Lure of Growth Draws Canada Energy Companies South of the Border

Updated on
  • Enbridge’s Spectra buy balloons its network of pipelines
  • Canada companies setting record for cross-border deals

Over three months, Enbridge Inc. has had a permit revoked on one pipeline, a second scrapped due to lower demand and a third delayed by a regulatory review. Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco’s answer: Look southward.

Enbridge’s agreement to buy Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. in a $28 billion cross-border deal immediately gives the Canadian company the world’s largest network of oil and natural gas pipelines, with no new construction required. As oil and natural gas production has fallen along with prices, the companies that transport the commodities are struggling, spurring global consolidation within the industry.

In Canada, where pipeline builders increasingly face local opposition, that means looking to a mature U.S. industry. TransCanada Corp. got the ball rolling in March, buying Houston’s Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. for $10.2 billion. Now, Enbridge is set to boost a record $57.2 billion in cross-border spending by Canadian companies this year, roughly five times the previous record of $10.1 billion through Sept. 7, 2014, according to data collected by Bloomberg.

“Infrastructure companies have to run to the U.S. to get growth,” said Rafi Tahmazian, partner and senior portfolio manager in Calgary at Canoe Financial LP, which manages about C$3.5 billion. “We’ve stifled all of them from their ability to grow.”

Since June 30, Enbridge has had its permit for Northern Gateway revoked by a Canadian court due to insufficient consultation by the Canadian government with indigenous people along the route. The company has scrapped plans to build its Sandpiper pipeline in North Dakota because there’s not enough demand for the next five years. And it has faced delays on its Line 3 replacement, first proposed in 2014 from Alberta to Wisconsin amid a review by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Spectra “really extends the runway of growth opportunities for us,” Monaco said in an interview following announcement of the deal.

The growth in outbound transactions by Canadian companies, including those in energy, comes from a combination of low interest rates, a need to find growth outside of the low-growth Canadian economy, and several corporate buyers calling a bottom in the commodity cycle, according to John Emanoilidis, a partner and co-head of the M&A practice at Torys LLP in Toronto.

“The Canadian market is only so large and when you’re looking to grow, you need to look outside,” he said by telephone. “The U.S. market has been a natural destination for Canadian acquirers."

Corporate Deals

The increase in Canadian outbound deals has in the recent past been primarily driven by the country’s pension funds and money managers buying abroad, he said. This year, the largest transactions have been primarily corporate Canada looking for growth outside of the country through acquisitions, according to Emanoilidis.

Enbridge had been trying to expand its natural gas transportation business to reduce reliance on oil shipments, an effort it will be spared after acquiring Spectra’s 141,000 kilometers of gas lines. Demand for the heating fuel will grow as much as 5 percent annually over the coming years, Monaco said during a conference call to discuss the deal.

Monaco has served in a range of management roles at Enbridge over his two-decade long career at the company, including leading the gas distribution business, the project execution unit as well as serving as vice president of corporate planning and development before taking over from former CEO Patrick Daniel in 2012.

Reducing Risk

Diversification across different sectors of the energy industry helps reduce risk in the business, according to Monaco.

“This thing’s got scale," he said. “With six platforms, we’ve got a powerful combination” that allows Enbridge to take advantage of different cycles of demand for oil, natural gas, and even other energy sources as well.

Natural gas has supplanted coal as the fossil fuel of choice for electricity generation in the U.S. amid tightening rules around carbon emissions and particulate matter. That has coincided with a boom in production in the eastern U.S., including the Marcellus and the Utica formations where hydraulic frackers have struggled to connect their output to pipeline networks, opening an opportunity for the likes of Enbridge and TransCanada.

In Canada, where more than half of electricity is generated with hydropower dams, much of the rising fossil fuel production is destined for foreign markets, when there are pipelines to get it there.

“If you don’t get an LNG facility, or one or two of those oil pipes, then these guys have to scramble for growth,” Canoe Financial’s Tahmazian said. “Companies that rely on expanding infrastructure and resources haven’t been allowed that for years.”