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President Energy happy to be in Argentina for the long term

President in good place in spite of currency volatility, says CFO Shepherd
drill
Peso has been marked down heavily

Economic crises come around almost as often as World Cups in football-mad Argentina.

Right on cue, headlines about a collapse in the peso are jostling with who has made it into the squad for Russia 2018.

WATCH: President Energy kicks off workover programme at Puesto Flores in Argentina

Sentiment about companies with substantial interests in Argentina has been affected, though Rob Shepherd, CFO at oil and gas group President Energy PLC (LON:PPC) remains optimistic.

A rising dollar has sparked the problems, with the peso down by a quarter since March against the US currency.

Argentina’s high levels of foreign borrowing leave it especially exposed to any upward movement of the dollar.

Shepherd, though, is encouraged both that the reformist government under Mauricio Macri has taken decisive action to stem the crisis and that the IMF is considering a US$30bn line of credit.

G20 summit

The fact the country is hosting the G20 this year, which culminates in a meeting of world leaders at the end of 2018, should also motivate them to support the country, he believes.

President’s oil and gas sales are linked to US dollars and Shepherd says good treasury management means that, in practical terms, the impact so far of the peso volatility has been limited.

For oil produced from its Puesto Flores acreage, President received a price in April of US$66.5/bbl, which was converted to pesos at the time of payment for the oil.

Puesto Flores is one of two main areas of operation for President in Argentina.

There are some smaller production fields in Louisiana (300bopd), while President has exploration acreage in Paraguay.

Argentina production

Argentina, though, contributes the bulk of revenues from production of about 2,000 barrels daily.

The company has just started a seven well workover programme at Puesto Flores, while a three well test is planned for a gas field at Estancia Vieja.

Three new wells (two development and one appraisal) are scheduled to be drilled at Puesto Flores later in the year.

Shepherd says the portfolio is such that each workover or new drill hole it undertakes creates value but acquisitions are on the agenda as well.

There are lots of family-owned prospects where production has tailed off due to underinvestment during the oil price slump.

A focus by the majors on shale in places such as Vaca Muerta is also throwing up opportunities.

Conventional plays

President is not interested in unconventional or shale oil at present just conventional plays.

“Unconventional is a big boys game. We are small among the big boys but big among the little guys,” he adds.

Puesto Flores, in the Neuquen Basin and bought last year from Chevron, is an example of the President model.

It was too small for the US oil giant, which was happy to walk away from it, but transformational for us says Shepherd.

At US$55 per barrel it was generating annual turnover of over US$20mln.

President also has assets further north at Salta, though here the logistics are more difficult as it is more remote.

Cashflow rising

Across the portfolio, independently assessed 1P reserves (most certain) are now 15 MMboe (million barrels) and 2P reserves more than 27 MMboe, of which the Neuquen Basin accounts for around 30% in both categories.

Shepherd says that compared with some companies exploring for huge new discoveries that might not seem especially sexy, but President is producing $1.5mln a month in cashflow.

There is also exploration upside at Salta that President wants to develop in a partnership.

So far, some 7trn cubic feet of gas resources have been identified across the Paleozoic gas/condensate prospects in the Puesto Guardian concession that houses Salta, but potentially there could be 20trn cubic feet and 185mln barrels of condensate.

Financial results are due shortly and they should give an idea of how the new acquisition is bedding down and what further plans they have to boost its production further.

The firm is pushing hard to get the maximum out of its ten-year licence and all-round it is in good shape, even with Argentina’s problems, Shepherd says.

Uncertainty not unusual in oil

“We are used to uncertainty in the oil business”, he adds, pointing out that in the three years the oil price has crashed from US$100 per barrel to US$20 and back up to US$70 again.

The company has also been Argentina a long time and is committed to making it work there.

For example, it is applying for a secondary listing in Buenos Aires following recent capital market changes pushed through by the government.

Peter Levine, the company’s chairman and chief executive, owns 29.9% and is fully aligned with where the company is going.

“We have access to money, a good shareholder base and through our listing a currency we can use,” says Shepherd.

“Of course, we’ve made mistakes and suffered knockbacks but we are still in the game.

“I’ve been around small caps for a long time and President is in a very, very good place.”

At 9.8p, the market cap is £109mln.

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