MARKETS

New Hope on the hunt

DESPITE the hammering coal and oil prices have taken in recent months New Hope Corporation says it is well positioned to weather current market storms and to secure new asset-level opportunities for either near-term coal production capacity or longer-term development projects despite posting a $23.1 million loss.

Haydn Black

The loss for the six months to December 31 was driven by the writedown in the value of its oil and gas properties of a $58.5 million, which dented its net profit after tax of $34.2 million, a 51% increase on the same time in 2014.

The diversified company also reported of a 70% increase in operating cashflows for the period, equating to $26.6 million for the first six months of 2014-15.

New Hope says its operating performance was positively impacted by strong sales and production tonnages, easing exchange rates and lower production costs.

Its Bridgeport Energy unit produced 77,457 barrels between July and December, a 62% increase over the first half of 2014, however in the same period oil prices have almost halved.

The increase in production was due workovers to repair wells at the Inland and Utopia fields in Queensland which lifted production by 35-40 barrels of oil per day, taking Bridgeport’s share of current production from these fields to around 136bopd.

Junior Bounty Oil & Gas owns around 40% of Utopia.

Planning for the drilling of two development wells in the Inland field has been deferred, and while commissioning of the coal gasification phase of the Jeebropilly indirect liquefaction proof of concept plant was successfully completed during the first half of the year, converting coal into syngas for power generation, the company will put plans to continue with the installation of a liquefaction circuit on hold.

Instead the existing gasification plant will be optimised, and New Hopes wants to “explore commercial avenues” for the plant.

Also on ice are laboratory-scale carbon conversion research works being undertaken in the US.

Bridgeport had a mixed six months of drilling in ATP752 with the Nubba-1 exploration well cased and suspended and Wicho East-1 a duster.

The latest phase of development drilling in the Cuisinier field was completed in February with Cuisinier-20 and 21 cased and suspended for future production, and due to be started in May.

Two of the three appraisal wells, Cuisinier-17 and 19, have been cased and suspended pending further testing and evaluation and Cuisinier-18 was plugged and abandoned.

Airborne geophysical surveys were undertaken across the larger permits in the Cooper Basin including the recently awarded PEL 630 permit in South Australia to feed into a basin-wide exploration study planned later in the year.

Bridgeport holds around 15,000 square kilometres of exploration acreage in predominantly the Cooper Basin.

Coal production is expected to be 5.8 million tonnes for the second half of 2014-15, relatively steady with production for the full year expected to be at similar levels to 2014 with potential for some modest increases.

The company remains focussed on securing approval for the New Acland development despite export coal prices being weak.

“This is a strong operating result at a time of continuing challenges for Australian coal producers,” New Hope’s managing director, Shane Stephan, said.

“We have successfully managed our margins whilst simultaneously improving our safety performance, underlining the operational strength of the group.

“Market conditions for Australian coal producers are challenging at present; however, New Hope has efficient operations and is in a robust financial position, so we are well placed to see out the current downturn and take advantage of these conditions to grow the business for the future.”

New Hope believes that weakness in both the coal and oil markets will continue to provide potential avenues to grow the business and take advantage of the company’s strong financial position.

It says the outlook for global coal markets remains challenging in the short to medium term although positive signs are beginning to reappear in some markets, although it expects price weakness will continue in the second half of the year for oil and coal, partially offset by a weaker Australian dollar.

New Hope has $31.8 million in cash and investments, and has declared a fully-franked interim dividend of four cents per share.

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