Africa: The next great energy growth story

The often-ignored continent is just waiting to break out.

By InvestorPlace Feb 23, 2012 12:40PM
Image: Africa (© OJO Images/SuperStock)By Aaron Levitt 


When it comes to emerging markets and energy production, powerhouses like Brazil and Russia tend to dominate portfolio holdings. Both nations have been blessed with a vast array of hydrocarbons and natural resources -- Russia is the world's leader in natural gas and Brazil's deep-water salt fields could be home to some of the richest concentrations of oil in recent history.


Equally rich -- but less known -- is the emerging oil story in Africa. The continent often is completely ignored by investors, but the tale brewing there could be exactly the catalyst needed to propel the region into superstar status.


Investors willing to bet on this relatively unknown growth story could reap significant profits in the long term.


Years of corruption, infighting and violence have tainted perceptions of the continent. However, Africa's rich abundance of natural resources is leading to its revival. Overall, the continent is becoming more politically stable, and resource dollars are beginning to find their way back into African infrastructure and telecommunications.


Historically, mineral resources and gold have powered Africa's past, but the continent's future will be driven by its new found oil reserves.


Nineteen countries within the region are now significant producers of petroleum. While nations like Nigeria, Libya and Algeria have been the major sources of reserves and production, new finds in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda are rewriting African history. Angola was inducted into the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) back in 2007, and Asian investment has pushed up production in Sudan rapidly. Since 1989, Africa's proven oil reserves have increased by 116% -- from nearly 59 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) in 1989 to nearly 210 billion barrels today -- and currently make up 13% of the world's oil reserves.


Those reserves are continuing their steady climb upward. Taking a cue from American natural gas producers, new advances in drilling techniques are helping to push supplies higher. Analysts estimate that over the next 25 years, Africa will see supply growth gain an extra 2 million barrels per day annually, and by 2035, the continent will double its natural gas reserves to 15 trillion cubic feet.


Recent discoveries off the coasts of war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone are helping underscore that resource growth. Energy analysts have postulated that these sites in West Africa could even dwarf Brazil's offshore potential.

Countries such as South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania are working on new horizontal wells to tap trapped petroleum reserves. Kenya has undergone a "land grab" in recent years, as oil exploration and production (E&P) companies have looked toward the politically stable nation and its oil-rich Somalian Plate. The region features geology very similar to the various shale formations dotting the U.S.'s Northeast.

Overall, the International Energy Agency predicts that more than 20% of the globe's total oil production by 2035 will come from sources that have yet to be found -- including those in Africa.


Africa's burgeoning energy industry has the potential to change the continent's fortunes for the better. While it often is ignored, it won't stay that way forever. For instance, my favorite integrated major oil firm, Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A, RDS.B), recently paid $1.6 billion to purchase Cove Energy to gain a foothold in Mozambique.


For investors looking to add a high-risk/high-reward energy play, adding a dose of African energy makes perfect sense.


A great starting place for investors is England's Tullow Oil (TUWLF). Since 2007, the E&P company has discovered approximately 4 billion barrels worth of oil across nations like Ghana and French Guiana, and recently set its sights on onshore East Africa. The company has begun seismic testing in an underdeveloped area stretching between Kenya and Ethiopia. Tullow hopes to find 300 million barrels of oil within the region. Analysts estimate that their chances are pretty good, as test wells have come back with so-called "oil seeps." The company also is steadily raising cash by unloading part of its Uganda discovery to France's Total (TOT) and China's CNOOC (CEO) for $2.9 billion.


Tullow isn't necessarily cheap, currently trading at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of around 33. But that premium is justified as the firm is Africa's top oil and gas explorer. Based on its last reported quarter, competitor Kosmos Energy (KOS) isn't even profitable yet. So far this year, shares of Tullow have gained about 9.5%. However, if the company's East African endeavors take hold, they could surge.


For those looking for a broader way into Africa's riches, Anadarko Petroleum (APC) could be a good bet. The firm has been shifting its focus from the Gulf of Mexico toward Africa and has been a major partner in a variety of big finds.


The aforementioned finds off of Liberia and Sierra Leone's coasts were headed by Anadarko. The company also is huge in Mozambique, where it estimates recoverable natural gas reserves could top 30 trillion cubic feet. Shell's purchase of Cove actually gives it an 8.5% stake in Anadarko's Rovuma project, where the European oil major plans on building a liquefied natural gas export plant. Anadarko sees the purchase as huge win, as it now can export that field's gas more easily.


For investors, Anadarko's blend of mature, stable Gulf assets and high-growth African ones makes it a great balanced play on the continent's future.


For more emerging market plays, you can find four hot emerging market ETFs here.


As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


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Feb 25, 2012 10:01PM
That headline rates right up there with, The Check Is In The Mail.
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