Monday, May 17, 2010

Petrobras' Nearly Perfect Week David
Lee Smith

After all, how frequently does an oil and gas company hit two major discoveries at virtually the same time it tells us about a hike in its earnings? Petrobras capped off its week by noting that it had earned $4.3 billion in the first quarter of the year, up nearly 23% from the same quarter of 2009. Its revenues climbed 18%, based on higher oil prices and increased volumes.

According to CFO Almir Barbassa, new and ramped up projects are likely to increase 2010 production by another 480,000 barrels per day, or about 22% higher than in 2009. Approximately 80,000 of the total will come from the company's efforts in the United States. While there are concerns about future restrictions because of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill involving BP (NYSE: BP), Transocean (NYSE: RIG) and others, Petrobras will push ahead with its Cascade-Chinook field. The company owns 67% of Chinook, with minority partner Total (NYSE TOT) owning the rest, and Petrobras purchased 100% ownership of Cascade during Devon's (NYSE: DVN) fortuitous deepwater sell-off.

Perhaps even more importantly, while most of the industry was focused on the massive Gulf spill, Petrobras was responsible for more good news. On Wednesday Brazil's national oil regulator (ANP) announced that the company had made a major deepwater find, Franco, which likely contains about 4.5 billion barrels of light crude.

That's less than the 5-8 billion barrel Tupi field, which the company discovered in 2007. It may also be smaller than Libra, another big discovery announced on Friday by the ANP. Oil from the new discoveries may be used in an oil-for-shares capitalization, wherein Petrobras's shares will go to the government in exchange for the right to develop five billion barrels of reserves.

The two big new discoveries should also boost the industry's confidence in the Santos Basin as the potential site of more major discoveries. This is especially important following the drilling of a dry hole last summer, an unsuccessful effort by ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Hess (NYSE: HES), along with Petrobras.

Now, with Petrobras a stone's throw from its 52-week low, my inclination is to watch the company carefully, but not to initiate or add to positions until the new capitalization plan is finalized. Once that's accomplished, the company could again become one of the really attractive members of the deepwater producers.

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