IT was not a surprise when Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) announced a record profit for its financial year ended March 31 (FY08). Also expected was the bumper dividend that followed to the Government.
But the eye-opener was just how much the Government had received from Petronas in dividends over the past few years and a worry now whether the Government has developed an addiction to petrodollars.
Petronas has done such a fine job managing the nation’s hydrocarbon resources that it is today ranked eighth most profitable company in the Fortune Global 500 list. It is the most profitable company in Asia, according to the publication.
The company has also carefully nurtured its petrochemical manufacturing base and, today, its downstream manufacturing activity accounts for 30% of the country’s manufacturing sector.
In making so much money, Petronas’ contribution to the Government’s revenue from FY04 to FY07 was RM140bil. Including the latest financial year's payment of RM62.8bil, the total would be 202bil. That was slightly more than half of the total RM403bil it had paid the Government since its inception in 1974.
From the holding company – the company that started in 1974 – the payment to the Government for FY08 was 91% of the company’s entire profit.
And based on Petronas’ own calculations, that total payment of RM403bil represents more than 50% of the Government’s development expenditure spanning the Third Malaysia Plan to the Ninth Malaysia Plan.
Based on the latest payment of RM62.8bil , Petronas said its contribution to the Government’s revenue was 44%. If the taxes of all the other oil and gas companies were added, then the oil and gas sector would account for slightly more than half of total government revenue.
“It is dangerously high to be dependent on one entity,” said Petronas president and CEO Tan Sri Mohd Hassan Marican when he met with the media yesterday after announcing the group’s financial results.
“What if the prices drop?” he asked. “To sustain payments will be a real challenge.”
Thankfully, Hassan said Petronas only needed 30% to 35% of its annual profit for reinvestment compared with 52% for oil majors and 77% for other national oil companies.
That was in part to the mature acreages of the country’s oil fields and also the prudent steps Petronas has taken on building the country’s oil and gas infrastructure.
The dependence on petrodollars is a crucial concern as the Government over the past few years, even with the literal windfall of higher petroleum money, has been chalking up budget deficit after deficit and is estimated to post another amounting to 3.1% of gross domestic product for 2008.
The danger is that if the petrodollars were to dry up, or should the price of crude oil drop, that will have serious repercussions on the economy.
Citigroup vice-president for Asia Pacific economic and market analysis Kit Wei Zheng had earlier this month estimated, based on historical numbers, that if petrodollars were to be stripped from the Government’s revenue the deficit would be 10.8%.
Part of the deficit’s persistence can be traced to the higher subsidy bill but there are others who speculate if the Government is overspending.
They also wonder: How wisely has the windfall over the past few years been actually spent?