Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Kaombo Norte, a storage vessel off the coast of Angola. The African country is offering tax breaks to lift production. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018

Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.


A female entrepreneur brings crowdlending to Saudi Arabia

(Photo/Shutterstock)
Updated 25 January 2020

A female entrepreneur brings crowdlending to Saudi Arabia

  • Shariah-compliant peer-to-peer lending platform called Forus to be launched this year
  • Founder Nosaibah Alrajhi aims to help businesses and small investors in the Kingdom

RIYADH: It is no secret that small businesses struggle with obtaining funds to expand, with one avenue being particularly tricky in the region: Trying to rely on a national bank for help.
While things are improving, they are not doing so quickly enough. These longstanding problems have inspired Nosaibah Alrajhi, a former investment banker, to launch Forus, a Shariah-compliant peer-to-peer lending platform that she hopes can help bolster Saudi Arabia’s economic growth and enrich both business owners and small investors.
“It’s very straightforward: We bring together investors and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Crowdlending will provide a steadier and safer return than say, investing in stocks or investment funds,” said Alrajhi, who serves as co-founder and chief executive.
“If you compare it to real estate, for example, you need a lot of cash upfront to invest in property, but with P2P (peer-to-peer) lending it provides almost everyone with the opportunity to invest and get a return.”
Having received a special license in July 2019, Forus will launch its platform in early 2020. For investors, it is quick and easy to register: You just need to complete a standard know-your-customer (KYC) process, and you will then be able to lend SR500 ($133) to SR10,000 to whichever companies you choose.
For would-be borrowers, Forus will undertake a credit and risk analysis that usually takes about 10 days.
“We do all the due diligence, and once companies meet our benchmarks, they’re listed on the platform, giving investors — individual and institutional — the opportunity to lend them money,” said Alrajhi. “We call it income investments — investors get their money back, plus fees.”
Companies listed on the online platform are rated according to risk — the bigger the risk, the larger the return for lenders. Companies can borrow up to a maximum of SR2 million.
“Investors can look at the companies’ financial reports, their strategy, their team, their products, as well as specific financial ratios that will help them make their decision,” said Alrajhi.
A company will request to borrow a certain amount, and once this is fully pledged by investors, it will receive the loan. Forus, in turn, earns a small commission. Loans are for six to 48 months.
“Our marketplace is providing investors with diversified alternative options (for) investing, while businesses are empowered with an opportunity to grow and scale,” said Alrajhi.
“We achieve this by minimizing friction, streamlining the customer experience and providing a seamless, secure and transparent platform.”
Alrajhi holds an MBA from Madrid’s IE Business School, where her research led her to spot a gap in the market for a fintech-based, P2P lender in Saudi Arabia.
“If you look at the market today, there’s only a few banks who are willing to lend to SMEs, which banks see as quite high risk,” said Alrajhi. “In Saudi, there are roughly 16,000 SMEs looking for loans.”
Forus uses a murabaha — cost plus financing — structure for its loans, which are not interest-bearing and so are Shariah-compliant.
In English, Shariah-compliant lending will refer to a profit rate rather than an interest rate, although in Arabic there is no such linguistic distinction.
Nevertheless, Forus’s loans are Islamic. “In Saudi, the biggest market is for Shariah-compliant financial services,” said Alrajhi.
She hopes her platform will provide a win-win for investors and SMEs — investors can earn a bigger return on their money, while SMEs can obtain the funds needed to expand their operations and increase profits.
In the longer term, Forus plans to expand to Egypt and Pakistan, but for now Alrajhi’s focus is firmly on her native Saudi Arabia.
“One of the main impacts we aim to have is transparency, which will then enable financial inclusion and help increase GDP (gross domestic product),” she said.
“We’ve talked to so many SMEs, and we found that almost all are facing challenges when it comes to borrowing.”
She leads a team of 10 staff at Forus, and is a female trailblazer in the Kingdom’s male-dominated financial services sector and more broadly in Saudi Arabia, where women constitute less than 25 percent of the workforce.
“Within the next five years, Saudi’s financial sector will look completely different,” said Alrajhi.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.