ONGC doubles down on spending to make up for lost time due to COVID-19

By: |
November 17, 2020 6:40 PM

Capital spending fell by 7 per cent to Rs 19,100 crore during the first six months of fiscal 2021 compared with Rs 20,600 crore in the same period last year.

"We expect capital spending to increase in the subsequent quarters as economic activity rebounds following the easing of lockdowns," Moody's said."We expect capital spending to increase in the subsequent quarters as economic activity rebounds following the easing of lockdowns," Moody's said.

India’s top oil and gas producer ONGC on Tuesday said its capital expenditure during the current fiscal is likely to be close to the Rs 32,500-crore target as it is doubling efforts to make up for the time lost due to the pandemic.

At an investor call, Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) Director (Finance) Subhash Kumar said the COVID-19 outbreak and the global restrictions that followed had disrupted the supply chain, hitting its project implementation.

Oil and gas exploration and production projects are highly dependent on foreign vendors for the supply of equipment and services. Also, some facilities like rigs are operated by a foreign crew.

However, with the gradual resumption of economic activity globally, ONGC is hopeful of making up for the lost time, he said.

“We had in April-May recalibrated capex spending to Rs 26,000 crore on the assumption of a long drawn impact of the pandemic on economic activity. But with things opening up, we will be able to achieve spending of close to Rs 32,000 crore… maybe Rs 29,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore or Rs 32,000 crore,” he said.

ONGC, India’s top oil and gas producer, had budgeted Rs 32,501 crore of capital expenditure for the fiscal to March 2021 (FY21).

The company has taken up project work on war footing to meet the capex target.

The government is looking at increased public spending to give a boost pandemic-hit economy. It is pushing public sector companies to not just meet the stated capital expenditure targets but even go beyond them.

On the capex for the next fiscal, he said the company was in the process of recasting the numbers.

“We had projected Rs 32,000 crore to Rs 33,000 crore capex for the next fiscal. Post Covid, we have to revisit the numbers. Over the next 15-20 days we will have a clearer view,” he said.

Stating that the company continues to lose money at the current government-mandated gas price of USD 1.79 per million British thermal unit, he said the company starts making money only if gas prices are above USD 3.7.

The government, he said, has set up a committee to look into the demand for reviewing the current formula which has made gas production an unviable proposition.

ONGC, however, is not in favour of either floor or cap on gas prices and there is a need for a balance between both.

“We have now rock bottom prices,” he said.

On the outlook for coming quarters, he said “the worst is behind and things will improve”.

ONGC got USD 28.72 for every barrel of crude oil it sold in the April-June quarter, which improved to USD 41.38 in July-September.

“Things can only get better from here. We anticipate second-half performance will be better,” he said.

Commenting on ONGC’s second-quarter earnings, Moody’s Investors Service said despite the recent recovery, crude oil prices remain below fiscal 2020 levels (fiscal year ending March 31, 2020).

“We assume oil prices to average USD 45 per barrel in 2021 because of low demand and high inventory levels. As such, earnings from sale of crude oil will remain at or near current levels over this period,” it said.

Earnings from gas sales will decline because the Government of India reduced domestic natural gas prices by 25 per cent from October 2020, it said adding lower gas revenue will not have a significant impact on overall revenue as gas contributes only about 20-25 per cent of upstream revenue.

Earnings from the refining segment will recover in subsequent quarters on the back of a recovery in throughput levels. However, it will remain weak compared with previous years because of sustained weakness in refining margins, it said.

Capital spending fell by 7 per cent to Rs 19,100 crore during the first six months of fiscal 2021 compared with Rs 20,600 crore in the same period last year.

“We expect capital spending to increase in the subsequent quarters as economic activity rebounds following the easing of lockdowns,” Moody’s said.

In addition, shareholder payments are expected to remain in line with historical levels notwithstanding the company’s operating performance as the government, which is the largest shareholder in ONGC, relies on dividends from the company as a source of revenue to meet its fiscal deficit target.

However, the company has not declared any dividend in the current fiscal year.

“An increase in capital spending and shareholder payments during the current low earnings period could translate into an increase in borrowings creating pressure on the rating,” Moody’s said.

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