The state-run oil and gas major ONGC has beaten the likes of Tatas, Birlas, and Mahindras, among other private business groups, in striking overseas acquisitions. ONGC, the country’s biggest oil explorer by sales and also the biggest Indian firm in terms of consolidated profits, has said that it acquired 43 overseas oil and gas land assets over the last six years.
The deals were struck through its overseas arm ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL). Compare this to OVL having just one such property in 2003. This translates into an average of seven deals a year or OVL acquiring one asset every one and half month over the last six years.
Moreover, some of the investments have already started paying off. According to an ONGC statement, “Investments in some of the properties have been paid back much before the evaluated pay back period.”
The revelation comes after Goldman Sachs came out with a report which pointed out various corporate governance issues with the company. The report had raised issues like minority shareholders of ONGC being short-changed as the government has forced a subsidy on the firm as with other oil and gas firms which tantamount to the government (also its promoter) taking out cash from the firm.
Goldman Sachs had also criticised ONGC’s overseas growth strategy.
ONGC has refuted the claim that minority shareholders interests have not been protected: “Despite subsidy discounts, ONGC’s retention price has steadily increased. Hence, we feel minority shareholder’s interest is not unduly compromised.” Moreover, ONGC has stated that it had disclosed the risk related to subsidy to the potential shareholders in its initial public offer (IPO) document in March 2004.
Meanwhile, the contribution of overseas production to total production of ONGC group has moved up from 7.23% in 2002-2003 to 15.42% in 2007-08. ONGC has added 255.01 million tonne oil equivalent (MTOE) of reserves through overseas acquisition since FY04.
The PSU oil and gas major has also countered claims that its operations are not cost effective: “ONGC’s average lifting cost (2002-06) is $4.83/barrel oil equivalent (boe) as against the global peers average of $5.37/boe and ONGC’s average finding cost (2002-06) is $2.29/boe as against the global peers average of $3.05/boe.”