December 29, 2017 /10:58AM / ARM Research
Following our last note Seplat Plc – Revision to Forecast published on Nov 7th, Seplat has returned 20.5% with YTD return of 57%. Much of the early gains was underpinned by the lifting of force majeure on the Trans-Forcados Pipeline (TFP) which drove a marked rebound in performance in the third quarter of 2017 with the company posting profit after tax (PAT) of $22.3million, after realizing losses in six consecutive quarters.
Particularly, oil revenue at $115million almost doubled from the prior quarter, anchored by higher production of 26.4kbpd while gas sales remained resilient posting $31.5 million (+7.5% QoQ) as gross daily gas output touched a high of 352Mscfd (working interest: 111Mscfd).
At the latter, it was a play of cheap valuation and bargain hunting. In sync with our investment case for Seplat which tilts towards 2018 wherein we had projected a substantial upside in earnings hinged on balance sheet deleveraging as well as improved and more stable P&L.
Our view was premised on the company’s return to past production levels and de-risked earnings via the addition of a new export route to existing two routes. Consequently, we had earlier forecasted a 90-day downtime in 2018 with working interest production forecast of 45.5bopd and over four-fold increase in PAT to $108.6 million (2017E: $19.4 million).
In line with this adjustment, Seplat remained well positioned to relatively outperform its larger peers, trading at a 2018 P/CF of 1.7x compared to African peers’ and FTSE 350 Oil & Gas index of 5.5x and 12.05x respectively. As it stands, the stock is currently trading at a premium of 130bps to our last communicated FVE of N588.11. So how does it look from here?
This Bull Still Has Legs
Beyond our earlier views on higher production, lower all-in cost, balance sheet deleveraging and deceleration in Capex which should drive cash-flow and ROE improvement, the recent rally in crude oil prices (Brent) and Seplat’ s tax allowance provision (estimate: $98 million) provides fresh upside to earnings.
Riding the oil price upswing
As a pure E&P play, Seplat’s earnings are more sensitive to oil prices. Consequently, we run a scenario analysis of 2018 key financial metrics at varying crude oil prices while keeping our production forecast intact. From our analysis, every $5/bbl. increase in Brent crude prices could lift 2018 earnings by ~25%; while every $5/bbl. increase in long-term oil price could raise our FVE by about N45/share or 8%. We have now raised our 2018 earnings by 26% in FY 2018, in line with the accelerated rebalancing in the crude oil market and house views on 2018 Brent price (base case of $60/bbl.). However, crude oil prices below $40/bbl. and a reappearance of insecurity in the Niger delta may trigger a downward review to earnings.
Balance sheet should de-leverage significantly
We think net debt to free cash flow will fall sizably from the current level of 1.7x to 1.2x by FY 18. Seplat is expected to rake in stronger operating cash flows of c.$300million over 2018 well above capital spending (estimate: $20 million capex). With the significant deleveraging in the balance sheet based on our estimates, there is clear capacity for enhanced shareholder return via resumption of dividend payments in 2018. Furthermore, while Seplat has no explicit dividend policy, we find that full-year dividend per share (DPS) has displayed strong correlation to its operating cash flow per share. Thus, with earnings and operating cash flow expected to rebound in FY 2018 on higher oil prices and production, we assume that DPS in FY 2018 will be $0.05.
Lower-than-expected oil prices and production are the key risks. The most apparent near-term driver for such a scenario would be an increase in US crude oil supply as well as the risk of OPEC falling apart. Upside risk would stem from the contrary, if oil prices increase above projected levels. Also, return of security concerns in the Niger Delta in the run-up to election is another key risk to earnings. However, with three alternative export routes, Seplat is in a better position than prior year.
Valuation is more compelling
We raise our FVE from N588.11 to N663.85 after reviewing our model and considering the possibility of higher crude oil prices. Our revised target equates to 2018 P/E and P/CF of 5.0x and 1.4x compared with African peers of 14.4x and 3.5x respectively.