Are Gulf Keystone Petroleum Limited, Xcite Energy Limited And Amur Minerals Corporation The Small-Caps To Watch For 2016?

Smaller oil explorers and mineral delvers are being hit especially hard by tumbling prices for oil and metals, yet they’re still among the most talked-about shares by small-cap investors. Could 2016 be a year of recovery for them?

Shares in Gulf Keystone Petroleum (LSE: GKP) have continued to slide, losing 80% in the past 12 months to just 14p, despite the firm’s biggest hurdle looking as if it has been overcome. That’s been the problem of getting payment from the Kurdistan Regional Government for the oil it’s been handing over for international sales.

With a promised regular payment schedule taking months to turn into reality, the first gross payment of $15m finally happened in September 2015. Those payments have since continued, with the latest being announced on 6 January, taking the total so far to $60m.

The big problem is this income isn’t matching Gulf’s outgoings, and the cash available to it is dwindling. So Gulf is going to need a sharp rise in the price of oil, or some new fundraising, or perhaps even both if it’s to keep going.

North Sea

Xcite Energy (LSE: XEL) shares are also in a slump, with the price losing 64% since its peak last May, to 15p. Xcite is sitting on deposits estimated to be worth more than $2bn at its Bentley field in the North Sea, but the obvious big killer right now is the price of the stuff. Xcite has estimated a total lifecycle cost of round $35 a barrel, which is actually pretty efficient for North Sea oil that can be very expensive to extract – but with Brent Crude only fetching $34.50 as I write, that’s perhaps not looking so clever.

Xcite has enough cash for now, but it’s going to need some serious extra funding to turn its oily assets into commercial reality. And at the moment, investors aren’t exactly tripping over each other to fund such things.

Cheap nickel

Leaving oil alone, we come to Amur Minerals (LSE: AMC), a miner with substantial nickel, copper, and other metal assets in eastern Russia. The Amur share price spiked in June last year to 44.6p, but since then has plummeted 84% to just 7.2p today. There’s no profit yet, so what’s the story for investors?

Amur estimates its cost of nickel production as being very low, so the current slump in metals prices shouldn’t do the company too much harm in the long term and it should be in a position to prosper when a recovery finally happens. Cash doesn’t seem to be a problem right now with a £12.5m equity issue having been concluded only last month, which should seriously help the development of its Kun-Manie project.

But the big risk for me is political – Amur operates at the whim of the Russian government.

Can you stand the risk?

Any or all of these could come good, with Amur my favourite of the three, but it would need steelier nerves than mine to invest in the shares.

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.