BHP and Woodside Energy Announcements

There were announcements this morning (30/8/2022) from BHP Group (BHP) and Woodside Energy (WDS). Many BHP shareholders will also hold Woodside following the merger of the BHP oil/gas operations into Woodside. I continue to hold both having decided that now was not the time to exit a major gas producer. Institutional investors who wanted out of the sector due to their focus on ESG will surely have been regretting it.

Woodside announced half-year results and their Underlying Net Profit After Tax was up 414% on the prior half year. Obviously there was a positive impact from the merger but the major impact was from higher realised prices for their products which more than doubled to $96.4 per barrel of oil equivalent. If your home heating bills are going up, you can see why! Worldwide gas prices have risen mainly due to the reduction in supplies from Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

Some 70% of Woodside’s portfolio is in gas production and they continue to invest in new gas developments. But they are also now investing in hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage. You can see a presentation from their CEO on the results here: https://webcast.openbriefing.com/8864/player/?player_id=48929

The announcement from BHP was about three requisitioned resolutions that will be put to the Annual General Meeting. All three are advisory resolutions related to ESG aspects. Resolution 1 simply allows shareholders to express an opinion which is probably harmless.

Resolutions 2 and 3 are more problematic. Resolution 2 requests that the company proactively advocate for Australian policy settings that are consistent with the Paris Agreement objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. Resolution 3 ensures reporting against the objective of Resolution 2.

I shall be voting against the latter 2 resolutions because there may be no direct connection between the company’s operations and the Paris Agreement to limit carbon emissions. Australia can limit carbon emissions by law if it considers it necessary to do so and in any case a substantial proportion of Woodside’s operations are outside Australia.

Resolution 2 attempts to impose an obligation on the company to interfere in what are political matters in Australia and hence I consider it as unreasonable. It is also unreasonable because more gas production might offset the use of coal for power generation and hence be beneficial in reducing carbon emissions. In reality these resolutions might be impossible to implement in any sensible way.

In summary these resolutions seem to be more about posturing on environmental commitments than practical objectives that the company could implement. They are attempting to force the management to make decisions on what may be best for the business.  

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address below. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Rain and Other Good News

Rain, rain don’t go away, and come again another day. After three months of no rain in the London area we certainly need more rain.

The news from BHP Group (BHP) this morning was also good with record profits, a raised dividend and a positive outlook for the future. The share price is up 4.8% today at the time of writing. I continue to hold the shares.

Meanwhile ill-educated politicians continue to call for a rise in the energy price cap as it looks like the typical household will face a doubling or more in their bills over the next winter. But there is a very good article published by the Financial Times by Cat Rutter Pooley headlined “The energy price cap is a relic of another era”. She explains that when it was first introduced, the UK energy price cap aimed to solve the problem of the “loyalty penalty” — higher prices for people who didn’t regularly shop around for a new supplier. What it wasn’t designed for is the conundrum we now face: unaffordable energy prices.

Government attempts to control prices ultimately never work. The suppliers of goods such as energy will not sell at prices that mean they lose money, or can earn less than they can earn selling the same goods elsewhere. It’s a world economy and it’s the world market price of gas that is inflating energy prices. We have already seen multiple energy supply companies going bust with the largest being bailed out by the Government (i.e. by us taxpayers).

What is Cat’s solution to the problem? She says: “The price cap as it stands isn’t a sustainable solution to problems in the energy market that are likely to endure for some years to come. Some households will have to adapt to higher prices. Extra efficiency measures will need to be introduced. It is hard to argue against introducing some form of social tariff for the poorest consumers akin to that which exists in the broadband market. In the short-term, some kind of assistance with bridging the affordability gap will be required given the price shock consumers already face. In the longer term, the price cap needs to go back to being a market backstop, not its primary feature”. I completely agree.

On another subject, it’s not often that one wakes up in the morning to find that medical research has found a solution that might help to keep one alive. That happened to me yesterday with the news reports that a way has been found to change the blood type of a donated kidney (see https://www.kidneyresearchuk.org/2022/08/15/transplant-hope-for-minorities-as-researchers-change-kidney-blood-type/ ). Differing blood types can prevent kidney transplants from volunteers and is a particular problem for black and other minority groups which mean they typically have to wait a long time for a transplant when transplants are a key to providing a normal lifestyle and a longer life by avoiding dialysis treatment.

I have had a kidney transplant for over 20 years now but I need another one soon. I have a volunteer donor but he is the wrong blood type. There is a way around that by a pooled matching system but being able to change the blood type of a kidney would be a great step forward. It will need some clinical trials before it can be widely used but it could be a real game-changer. The research has been funded by charity Kidney Research UK – please support them – see https://www.kidneyresearchuk.org/support/donate/

Back to financial matters. The AIC have issued a press release on the subject of the cost of graduate student debt which apparently is as high as £45,800. This high figure is putting off people from attending university and those already attending are not optimistic they will ever be able to repay the debts they incur.

More grandparents are helping to take the strain apparently which I can quite understand. With one grandson already at university and two more possibly needing to do so in a few years’ time, this is something to consider. Discretionary trusts and Junior ISA contributions are two ways we have tackled the problem but the AIC does of course suggest that investing in investment trusts is worth considering. They point out that a monthly investment of £100 in the average investment company over 18 years would have generated £59,018.

The message is to start saving for your offspring at an early age. See https://www.theaic.co.uk/aic/news/press-releases/debt-worries-weigh-heavily-as-a-level-results-day-approaches for more information.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address below. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Market Trends, Big Miners and Will the Music Stop?

Stock markets continue to rise. They seem to be ignoring the bad company results that are going to come out in the next few months. Although there are signs that the Covid-19 epidemic is weakening, some sectors such as hospitality are going to be in lock-down for some time. The economy is clearly going into recession with many employees being laid off. The lack of consumer spending, not just because some people have less money to spend, but because others are growing more nervous of spending money or finding fewer things to spend it on, is going to have a wide impact on the economy.

Cash is being put back into the stock market, simply because with very low interest rates there seem to be few good alternatives. The measures taken by central governments to refloat the economy will promote asset inflation so these trends may continue.

Investment trusts I hold which are popular with private investors seem to be some gainers from this market enthusiasm with their discounts narrowing again. Small cap stocks are also recovering and with very low liquidity just a few trades can raise their prices dramatically for no good reason. Or sharply reverse when a few sellers think the prices have risen too far. Rational judgement on share prices flies out the window when share prices are being driven primarily by momentum.

My portfolio continues to follow the market trend as it is very diversified even though I don’t hold shares in the sectors worse hit by the epidemic. I may have to put cash back into my ISAs which I withdrew only in March after making some sales. I have been buying a few large cap stocks which is not usual for me. I tend to avoid FTSE-100 companies as their share prices are driven by professional analysts’ comments, by geo-political concerns, by general economic trends and by commodity prices. You can buy a FTSE-100 company and soon find it’s going downhill because one influential analyst has decided its prospects are not as they previously thought.

But I did start buying a couple of big miners, BHP and Rio Tinto, in March which has worked out well. I considered the fundamentals sound and China, which is their major market, was clearly recovering and getting back to work rapidly. There was an interesting article in the Financial Times a couple of days ago highlighting other reasons why they are doing well. It was headlined “Australia’s iron ore miners exploit supply gap as Covid-19 hobbles rivals”. It explained how BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group were capitalising on the production problems of their competitors in Brazil and South Africa who have been badly hit by the epidemic, while demand has remained buoyant. In Australia, where most of the mining is in Western Australia, they took vigorous action to halt the virus early on and most of the workers fly in and out so are easy to monitor. It seems that this unexpected turn of events has helped rather than hindered my investment performance for a change.

Although I am confident that the economy will recover in due course, and stock markets will follow that trend as they always must do, in the short term I find it difficult to be positive. It is hard to identify companies where one is both confident that they won’t be badly affected by the epidemic in the short term and where one can reasonably accurately forecast their future earnings. It’s the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel to use a bad metaphor. Together with the uncertainty of whether we will get a second virus wave, whether a working vaccine will be found, the impact of Brexit and the prospect of higher taxes, mine and the confidence of other investors must surely be low. In the short term, growth in company profits is going to be hard to come by, which is often the major driver for improving share prices.

But the market is ignoring that. It reminds me of the infamous saying of Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince during the last big financial crisis – “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”

Unfortunately judging when to move in and out of markets is not a skill that most investors have and so I will stick to trend following while keeping a sharp eye on events.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right in most browsers or by using the Contact page to send us a message requesting. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

© Copyright. Disclaimer: Read the About page before relying on any information in this post.

Rio Tinto Production and BHP, plus Hollywood Bowl Placing

Mining company Rio Tinto (RIO) issued a statement on its first quarter production this morning. This was a very positive report and the share price has risen over 5% at the time of writing. The share price of BHP Group (BHP), another big miner in the FTSE-100, rose in tandem.

I am not generally a fan of mining companies as their profits are very dependent on the prices of the commodities they produce, but with a p/e of under 10 and a very high dividend yield I did consider those two companies worth a small punt recently. They are both heavily dependent on industrial consumption in China but that seems to be recovering, particularly for iron ore. That may of course simply be because it is difficult to halt blast furnaces temporarily. Their production guidance for 2020 remains basically unchanged apart from in copper where demand and prices have fallen and production and development of a new mine in Mongolia has been disrupted by the coronavirus epidemic.

Hollywood Bowl (BOWL) announced a share placing this morning at 145p – a slight premium to last nights price. The share price has risen by 10% today. This company is in the “hospitality” sector as it runs bowling alleys primarily, all of which have been closed.

The company has taken aggressive steps to cut expenditure such as halting all new developments, delaying all discretionary expenditure, furloughing staff using Government schemes and deferring a proportion of salaries for management. It is also negotiating with its landlords to defer rent payments for 9 to 12 months. In addition it has agreed relaxed covenants with its lenders, and it previously announced that the interim dividend will be cancelled.

All of this means that monthly cash burn will reduce to £1.6 million while its sites remain closed so it suggests it won’t run out of cash until the end of October. But I am still glad I sold most of the shares I held in this company in February. Financial results for this year are clearly going to be very poor and it may take a long time before customers return in volume.

As with all companies in this sector, buying the shares at present is pretty much a bet on when the restrictions might be listed and business return to normal. I have no better view on that than most readers of this article I suspect. But the share price probably rose today on the view that the company may avoid going bust if life returns to normal within a few months’ time.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right in most browsers or by using the Contact page to send us a message requesting. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

 © Copyright. Disclaimer: Read the About page before relying on any information in this post.