2020 has no doubt been one of the most challenging years for players in the oil and gas downstream sector, having to deal with several issues.
Nigeria’s downstream oil and gas players are in the midst of one of the lowest revenue declines in their history of operations. In an industry used to the highs and lows of economic and commodity price cycles, 2020 poses one of the greatest challenges to oil and gas companies.
Total Plc, 11 Plc, MRS, Ardova and Conoil are some of the major downstream players (all quoted) that have suffered revenue declines and margin drops in one of the worst years in modern history.
- Conoil Plc, one of the major downstream players reported its 2020 9 months results revealing revenue declined 21.84% YoY t0 N88.1 billion.
- 11Plc, another major player in the sector, also saw its topline revenues plummet from N141.5 billion in the first 9 months of 2019 to N114.7 billion in the corresponding period in 2020.
- Total Nigeria Plc, one of the largest players in the downstream sector also recorded declining revenues. In 2019 it reported total sales of N181.6 billion compared to N117.3 billion in 2019. The 35% drop was the largest of the lot.
- The only outlier of the lot was Ardova Petroleum which somehow managed to record revenue growth with 2020 9 months revenue rising to N116 billion compared to N110.7 billion same period the year before.
In general, revenues for the major oil and gas downstream players in the country fell by a whopping 21% from N646.8 billion in 2019 (9M) to N514.2 billion in the corresponding period in 2020. What is to blame for these declines? Covid-19!
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a nationwide lockdown for most of 2020 that has negatively impacted demand for petroleum products across the country. The lockdown has grossly affected volumes for downstream oil and gas companies hitting their margins and profitability.
Businesses across the country such as manufacturers, airlines, restaurants, schools, the transportation sector and motor vehicle owners have all reduced their demand for fossil fuel.
The downstream sector has also struggled to take advantage of the drop in oil prices as they still need to deal with the multiple devaluation of the naira and being able to gain access to foreign exchange. Their inability to access the forex market leaves them with little choice but to continue to rely on NNPC, the sole importer of petroleum products for their inventories.
In a recent comment, the Chairman of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Mrs. Winifred Akpani, lamented that “the inability to source FOREX from the official CBN FOREX window by independent marketers is continually hindering the effectiveness of the principles of DEMAND and SUPPLY market forces to correct the current inefficiencies in the pricing mechanisms adopted in the deregulation process.”
Mrs. Akpani also explained that inability of marketers to source FOREX creates a situation which can be described as “pseudo subsidy” in the market, suggesting that being forced to sell petroleum products at fixed prices means they cannot recover their importation cost, most of which is paid for in US dollars.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that the federal government regulates pricing irrespective of the unique operating costs of these private oil companies. Also, being the sole importer of petroleum products means the NNPC will likely pass on inefficiencies in managing cost to petroleum marketers, eliminating any chances of efficient pricing that can be obtained from increased competition. The effects of these are low profit margins and ‘never-shifting’ revenue positions, except for exceptional cases.
Last December, the Federal Government revealed it was ending its subsidy programme, increasing fuel to reflect its market cost. However, it balked after pressure from the labour unions, reducing prices without recourse to sector players.
Despite these challenges, the sector will likely eke out some profits largely due to cost cutting initiatives and income from ancillary businesses. However, dividend payment might be a challenge as it will be advisable for these companies to set aside cash for what could be a pivotal year.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will likely be signed into law this year and will produce new investment opportunities for the downstream sector if things go as planned. The government will likely relinquish its hold on the sector and fully deregulate the downstream before the end of the year.
When it does, those with a strong balance sheet will be winners.