Risks in the Company’s Gas & Power business
Risks associated with the trading environment and competition in the industry
2013 marked the third consecutive year of operating losses at our Gas & Power segment which was driven by a prolonged demand downturn, strong competitive pressures and gas oversupplies. The Company expects those structural headwinds to continue to adversely impact results of operations and liquidity for the foreseeable future.
Gas demand has been severely hit by the economic slowdown in Europe and, more importantly, a steep fall of gas consumption in the thermoelectric sector. The latter trend was affected by an ongoing expansion of renewable sources of electricity which have benefitted of governmental subsides across Europe, whilst coal has displaced gas on a large scale in firing power plants due to cost advantages and lowering rates for obtaining emission allowances in Europe due to the downturn. Coal prices have seen a dramatic fall in recent years due to a massive glut of coal on a global scale. In the face of weak demand, supplies on the European marketplace have continued to increase due to a number of factors. First of all, before the beginning of the downturn gas wholesaler operators in Europe grossly overestimated the projected growth rates in demand and committed to purchase large amounts of gas under long-tem supply contracts with producing Countries also bearing the volume risk as a result of the take-or-pay clause of those contracts. They also build large pipeline upgrade to import gas to Europe. Secondly, several LNG projects came on stream, which improved the liquidity of spot markets. Finally, the fact that the US has reduced their dependence on LNG imports due to large increases in the domestic production of shale gas. This latter development has further added to global LNG supplies. Those trends have driven the expansion of very liquid continental hubs where spot prices have become the prevailing benchmark of sale contracts, particularly in the industrial and thermoelectric segments. Spot prices have been on a downtrend over the last few years reflecting oversupplies and weak demand. This trend has hit the profitability at European gas marketing operators, including Eni. Particularly, our results of operations for 2013 were adversely impacted by a faster than anticipated alignment between continental benchmarks and spot prices at Italian hubs leading to sharply lower price realizations in the Italian wholesale market. In addition trends in sales prices have not been reflected in the procurement costs of gas supplies as European gas operators procure their gas supplies under long-term contracts with producing Countries whereby the cost of gas is generally indexed to the price of crude oil and other derivatives which have diverged from trends in gas spot prices. Therefore wholesale margins on gas were squeezed due to this decoupling which has occurred between spot prices and the oil-linked costs of purchased gas. Adding to the pressure, reduced sales opportunities due to weak demand forced operators to compete even more aggressively on pricing to limit the financial risks associated with the take-or-pay clause provided by the long term supply contracts. On their part, large clients adopted opportunistic supply patterns, in order to take advantage of the large availability of spot gas. Finally governmental administrations in several European Countries have started to review the indexation mechanism of supply tariffs in the retail sector in order to make residential customers benefit from the ongoing trend in gas spot markets. In Italy, administrative bodies have already enacted effective October 1, 2013 a new indexation mechanism of the cost of the raw material in pricing formulas of the safeguarded retail market whereby the cost of gas in currently indexed to spot prices thus replacing the previous oil-linked indexation. This development will reduce our margins in the residential sector. See “Regulation of the natural gas market in Italy” below.
We forecast that market conditions will remain unfavourable in the gas sector in Italy and Europe for the foreseeable future due to the structural headwinds described above, volatile commodity prices and lack of visibility. We anticipate a number of risk factors to the profitability outlook of the Company’s gas marketing business over the next two to three years. Those include weak demand growth due to a projected slow recovery in the Euro zone and macroeconomic uncertainties, declining thermoelectric consumption due to inter-fuel competition, continuing oversupplies and strong competition. Eni believes that those trends will negatively impact the gas marketing business future results of operations and cash flows by reducing gas selling prices and margins, also considering Eni’s obligations under its take-or-pay supply contracts (see below).
The Company is seeking to improve its cost competitiveness by renegotiating more favourable contractual terms with our long-term suppliers. If we fail to achieve this our profitability could be adversely affected
The Company’s long-term supply contracts provide clauses whereby the parties are entitled to renegotiate pricing terms and other contractual conditions from time to time to reflect in a changed market environment. The Company is currently seeking to renegotiate better terms and pricing of our long-term supply contracts to align its cost structure to prices prevailing in the marketplace in order to preserve the profitability of its gas operations and to reduce the annual minim take of its contracts dictated by the take-or-pay clause in order to be more flexible in the current weak demand environment. If Eni fails to obtain the planned benefits, future results and cash flow could be adversely affected. Furthermore, management believes that the results of the Gas & Power segment will become more volatile and unpredictable in future years as contractual renegotiations take time to define, possibly leading to large one-off price adjustments recorded in the reporting period when the new terms are agreed upon. In addition, in case the parties fail to arrange renewed contractual terms, both of them may seek an arbitration ruling, which would increase the uncertainty regarding the final outcome of the renegotiation process. A number of clients, to whom Eni supply on long-term basis, have already requested, and may request in the future, price revisions and other contractual changes.
The Company expects that current imbalances between demand and supply in the European gas market will persist for sometime
In 2013 gas demand fell remarkably, down by 7%. and 1%. in Italy and Europe respectively, driven by the economic downturn and sharply lower gas consumption in the thermoelectric sector. While there are signs that demand may have finally bottomed by end of 2013, there is still little visibility on the evolution of gas demand due to the risks and uncertainties associated with a number of ongoing trends:
- uncertainties and volatility in the macroeconomic cycle; particularly the anticipated slow recovery of the economic activity in Europe will weigh on the prospects of any sustainable rebound in gas demand;
- EU policies intended on one hand to reduce green house gas emissions which should negatively impact the consumption of coal in producing electricity to advantage of gas; on the other hand continuing subsides to promote the development of renewable energy sources might jeopardize a recovery in gas-fired thermoelectric production which management still consider to be potentially the main engine of growth in gas demand;
- Concrete developments following announcement made by certain national governments in Europe to shut down nuclear plants;
- growing adoption of consumption patterns and life-styles characterized by wider sensitivity to energy efficiency.
Against these ongoing trends, management has revised downward its estimates for gas demand: it is now assumed an almost flat demand environment in Italy and Europe up to 2017 compared to previous years’ assumptions made in the industrial plan 2013-2016 of a growth rate of 1.7-1.8%. It is worth mentioning that the projected levels of European gas demand in 2017 are significantly lower than the pre-crisis levels registered in 2008 as a result of weak fundamentals.
The projected moderate dynamics in demand might not be enough to balance the current situation of oversupply in the marketplace over the next two to three years according to management’s estimates. Gas supplies have been built up in recent years as new, large investments to upgrade import pipelines to Europe have come online from Russia and Algeria and gas wholesalers have contracted important volume of supplies under long-tem arrangement in past years, forecasting certain trends in demand which actually failed to materialize. Furthermore, in the near future management expects the start-up of new infrastructures in various European entry points which will add large amounts of new import capacity over the next few years. Those include a new line of the North Stream pipeline connecting Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea as well as new LNG facilities. In Italy, the gas offered will increase moderately in the future as a new LNG plant is expected to start operations at Livorno with a 4 BCM treatment capacity and effects are in place of Law Decree No. 130/2010 about storage capacity which is expected to increase by 4 BCM by 2015. Those negatives will be partially tempered by a declining availability of LNG on a worldwide scale which has been absorbed by growing energy requirements from East Asian economies. In addition Europe’s internal production is maturing. However, in the long-term management expects the start-up of an array of global LNG projects which are expected to materially add to global LNG supplies as well as it is likely that the United States will support the development of gas export from the domestic production. Overall we see a well supplied global gas market.
Those trends represent risks to the Company’s future results of operations and cash flows in its gas business.
Current, negative trends in gas demands and supplies may impair the Company’s ability to fulfil its minimum off take obligations in connection with its take-or-pay, long-term gas supply contracts
In order to secure long-term access to gas availability, particularly with a view of supplying the Italian gas market and anticipating certain trends in gas demand which actually failed to materialize, Eni has signed a number of long-term gas supply contracts with national operators of key producing Countries that supply the European gas markets. These contracts have been ensuring approximately 80 BCM of gas availability from 2010 (including the Distrigas portfolio of supplies and excluding Eni’s other subsidiaries and affiliates) with a residual life of approximately 14 years and a pricing mechanism that indexes the cost of gas to the price of crude oil and its products (gasoil, fuel oil, etc.). These contracts include take-or-pay clauses whereby the Company is required to off-take minimum, preset volumes of gas in each year of the contractual term or, in case of failure, to pay the whole price, or a fraction of that price, up to the minimum contractual quantity. The take-or-pay clause entitles the Company to off-take pre-paid volumes of gas in later years during the period of contract execution. Amounts of cash prepayments and time schedules for off-taking pre-paid gas vary from contract to contract. Generally, cash prepayments are calculated on the basis of the energy prices current in the year when the Company is scheduled to purchase the gas, with the balance due in the year when the gas is actually purchased. Amounts of pre-payments range from 10 to 100%. of the full price.
The right to off-take pre-paid gas expires within a ten-year term in some contracts or remains in place until contract expiration in other arrangements. In addition, the right to off-take the pre-paid gas can be exercised in future years provided that the Company has fulfilled its minimum take obligation in a given year and within the limit of the maximum annual quantity. In this case, Eni will pay the residual price calculating it as the percentage that complements 100%, based on the arithmetical average of monthly base prices current in the year of the off-take. Similar considerations apply to ship-or-pay contractual obligations.
Management believes that the current market outlook pointing to weak gas demand growth and large gas availability, the possible evolution of sector-specific regulation, as well as strong competitive pressures in the marketplace represent risk factors to the Company’s ability to fulfil its minimum take obligations associated with its long-term supply contracts.
Since the beginning of the downturn in the European gas market late in 2009 to the balance sheet date, Eni has incurred the take-or-pay clause as the Company collected lower volumes than its minimum take obligations in each of those years accumulating deferred costs amounting to €1.9 billion and has paid the relevant cash advances.
Considering ongoing market trends and the Company’s outlook for its sales volumes which are anticipated to remain flat or to decrease slightly in 2014 and in the subsequent years, management believes that the Company’s ability to fulfil its minimum take obligations under current take-or-pay contracts might be at risk. In order to reduce the financial risk the Company may decide to dispose of its gas availability deriving from its minimum take obligations by selling that gas at lower prices thus negatively impacting the results of operations.
In addition to the financial risk, failure to off-take the contractual minimum amounts exposes the Company to a price risk, because the purchase price Eni will ultimately be required to pay is based on future energy prices which may be higher than the energy prices prevailing when the off-take obligation arose. In addition, Eni is subject to the risk of not being able to dispose of pre-paid volumes should the total addressable market be smaller than the Company’s gas availability in the relevant period. Finally, the Company expects to incur financing costs considering the cash advances already paid to its suppliers.
As a result of those risks, the Company’s selling margins, results of operations and cash flow may be negatively affected.
As to the deferred costs stated in the balance sheet, based on management’s outlook for gas demand and offer in Europe, and projections for sales volumes and unit margins in future years, the Company believes that the pre-paid volumes of gas due to the incurrence of the take-or-pay clause will be off-taken in the long-term in accordance to current contractual terms thus recovering the cash advances paid to suppliers.
Management plans to use all available options to mitigate the take-or-pay risk and the associated financial risks, particularly with a view to obtain a better balance in the Italian market where the total addressable market is projected to be lower than the total amount of take-or-pay obligations retained by Italian wholesalers. The planned initiatives include the renegotiations of better pricing term in order to align the cost of supplies to the selling benchmarks prevailing in the marketplace in order to regain competitiveness. Also the Company plans to renegotiate the contractual flexibility in order to reduce its minimum take obligations or to gain higher commercial flexibility, and finally it plans to use commercial and other initiatives involving its suppliers in order to restructure its contract portfolio.