CPPIB CEO bullish on oil despite price crash, emissions debate

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Pump jacks at sunset sky background. © Evgenii Bashta /123RF Stock PhotosThe chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board says Monday’s oil price crash and stock market selloff will hurt Canadian energy companies that have weak balance sheets and high debt.

But Mark Machin says those with strong books will survive — and companies with money should be following his organization’s example and looking at buying opportunities.

“Things are certainly not as expensive as they were yesterday. That’s definitely the case,” he said during a speech in downtown Calgary.

“This could be a really interesting time for those of us that have the money to invest.”

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia slashed its official crude selling price after Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries talks with Russia broke down without producing an agreement on production cuts.

Benchmark U.S. West Texas Intermediate oil fell by more than 26 per cent on Monday and the S&P/TSX capped energy index, which tracks the value of Canada’s biggest oil and gas companies, closed 27 per cent lower.

Damage to the Canadian economy and the energy sector will depend on how long low oil prices continue, said Machin, the head of the organization that manages about $420 billion for Canada’s national pension fund.

Investments in the oil and gas sector remain attractive despite increasing attention being paid to climate change because demand for fossil fuels is expected to remain strong for many years, he said.

CPPIB investments include Calgary-based energy companies such as Seven Generations Energy Ltd., Wolf Midstream and Teine Energy Ltd.

Last year, Premier Jason Kenney created the Fair Deal Panel in part to look at Alberta pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan in favour of its own pension fund, one that he said would benefit from being backed by the younger population in the province.

Machin defended the CPPIB’s investing record, however, noting it is protected from events like Monday’s market crash by its diversified portfolio of investments in assets around the world.

“This is the cornerstone of the retirement system in Canada, which really is the envy of the world,” he said, adding some other national pension plans have failed to live up to their obligations to retirees.

“Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be an Albertan retiree and missing out on opportunities that we can provide and the security we provide.”

He said the CPPIB has 2.8 million contributors in Alberta and has invested $11 billion in the province, about 18 per cent of its total investments in Canada.

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