Tullow Oil is Undervalued

THE VALUE INVESTOR: Despite a string of disappointing offshore drilling results, analysts remain confident in Tullow's pipeline and consider the stock to be undervalued

Stephen Simko, CFA 27 June, 2014 | 8:18AM
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The most important element of Tullow's (TLW) future value creation is finding oil via exploration. The company's record in this area during the early 2000s was easily one of the best in the world: From 2003 to the present, the firm increased its reserves, commercial and contingent, from 18 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) to 1.4 billion boe.

But can Tullow repeat the degree of its past successes? A string of disappointing offshore drilling results during the past two years (for example, noncommercial wells in French Guiana, Mozambique, and Mauritania) has shaken the market's faith in the strength of the firm's exploration program, as has poor exploration results for the industry at large (2013 was a terrible year for offshore exploration in general). A bear argument has gained traction that the excellent drilling results of 2005-11 are unlikely to be consistently repeated. Indeed, if the recent weak results continue, Tullow's stock may be fairly valued or even overpriced.

We currently don't share this pessimistic view, and believe the recent string of poor exploration results does not materially diminish Tullow's outlook. The reality is that each high-risk high-impact exploration well faces a high chance of failure; in a good year, 30% or more of wells will be successful. This makes the pattern and timing of new oil discoveries lumpy over shorter periods. For even the best companies, this will create lumpiness in terms of when discoveries are made. However, for multiyear periods we think this volatility will even out and Tullow possesses more than enough exploration skill and know-how to create significant value via the drill bit each year, net of the capital it invests.

Of the factors that can have an impact on Tullow's ability to create shareholder value, none plays a bigger role than oil prices.

Tullow has accumulated significant knowledge in exploring for oil in areas long ignored by other firms. Because the company has been among the most active explorers in certain geological trends and basins, this knowledge base can be put to work to find new oil discoveries, which in turn provides further useful intelligence for future drilling campaigns. Managed correctly, this can be a virtuous exploration cycle that increases the likelihood of making future oil discoveries.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
Tullow Oil PLC28.92 GBX-2.63

About Author

Stephen Simko, CFA  is a senior stock analyst at Morningstar.

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