With a view to “having better access to foreign capital and have a global reach,” the government is considering listing state-run oil explorer ONGC on an overseas stock exchange. The idea was discussed last week during a meeting called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review developments in the energy and mining sectors, sources said.
The meeting was attended by secretaries from various ministries apart from representatives from the NITI Aayog and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The idea is that ONGC should have a global reach. By virtue of ONGC Videsh (ONGC’s overseas arm), the company is already present globally and the government thinks if ONGC is listed abroad, it will have more visibility,” a source close to the development told FE. Though the bourse for listing is still to be decided, it could be London or Singapore, he added.
An e-mail sent to the spokesperson of ONGC fetched the response of “No comments”.
ONGC, through its overseas arm OVL, has stake in 41 oil and gas projects under various stages of development across 20 countries including Brazil, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Mozambique, New Zealand, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. Since its inception, OVL spent around `1.06 lakh crore in acquiring assets till the end of 2016-17, as per its latest annual report.
Analysts believe that the idea of listing ONGC overseas could be a part of the government’s overall plan to create an integrated state-owned oil company which can compete with global majors such as Royal Dutch Shell or BP, as announced by finance minister Arun Jaitley in the Budget for 2017-18. “It will give them (the entities which will be merged) capacity to bear higher risks, avail economies of scale, take higher investment decisions and create more value for the stakeholders,” Jaitley had said.
By the end of financial year 2018, state-owned oil marketer and refiner HPCL was made a subsidiary of ONGC as part of the integration plan to create a company having presence in the entire petroleum value chain.
However, ONGC’s size is small compared to top global energy giants. Even after acquisition of HPCL, the annual turnover of ONGC for FY18 was `3.6 lakh crore ($52 billion as per Monday’s exchange rate of 69.47 per dollar). Compare that with global oil behemoths such as Sinopec ($349 billion in 2017), China National Petroleum Corporation ($292 billion in 2017), PetroChina ($294 billion in 2017), Exxon Mobil ($237 in 2017), Royal Dutch Shell ($305 billion in 2017) and BP ($240 billion in 2017), and one can see where ONGC stands.
The source quoted above said listing overseas will have an effect on the brand, as investors there will get to know about the activities of the company and there will be credibility as ONGC will have to adhere to the governance standard prevalent in the country of listing.
“Fund-raising will be easier and cheaper as well,” said the source. While OVL by the end of financial year 2016-17 had borrowings of around `40,953 crore, parent ONGC for the first time took a loan of about `25,000 crore in March 2018 to fund its `37,000-crore acquisition of HPCL. The explorer also dipped into its reserves and surplus for about `12,000 crore for that purpose.
Experts, too, believe that listing ONGC overseas will not only ease the company’s plunge into overseas capital markets, but will also provide an investment avenue for people who otherwise do not invest in India.
“Also, sophistication of investors is much higher overseas. Hydrocarbon discoveries have long gestation and cash flows start in the long-run which overseas investors understand better,” said Dinesh Arora, partner, PwC India.