Greek refinery shares rising amid lower crude prices

Lower crude oil prices, down to six-year lows, increased profit margins, and a strong dollar are combining to help Greece’s two oil refineries Motor Oil and ELPE (Hellenic Petroleum) generate sharp profit increases, as is being reflected by the values of their respective market shares.

The shares of both companies have risen spectacularly over the past few months. Motor Oil’s share has climbed to its highest level since January, 2010. It struck a new high yesterday, reaching 10.45 euros, bringing the corporation’s value to 1.1 billion euros, over the one-billion euro benchmark that usually begins drawing foreign-investor attention.

At ELPE, the company’s share closed at 5.41 euros yesterday, up by 61 percent since early August, when it had fallen to 3.35 euros on August 3. The company’s equity value is now at 1.6 billion euros. On a wider scale, ELPE’s share price is still down by 45 percent compared to the level of approximately 10 euros it has struck in 2013.

ELPE and Motor Oil differ greatly, which makes comparing the two a difficult task. It is not easy to anticipate ELPE’s course, including privatization developments, as the Greek state holds a sizeable 35.5 percent stake in the enterprise. No such issues exist at Motor Oil.

However, despite their differences, both companies are currently rebounding. ELPE returned to profit territory in the first half, posting a net profit of 66 million euros, up from a loss of 91 million euros incurred in the equivalent period last year. At present, all is pointing towards a continuation of this upward trajectory for ELPE in the third quarter of 2015. According to energypress sources, the company’s EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) figure for the third quarter is already over 200 million euros. Certain officials forecast ELPE’s EBITDA for the year will reach between 600 million euros and 650 million euros.

As for Motor Oil, its first-half EBITDA figure reached 287.46 million euros, up from 61.49 million euros in the equivalent period last year.

Forecasts for the share values of both ELPE and Motor Oil have risen. UBS has revised its target price for Motor Oil’s shares to 12 euros from 10.5 euros. It also increased the target price for ELPE shares to 8 euros from 7 euros. On August 31, Alpha Finance increased its target price for Motor Oil to 11 euros from 9.80 euros, while, more recently, on September 8, IBG increased its target price for Motor Oil to 13 euros.

IBG noted that robust profit margins, combined with the stronger dollar, will further increase Motor Oil’s profitability. As a result, IBG revised its EBITDA forecast for Motor Oil’s refining activity to 490 million euros for 2015, up by 235 million euros comoared to last year.

Motor Oil’s share value had fallen to as low as 3.60 euros in May, 2012, a low point in the Greek crisis. Investors who bought Motor Oil shares at the time are currently up 200 percent. Motor Oil’s share value has risen by 60 percent since the beginning of this year.

Overall, oil-related stocks are developing into shining prospects on the bourse, despite the lower crude prices. From here on, of course, all will depend on how oil prices and the dollar fluctuate, as well as on how the government performs on crucial bailout issues. The country’s creditor representatives will begin their next assessment in mid-October. The next tranche of bailout money for Greece will only be released if the assessment results are satisfactory. This may also lead to the beginning of negotiations for national debt relief.

The higher profit margins, helped by an overall significant contraction of refining ability in Europe, will not last forever. New refineries are expected to begin operating in the Middle East and Asia over the next two years.