Tuesday, February 05, 2019 10:59 AM / S&P Global Ratings
The upgrade reflects the improvements Seplat made in 2018, both operationally and financially, which we view as ongoing. This somewhat reduces Seplat's inherit weakness as a small oil and gas producer in the troubled Niger Delta region.
We expect Seplat to report strong financial results in 2018 supported by healthy oil prices (average Brent oil price of $71/bbl) and steady production of about 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd). Moreover, we estimate 2018 capex and dividends will be lower than we had previously anticipated. We therefore expect Seplat to report a net cash position as of the end of 2018.
On the operations side, we see the imminent completion of the third-party-operated Amukpe-Escravos Pipeline Project as a positive development. In our view, Seplat will be able to maintain its 50,000 boepd production through 2019, before increasing it in the coming years as it steps up exploration and gas capabilities. This positive momentum should help the company improve its business model, reducing its sensitivity to volatile oil prices and enhancing its ability to absorb operational issues.
While inorganic growth remains a key priority, we understand that the company will continue its prudent approach, focusing on assets in proximity to existing assets. The coming elections in Nigeria could delay potential transactions to toward the end of 2019, if anything happens at all this year. We calculate that Seplat could acquire such assets for slightly more than $0.5 billion before seeing any pressure on the rating, all else remaining unchanged.
We see Amukpe-Escravos as an important milestone in reducing Seplat's reliance on the Trans Forcados Pipeline (Seplat's operations were badly affected after a militant group blew up a section of the Forcados terminal in February 2016). Although the Amukpe-Escravos launch was delayed, we understand that it is in the final stages and we expect it to start operating in first-quarter 2019 then ramp-up through the year. The two pipelines--together with some capacity for exporting via the costlier Warry Refinery jetties--should reduce the effects on the company of potential military conflicts. In 2018, the political situation in the Niger Delta remained stable.
We expect production will likely remain at 50,000-55,000 boepd in 2019 before increasing to 55,000-65,000 boepd in 2020. The growth will stem from new drillings in 2018 and 2019. Under our base case, Seplat will allocate $100 million-$200 million to organic growth in each of the coming years compared to our estimated capex of well below $100 million in 2018 (in the first nine months of 2018 the company invested $29 million).
The Assa North and Ohaji South (ANOH) gas field is seen as one of Nigeria's critical gas development projects, aimed at increasing gas production and processing infrastructure development to meet growing demand. The plant's total expected processing capacity is 300 million standard cubic feet per day (mmscfd). Seplat's share will be 150 mmscfd, which is close to our estimate of its total gas production in 2018. This project will be important for the growth of Seplat's more stable gas business, which is supported by healthy local demand and is delinked from oil price volatility. Post the FID, which we expect later this year, the company will need to invest several dozens of millions in 2019 if it is to target the commissioning of the facility in 2020.
The stable outlook reflects our expectation that Seplat will maintain funds from operations (FFO) to debt of more than 45% under the current rating over the next 12 months, absent material acquisitions. This is supported by continuous production at about 50,000 boepd in 2019, and reduced concentration risks once Escravos-Amukpe launches in first-quarter 2019.
Under our base case (assuming Brent oil price at $55/bbl), we project EBITDA of about $300 million-$350 million in 2019, increasing to $350 million-$400 million in 2020. This should result in S&P Global Ratings-adjusted FFO to debt above 50% (before deducting the sizable cash balance).
If Seplat were to engage in a sizable acquisition, the rating would likely remain unchanged at 'B' as long as its adjusted FFO to debt did not drop materially below 40% under current market conditions (or about 30% under less favorable Brent oil prices).
If we were to lower our sovereign credit rating on Nigeria to 'B-' from 'B' currently, we would not expect to follow with a similar rating action on Seplat.
We could lower the rating if militant actions and/or operational issues arose such that production was disrupted over the longer term. We think such a scenario will become less likely over time given the Escravos-Amukpe pipeline, increases in Seplat's gas production, and potentially increased diversification following future acquisitions.
In addition, rating pressure could arise if the company undertook a large debt-financed acquisition resulting in a much less favorable capital structure.
We view an upgrade in the coming 12 months as unlikely. In our view an upgrade would be subject to meeting most of the followings: