By Doug Alexander and Kevin Orland on 6/4/2020
TORONTO (Bloomberg) –Canadian banks’ exposure to oil and gas loans has surged to a record as energy firms tapped credit lines to combat plunging oil prices.
Energy loans at the country’s six largest lenders jumped 23% to C$71.6 billion ($52.9 billion) in their fiscal second quarter from the prior period, disclosures show. Toronto-Dominion Bank had the largest increase at 29%, while Bank of Nova Scotia remained the biggest lender with C$21.6 billion in loans.
The banks’ rising exposure comes amid an eleven-fold increase in impaired energy loans, topping C$2 billion. Energy firms have been hard hit this year as global oil prices plummeted, with some grades even briefly turning negative in April as measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus hammered worldwide demand.
“We’re clearly seeing the impact of price wars and supply-demand considerations, storage considerations beginning to play havoc on some producers,” Toronto-Dominion Chief Financial Officer Riaz Ahmed said in a May 28 interview. “In the last few weeks we’re watching prices recover with some degree of hope that things will continue to get better here.”
With the price plunge making much of their output unprofitable, Canadian oil and gas producers have taken steps to conserve cash. They’ve reduced production, cut operating costs, slashed at least C$8.5 billion in planned capital spending and tapped credit lines to help them weather the downturn.
Those drawdowns were the main reason for the 22% increase in energy lending at Royal Bank of Canada, according to CFO Rod Bolger.
“The growth was driven by higher draws on existing facilities and we did make select new lending facilities to existing investment-grade clients where the risk-return was appropriate given the low oil prices,” Bolger said in a May 27 interview.
Most of Royal Bank’s exposure is to exploration and production companies and loans are secured by the value of proven and producing reserves, Bolger said. Still, the Toronto-based lender had the highest gross impaired loans among the Canadian banks, at C$664 million.
Bank of Montreal posted the second-highest total for impaired energy loans, at C$616 million.
“In our oil and gas portfolio we do have some signs of stress just given the weaker price of oil that we’ve seen over the last few months — it’s not totally new and we’re managing through it,” CFO Tom Flynn said in an interview. “We’ve done this before as a bank and we’re confident in our ability to manage through this stress that the industry is in.”
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CFO Hratch Panossian said he is seeing more downgrades and impairments in the oil-and-gas sector, reflecting price weakness, but called the bank’s energy portfolio “relatively stable”.
“Only about half of it is in the exploration and production space and our clients do have some hedging as well that protects them in the short term,” Panossian said in a May 28 interview. “We remain comfortable with the space. Our clients are strong and managing through this and we’re committed to continuing to support them.”
While bank figures show increased borrowing, many producers are seeing the total amount of credit available reduced. That’s particularly true of producers’ reserve-based credit lines, which are tied to the value of their oil-and-gas reserves and are adjusted regularly to account for current prices.
This year’s first adjustment period, known as redetermination, is going on now, and early results show banks have been shrinking those credit lines in response to falling prices.
At least five Canadian oil-and-gas producers have announced results of their redeterminations, and all have had their credit lines cut. Notably, oil-sands producer Athabasca Oil Corp. had its credit facility reduced by 65% to C$42 million, while natural gas driller NuVista Energy Ltd. saw its line cut by 14% to C$475 million.
At least seven producers have extended the date on their redetermination processes to June 30 because of volatile prices. Five of those have had their available credit reduced on an interim basis before the final evaluation is competed.
“The best-case scenario for our junior E&P companies this year is likely a small reduction in credit capacity, a slightly higher cost to borrow, and the ability to continue to act autonomously from the influence of its banks,” Stifel FirstEnergy analyst Cody Kwong said in a note.
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