seele gets excited. Refraining from expanding into renewables such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, the CEO plans to monetise his oil with the expected surge in demand for plastics and also jet fuel, especially in China.
For Seele, the new focus is a journey back to his roots. The 58-year-old German holds a PhD in chemistry and started his career as a chemical research scientist.
He has chosen the United Arab Emirates as a base from which to secure a big piece of the Asian petchem pie, aiming to maximize profit via the entire value chain.
“What I am always preaching is, hey guys, try to think integrated,” he told Reuters when asked why he did not simply buy into China. “I cannot come up with an integrated business model in Asia if I buy into a petchem unit there. It would be an isolated investment.”
The UAE, a strategic investor in OMV since 1994, has aggressive energy ambitions for the coming decade. It is cooperating with international groups including Shell, Germany’s Wintershall DEA and US investment firms KKR and BlackRock to pioneer approaches and technologies.
Last year, the UAE launched a $132 billion capex program to become self-sufficient in gas by 2030 and establish itself as an exporter of petrochemical products. It plans to invest $45 billion alone into the Ruwais complex, which is located 240 km (150 miles) west of Abu Dhabi, to make it the largest integrated refinery/petrochemicals facility in the world.
ADNOC Refining plans to spend $1.9 billion annually, according to its five-year business plan. As OMV holds 15 percent, its share would be €285 million per year.
A cost optimization of Ruwais operations will be followed by investments to enable the use of different feedstocks and the processing of heavier, more sour crude at the site, Seele said in explaining the plans for ADNOC Refining. “We will create a Bordeaux,” said Seele, a connoisseur of red wine. “Right now we are only running with Cabernet Sauvignon in Abu Dhabi and we will add some Merlot.”
One challenge will be to export to Ruwais OMV’s European model of bundling refining and petrochemical production in integrated hubs. “We are transferring our European refineries now from predominantly fuel refineries to jet fuel and petchem units,” Seele said. “That’s the transformation we have in mind (for Ruwais as well).”
To deliver on its goal, OMV is working closely with its subsidiary Borealis, which partly runs the Ruwais refinery via its Borouge joint venture with ADNOC. Seele and Achim Stern, chief executive at Borealis, plan big.
Borouge hopes to give the final go-ahead for the construction of a fourth petrochemical complex at the site next year, Stern told Reuters. He did not disclose the cost of the new complex, but said it would be a “multibillion” decision.
OMV’s purchases of a 20 percent stake in Abu Dhabi’s SARB and Umm Lulu offshore oil concessions and a 5 percent stake in the Ghasha offshore gas and condensate fields from ADNOC were crucial for growth as they secure access to cheap feedstock, Seele said.
OMV also plans to recycle used plastic and convert it into synthetic crude oil at the Abu Dhabi complex. It is testing the patented, so-called ReOil technology at home.
“What we see in the market is a clear signal. If we don’t find a solution to recycle plastics, our polymer business will be negatively impacted,” the CEO said with a view to investors, who want the industry to work harder against climate change. “At the latest, in 2025 we would like to have a commercial plant.”
Analysts have praised OMV’s plans, saying major players in the oil and gas industry may envy the company for the deals with its financially strong shareholder ADNOC. However, risks remain: The emirate’s gas fields have proved challenging to monetise in the past due to high operating costs and artificially low local prices for the fuel.
“New technologies and development plans can improve this, but the fields still remain relatively difficult,” said Robin Mills, chief executive at energy consultancy Qamar Energy in Dubai.
Another challenge is inadequate infrastructure. The pipeline network needs to be extended, Seele says, at the same time indicating a solution is under way. “If you identify a problem, solve it.”


China central bank moves to support financial institutions

Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen on a counter of a branch of a commercial bank in Beijing, China, March 30, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 July 2019
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China central bank moves to support financial institutions

  • Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31

BEIJING: China’s central bank offered medium-term loans to financial institutions on Tuesday in an attempt to get more affordable funds to struggling smaller firms, as it steps up efforts to support a slowing economy.
With growth in China sliding to a near 30-year low, global financial markets are closely watching to see if the People’s Bank
of China (PBOC) will trim interest rates soon in line with expected easing by other central banks.
While the PBOC left rates on the medium-term loans unchanged on Tuesday, and the injection had been expected, it funneled more lower-cost funds into a credit program aimed specifically at reducing strains on small and medium-sized businesses.
The PBOC lent 497.7 billion yuan ($72.31 billion), including 200 billion yuan through one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans and another 297.7 billion yuan through targeted medium-term lending facility (TMLF) loans, it said in a statement.
The size of the TMLF funding was 11 percent larger than the last such injection in April.
Interest rates for both liquidity facilities were unchanged from previous levels. The one-year MLF and TMLF remained at 3.30 percent and 3.15 percent, respectively.
The total amount roughly offset 502 billion yuan of MLF loans that were set to expire on Tuesday,
ensuring a steady supply of cash.
“Replacing some MLF with TMLF effectively cut funding costs. We should focus on the lower rate, instead of the net drainage on the day,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

The central bank said banking system liquidity will be “reasonably ample” after the lending operations.
About 160 billion yuan in reverse repos were also set to expire on Tuesday, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. The PBOC did not say in its statement whether it had drained funds from money markets on Tuesday.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

Some traders said Tuesday’s moves were in line with the PBOC’s support measures since last year, which have been aimed at getting more affordable financing to small and private companies.
While Chinese regulators have urged banks to keep lending to distressed firms, such companies are often considered higher credit risks than big, state-owned enterprises.
Traders and analysts still expect the PBOC to cut rates on some of its liquidity tools in coming months.
The PBOC has already slashed banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) six times since early 2018 to free up more money to lend, while guiding short-term market rates lower through liquidity injections in various forms.
Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31.
Cheung from Westpac said it was still possible the PBOC could lower the MLF rate after the Fed’s policy decision.
She also has pencilled in a 50 basis-point RRR cut this quarter, and another in the fourth quarter.