Shake Up At Petronas

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, a report on Malaysia’s recent decision to replace the top executive of its giant national oil company.  As the article notes, the move:

“….has sparked concern among analysts, employees and opposition leaders that the government wants to assert more control over the company. The move, they fear, could threaten its standing as an emerging major international energy player.

In a statement late Wednesday, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said Shamsul Azhar Abbas, a little-known former executive at Petroliam Nasional Bhd, was appointed president and chief executive of the state-owned oil company, also known as Petronas.

He replaces Hassan Marican, an executive who guided Petronas’s emergence as an increasingly serious force in global oil markets—and Malaysia’s only Fortune 500 company—with interests in 34 countries, including Sudan, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Efforts to reach Messrs. Hassan and Shamsul weren’t successful.

In December, Petronas was part of a consortium including China National Petroleum Corp. and Total SA that won the right to develop Iraq’s highly prized Halfaya oil field, with proven crude oil reserves of more than 4.1 billion barrels. It is also among the world’s top 15 gas producers and has participated in joint ventures with other Western oil majors, including Exxon Mobil Corp., which analysts say enabled Petronas to develop more sophisticated energy production and exploration operations than many other state oil companies.

No reason was given for ending Mr. Hassan’s 14-year reign at Petronas, which is also Malaysia’s biggest company and its largest bond issuer, with estimated bonds outstanding of $10 billion. His term was due to expire on Feb. 9, but some oil and gas experts hoped the government would renew his position in recognition of Petronas’s success since he took over in 1995.

A spokesman for Mr. Najib said the shake-up wasn’t intended to assert more government control. Mr. Hassan “has done very well,” he said, but “it’s time for someone else to be given a chance.” He said Petronas has exercised a large measure of independence from the government in years past and “that is not going to change.”

For the six months ended Sept. 30, 2009, unlisted Petronas reported a net profit of $5.74 billion on revenue of $27.78 billion—with roughly half from international operations.

Petronas also provides roughly 45% of the government’s revenue through taxes and dividends. Some analysts have speculated the government might want to increase that contribution—potentially at the expense of new oil and gas investments—to plug holes in the national budget after a recession. Malaysia’s government in 2009 ran its highest budget deficit in 20 years, at 7.4% of gross domestic product.

Petronas’s revenues have also been used in the past to help fund a number of non-oil projects, including the construction of Malaysia’s iconic Petronas twin towers. Even so, analysts, opposition political leaders and employees have said they believe Mr. Hassan usually resisted outside pressure to divert Petronas money to other projects, and that more such diversions would have occurred had he not opposed them.

Analysts and others said they feared Mr. Shamsul, despite having wide knowledge of the oil and gas industry after serving in Petronas in various capacities for more than three decades, may be less willing to duck such pressure— if it materializes—because of his lack of experience leading such a large company and his relative inexperience in dealing with the government.”

This entry was posted on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 10:08 am and is filed under Malaysia, Petronas.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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