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Can Rising Oil Save Gulf Keystone Petroleum Limited, Xcite Energy Limited & Frontera Resources Corp?

At a shade short of $45 a barrel for Brent Crude, oil prices are at their highest since early December, despite the failure of recent OPEC meetings aimed at securing a freeze in production levels. A statement from the International Energy Agency that this year will see a big fall in non-OPEC production has helped, as has the knowledge that OPEC countries are hurting so they’ll have to do something sooner or later.

But is the latest mini-recovery too little, too late, to save Gulf Keystone Petroleum (LSE: GKP)? I fear so. There’s cash finally trickling in from the Kurdistan Regional Government, but at $12m net to Gulf per month it’s small. The outstanding arrears ($298.4m at 30 September 2015) have yet to be tackled. Payments should switch to a variable basis dependent on the price of oil, so will that help Gulf meet its debt obligations?

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The company faces repayments of $250m in April 2017 and $325m in October 2017, so even if all arrears are paid by then, we’d still need a bigger rise in the oil price to make that possible — or alternative funding, which the company is working all-out to try to achieve.

But when I look at Gulf Keystone I’m reminded of Afren, whose only hope was a restructuring that would have led to creditors taking almost the entire company — and even that fell through. With Gulf’s shares down 86% over 12 months, to 5.6p, and down 99% from their 2012 peak, I can’t see there being much, if anything, left for existing shareholders when the debt crunch hits.

Better shape?

Xcite Energy (LSE: XEL) seems to be in better shape, but it too has debt repayments to make. Xcite’s shares have picked up a bit since their January low, to 16p, for a less-bad performance than Gulf — down just 64% since last May and only 96% since 2011’s high.

Xcite has some exciting prospects in its North Sea Bentley oil field, where it managed to get lifecycle costs down to around $30 a barrel. That means every dollar added to the price of a barrel provides a geared-up incentive for potential partners in the Bentley field.

But a problem, in addition to finding the funding to develop Bentley, is a tranche of bond payments that the company needs to make in June — although Xcite says it’s in discussions to “develop financial flexibility” ahead of that date. Will the financing happen in time? I think it’s likely, and any further oil price rises will surely strengthen Xcite’s position.

Risky explorer?

Thirdly, there’s smaller Frontera Resources (LSE: FRR) with a market cap of just £15m and a share price of 0.4p. Frontera, which is focusing on emerging markets around the Black Sea, is still in the capital-raising stage of its existence, and has no profits on the horizon yet.

An issue of 165m new shares was announced in March, followed by a further 120m shares in the firm’s latest operations update. There’s sure to be a fair bit more of the same needed before Frontera starts recording annual profits — and we can’t quantify the eventual dilution yet. But chairman and CEO Steve C Nicandros did describe the stimulation campaign at the South Kakheti Gas Complex’s Oil Window as “extremely exciting“, getting oil from wells that were unproductive using older technology.

Frontera has a long way to go and it’s too risky for me, but oil price rises could boost its chances.

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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.