Smaller Companies: Kelt aims for the big time

KELT Energy, the tiny oil and gas explorer controlled by Hubert Perrodo, the French millionaire, is poised to make a big leap forward that could transform its fortunes.

The company is understood to be in advanced talks with a European oil multinational to buy oil interests in Colombia, one of the world's most promising oil areas.

The discussions involve assets with proven reserves of about 20 million barrels and a value of up to dollars 20m, according to industry experts.

Over the past year, Kelt has acquired stakes in several producing fields in Gabon and Cameroon from two big oil companies. But the Colombian deal would be massive in comparison, boosting its total proven and probable reserves to about 70 million barrels of oil equivalent.

With a market value of just pounds 30m, Kelt would probably have to raise equity to pay for the deal. However, the stock market's appetite for its shares has grown steadily and they have quadrupled in value over the past 12 months to close at 41p on Friday. One of its outside shareholders is Ashraf Marwan, the Egyptian entrepreneur, who owns 4.9 per cent.

Two years ago, Kelt nearly went bust after winning a pounds 206m takeover bid for its rival Carless, financed with debt. Since then it has staged a remarkable turnaround, helped by the sale of its 7.5 per cent stake in Wytch Farm, the Dorset oil field, and a cash injection from Mr Perrodo, who speaks for 75 per cent of the group.

Later this month it is expected to report a sharp increase in net profits from pounds 203,000 to pounds 1.1m for the year ended 31 March. For the current year, net profits are expected to rise to about pounds 1.25m.

The group net debts are estimated at about dollars 8m, excluding an dollars 8.5m soft loan from Mr Perrodo.

Although the restructuring reduced its borrowings, Kelt lost the jewel in its portfolio with the Wytch Farm sale. As a result it is being rebuilt with the acquisition of producing assets from big oil companies for which these are too small or inefficient.

Kelt then aims to apply tighter cost controls and management to enhance their performance by raising oil field recovery rates and extending their commercial life.

Total oil production at the group has grown from less than 3,000 barrels a day a year ago to about 5,500 barrels at present.

If planned acquisitions materialise, production could again double this year.

In the UK it owns interests in two onshore fields in north Yorkshire. They are the Singleton oil field, producing 850 barrels per day, and the Claythorpe gas field, which is to supply a new power station being built by Scottish Power from 1995.

(Graph omitted)

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