Three stocks to buy to tap the Kurdish oil flows

Each week, a professional investor tells MoneyWeek where he’d put his money now. This week: Garry White, chief investment commentator, Charles Stanley.

An oil pipeline linking Turkey and Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraq, should be finished by the end of this year. A dispute with Baghdad over how oil revenues from the north will be shared has rumbled on for many years, with companies only allowed to export a limited amount of oil.

To bypass this, companies have been shipping oil out in trucks, which is obviously costly and inefficient. To maximise its oil revenues, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is building the pipeline, which will allow exports without any interference from Baghdad.

This should boost development of the country’s oil reserves and pique the interest of oil majors who are looking to grow reserves by acquisition.

Kurdistan is one of the few underexplored multi-billion-barrel oil and gas regions in the world. Its deposits are relatively easy (and therefore cheap) to extract – analysts put the cost at $20 to $35 a barrel.

No formal deal on revenue-sharing is in place for when the oil starts flowing to Turkey, but it is reasonable to assume a similar deal as for the oil that has been trucked out of Kurdistan.

Payments from trucked oil are made to a privately owned company called Powertrans. The KRG then pays the oil company its share, and allocates the remaining funds.

Here are three companies, present in Kurdistan, that are likely to benefit from a ramp-up in oil exports.

Citigroup has calculated that oil firms in the region have traded at a 20% to 25% discount to oil groups operating elsewhere because of this export problem. This gap is likely to narrow when exports start to grow. Clearly the investment is not without risk.

Baghdad remains hostile, and a deal on revenue-sharing has not emerged despite years of talks. Countries that border on Kurdistan, such as Syria, are in the middle of severe conflicts, which are causing regional tensions, and a refugee crisis.

All this means that the political situation could rapidly change. But for now, everything is on track and 2014 could be a positive year for the major Kurdish players.

Genel Energy (LSE: GENL) is the largest oil producer in the region. It is headed up by former BP chief executive and geologist Tony Hayward. Its half-year results showed it had $867m (£537m) of cash on its balance sheet, compared with its market value of just under £2.2bn.

Oil output is expected to rise “substantially” in 2014 and the group’s oil reserves are of a size and quality usually owned by major oil companies. Its core Taq Taq (44% of licence) and Tawke (55% of licence) fields alone have combined proven and probable reserves of 1.4 billion barrels of oil. In total, Genel owns seven licences in the region.

Afren (LSE: AFR) has built up a portfolio of oil and gas assets in addition to its initial assets in Nigeria. The company, which has a 60% interest in the Barda Rash field and 20% in Ain Sifni, is selling 2,500 barrels of crude a day into the domestic market via trucks.

Its chief executive Osman Shahenshah says the pipeline will help the group increase its production.

DNO International (LSE: DNO) is a Norwegian company with its primary listing in Oslo, but its shares can be bought through the London Stock Exchange’s international market.

It was one of the first international companies to enter Kurdistan and, alongside Genel, owns 55% of the Tawke production sharing contract. It also owns 40% of the Dohuk licence and 40% of one called Erbil.