Archive for the ‘Company analysis’ Category.


A few disclosures – This is a borrowed idea. I will not use the word steal, as I got it from a friend 🙂

This idea was published by Ayush on his blog (see here) and then he mentioned it to me via an email. I was intrigued by the extremely low valuation (which is not obvious) and some medium to long term triggers.

I started looking at the company in the month of December, and before I could create a full position, the stock price ran up. Inspite of the run up, the company is an interesting, though speculative opportunity.

Another disclaimer – I hold a small position in my personal portfolio, but as it is a speculative idea, I have not added it to my family or the model portfolio.

The company
The name of the Company is Selan exploration and it is an E&P (exploration and production) company. The company has five oilfields – Bakrol, Indrora, Lohar, Ognaj and Karjisan

As part of the NELP policy, the company has the rights to explore and develop these oil fields. The company was among the first private sector players to get the rights to do so and if successful in finding oil and gas reserves, they have to pay a certain level of royalty to the government. In addition, the entire production of the company is taken up by the government or PSU under the production sharing contracts

The E&P business

The basics of exploration and production are actually quite simple to understand – The government grants the license to explore and exploit a specific area which may be rich in hydrocarbons, under a specific contract. The company winning the contract then undertakes exploration of the area using various advanced technologies such as 3D seismic surveys and exploratory drilling to identify the size of the reserves and the best location to drill wells to exploit these reserves.

Once the reserves are delineated (identified), the company applies for the various clearances (such as environmental) which once approved, allows the company to drill production wells. Although the technology is quite advanced and allows a company to identify deposits accurately, it is not a precise science and hence a certain percentage of the wells may turn out to be dry wells (not enough oil in that particular location). These dry wells have to be abandoned and the cost has to be written off (similar to a product which fails in the market).

The productive wells, once online produce oil and gas which is transported via pipelines or other means to oil refineries.

The problems
Let’s start with the problems which have caused the stock price to stagnate over the last few years. That will also give us an idea of the medium and long term triggers for the company.

The company was granted the exploration rights in the 90s and has been able to increase the production from 62000 BOE in 2004 (barrel of oil equivalent) to roughly 2.82 Lac BOE in 2009. I described the process of license, survey, clearances and approvals to get to the final production stage of drilling the production wells and pumping out the oil.

As you see from the process, we have government involvement at each step and anything where the government is involved means lack of clarity and uncertain timelines.

As has happened for multiple sectors in the economy, the clearances for drilling production wells came to a halt in the last four years. Due to the nature of oil exploration and production, the current wells start getting exhausted in time and if you are not drilling new wells, the overall production starts dropping.

In case of Selan exploration, production dropped from 2.8Lac BOE in 2009 to 1.64 Lac BOE in 2013. The revenue dropped from 99 Crs to around 97 Crs in 2013 and the net profit was roughly the same (at around 45Crs)

A mumbo jumbo of terms
Before I get into what is the opportunity here, let’s talk about a few terms for the Oil and gas industry. For starters, barring Selan and Cairn (I), I don’t think the PSUs in this sector are worth considering as investments. These companies are run as piggybanks by the government to subsidize fuel in the country. It is debatable on how good that is for me as a citizen, but I am clear that it is a disaster for a shareholder.

If you want to understand how the industry works (without the chaos of government interventions), you may want to look at US and Canada based companies such as Chesapeake, Devon energy or Exxon Mobil. If you are looking at a pure play E&P Company, there are several small companies such as Novus energy or Jones energy.

Why bring up these non Indian companies? Any US or Canada based company has to declare several key parameters which help an investor to analyze an exploration company. Some of those parameters are

2P reserves (proved and probable reserves)

Operating netback per BOE : revenue minus cost

NPV10: DCF valuation of the reserves (revenue based)

EV/BOED: Enterprise value/ Barrel of oil equivalent in reserves (valuation measure)

Cost curves, EUR, Exploration cost and well IRR (for each field)

Current oil flow rate (BOED) to understand the current revenue levels

You can find the definitions easily by doing a Google search for these terms.

So which of this data is provided by Selan exploration? None!

Are they doing anything illegal? No, because I don’t think there are clear disclosure norms on the above for Oil and gas companies in India (none that I could find). In comparison, Cairn (I) has more disclosures and communication.

The thesis
In absence of this disclosure, why even bother and move on to something else? That is a valid point and hence I have called it a speculative bet as I am making it with minimal information.

What do we know here?

For starters, it seems that the company has 79.2 Million (7.9 Crore) BOE of reserves in two fields alone (Bakrol and Lohar). The company sells at around 1.2 dollar/ BOE (EV/2P) versus 5.5 for cairn (I). Comparable companies in the US/Canada sell at around 8-12 dollar/BOE. Of course the foreign companies are not comparable, due to a very different regulatory environment.

In addition to this valuation gap, we are not even considering the potential reserves in the other fields (which seem to be bigger than the ones in production). So we are talking of a situation where the market is valuing the company based on the current production rate (Which is suppressed due to lack of approvals) and is not giving any credit for its reserves.

The company is able to generate a pre-tax profit of around 70 dollars / BOE versus 10-25 Dollars for the US/ Canada companies. The huge difference is due to the fact that Selan produces mostly oil compared to oil and gas in case of other companies.

So the company is very cheap based on known reserves and is also quite profitable. In addition the company has spent close to 65 Crs in the last three years on exploration expense (remember the surveys to find the oil and gas reserves?). Once it starts getting the approvals, it can start drilling the wells and start pumping out money …sorry oil.

So why is this still speculative or contingent? It is contingent on the company receiving approvals – Which is seems to be getting recently based on the update in the latest quarterly report. These approvals are based on the whims and fancy of our government and one can never be sure what will the scenario be next year.

Why is it speculative – because there is so little disclosure and we are using the reserve numbers from a past annual report? We do not have any clear updates in the latest reports and so it is like driving with a foggy windshield window.

I have taken a small bet on the company to track the company and may buy or sell in the future based on new developments. As always, please do your homework and make your own decisions.


I wrote about two companies in January – Deccan chronicles and Zylog systems (read here).

In case of deccan chronicles, the stock had  dropped more than 90% from its peak and a debt default and other allegations were already in the newspapers.

In case of zylog, my impression from reading the annual reports was summarized as follows

1. poor operating performance resulting in cash flow problems (in addition to commoditization of the core business)
2. Cash flow problems resulting in higher debt which was taken to fund the growth
3. higher debt resulting in promoter pledges to get the funds
4. Point 3 causing the stock to drop, resulting in margin calls and forced sale of the pledged stock.
5. The forced sale, causing further steep drop in the stock price

As part of the disclosure, I indicated in the post that I had a very small speculative position in the stock and in the comments section provided the following rationale for it

i am testing a hypothesis that the management will fix cash flow problems and the business is worth more than the current mcap
however it is a speculative position with a large probability of loss. it is also a very tiny, insignificant position

hi anil
i would not call such postions a mistake. i do such things actively – on very tiny amounts

these position have a large learning value which is worth more than the money lost. one could get the same by just watching it, but when you put real money, the experience is very very different. it helps one in avoiding such mistakes in the larger serious position.

A new update

On June 14th, SEBI barred the promoters (read here) from buying or selling any securities in the stock market

The key points in the news article seem to be the following

Sebi had, suo moto, carried out an examination in the scrip of Zylog Systems in view of surveillance alerts regarding variation in price. Sebi during examination of the scrip prima-facie observed that the company provided misleading information to the stock exchanges wherein it stated that its promoters have been buying and increasing their stake while actually the promoters were net sellers and their shareholding declined due to invocation of pledge by financiers. Similar misleading clarification was also given by the promoter of Zylog Systems, Sudarshan, to the media.

Sebi order said that Zylog Systems disclosed incorrect and false information in the quarterly shareholding pattern for the four quarters in the year 2012 to the stock exchanges by overstating the holding of the promoters and understating the quantum of shares pledged by the promoters.

Sebi also observed various instances of non-adherences to accounting standards and listing agreement in the annual report by Zylog Systems.

In addition to the above, the latest results show that the promoters have pledged close to 95% of their holding in the company (up from 75% in the previous quarter)

What next

As I indicated in the earlier post, I created a small tracking position to follow the company and confirm my thesis that the debt/ cash flow problems are temporary and should get solved.

I am not sure if the thesis will turn out to be correct or not, but the SEBI order changes the whole picture. I am fine with poorly performing businesses and will hold the stock for the long term if the management is competent and working on fixing the issues. However, if there are corporate governance issues, then all bets are off.

Although the position was small, a loss always pinches. In this case, I walked into it with open eyes – a case of self torture 🙂


Stocks discussed in this post are for educational purpose only and not recommendations to buy or sell. Please contact a certified investment adviser for your investment decisions. Please read disclaimer towards the end of blog.


I wrote about hinduja global solutions (Now HGS) in jan 2009 (see here). The company was selling for below cash and thus the operating business was available for free.

As we know, the stock markets recovered by May 2009 and HGS was up 200% in a short span of 4 months.


In case you are wondering, this post is not about how I smartly exited in July and make 200% of capital.

The company performed extremely well in 2010. Net profits were up by 100%, Net margins hit 14% and this was inspite of the company carrying a large amount of cash on the balance sheet. I was feeling pretty smart about it.

The slow slide


The price action from the peak in 2009 shows only part of the story. The company has increased its sales from around 900 Crs in 2010 to around 1550 Cr in 2012 at a CAGR of 30%+. The net profit  however dropped from 130 Crs to around 106 Crs in 2012 and may drop further to around 80 Crs in the current year.

I kept buying the stock during this period, anchored to the earlier levels of profitability.

The company has thus been able to grow through a combination of organic initiatives and acquisitions, but saw a drop in profitability due to lower margins and lower capital turns. In effect, the growth came through, but the economics of the industry has deteroriated during the same period. The company has gone from above average profitability (20%+ROE) to below average levels in the current year (single digit ROE)

The lessons

There are two key takeaways from the above loss.

The first lesson is that if the initial expectations on the economics of an industry do not play out, one should accept the reality as soon as possible and act on it. The second lesson for me is that I should give a higher weightage to the qualitative aspects of the business and not focus too much on the valuation. In case of HGS, the large amount of cash on the balance sheet (and corresponding low valuation) distracted me from the deteriorating economics of the business – A value trap.

The blind spot problem

I have looked at the various companies in the past and have wondered why others keep buying/ recommending it when it is obvious that the company does not have above average profitability and cannot be a good long term investment.

The thing with blind spot is that the same issues are not visible to yourself, where one may keep rationalizing your own decision for a long time.

It is not easy to accept a mistake, especially a slow one , resulting in the boiling frog problem. Hopefully this lesson will stay with me for a long time and prevent me from making the same mistake again (new ones will however happen)