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Steep oil price discounts place oilpatch credit ratings in danger, warns DBRS

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Big Canadian oil and gas companies face downgrades in their credit scores if current steep price discounts for their products continue, warns credit rating agency DBRS Ltd. in a report released Wednesday.

Such rating cuts could affect the companies’ ability to access credit to fund future growth and potentially increase what they pay to service their debt.

“Currently the differential is very high on heavy, it’s very high on light, it’s very high on synthetic.

“So that’s putting a lot of pressure on cash flows and, obviously, credit metrics as a result,” said Victor Vallance, senior vice-president of energy, global corporates, for DBRS.

“It’s very unusual. I’ve never seen … this disconnect between Canada and the rest of the world, unfortunately, because of the increase in supply and not sufficient enough expansion of takeaway capacity.”

READ MORE: 3 experts will work with Alberta energy industry to find oil price gap solution

DBRS last issued a similar warning in early 2016 after New York-traded West Texas Intermediate prices crashed to below US$30 per barrel, he said, but a price recovery allowed most firms to escape being downgraded.

The recent drop in London-traded Brent and WTI oil prices makes the current problem even more acute for Calgary-based oil and gas producers, Vallance said, estimating that their credit ratings will deteriorate if discounts don’t improve significantly in the next six months or so.

READ MORE: Premier Notley disappointed with Ottawa’s response to Alberta oil bottleneck

New pipeline export capacity isn’t expected to materialize until late 2019 when Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 replacement project is forecast to be completed but crude-by-rail options have grown, with the National Energy Board reporting a sixth consecutive monthly record export level of 270,000 barrels per day in September.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed that plummeting Alberta oil prices are a “crisis” for Alberta at a media conference on Nov. 22, 2018.


The province of Alberta has been urging the federal government to help it add 120,000 bpd of train capacity but Ottawa has been reluctant to get on board.

On Wednesday, the province announced it had authorized the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission to talk to manufacturers and suppliers to acquire rail capacity, with the new cars scheduled to be online by late 2019.

READ MORE: Notley says Alberta will purchase rail cars to move oil without feds

Increases in crude-by-rail were limited by the availability of locomotives and crews earlier this year but that has changed thanks to investments by both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways, said John Zahary, CEO of Calgary-based Altex Energy.

His company is loading about 50,000 bpd these days at its terminals in Alberta and Saskatchewan, up from 35,000 bpd in March, but it has capacity to move 150,000 bpd, he said, estimating overall rail terminal capacity is about 700,000 bpd in Western Canada.

“What’s the constriction in the system?” he said.

“Railway capacity six months ago was an issue but all of the railways in North America have invested to build their capacity… the issue is rail cars.”

Zahary said he supports the province’s goal but says it won’t come cheaply, with thousands of rail tanker cars needed at a cost of between $120,000 and $150,000 each to buy or about $1,200 per month to rent.

READ MORE: Natural resources minister says new pipelines are the answer to oil price problems

At a conference in Florida on Wednesday, CN chief financial officer Ghislain Houle said his railway is still reluctant to expand in crude-by-rail because of worries the oil producers will leave when new pipelines are built.

“We’re not banking on crude. We know that crude is a short-term business for the railroad. Crude wants to go by pipeline,” he said.

“Obviously with what’s happening in the pipeline environment right now, crude is an opportunity for railroads.”

CN has already matched its 2014 record of 130,000 carloads of crude shipped (an average of about 250,000 bpd) this year, and is on track to exceed that number along with receiving 140 new locomotives next year, he said.

Vallance says the difference between WTI and Western Canadian Select bitumen-blend crude has narrowed recently because more WCS oil is being shipped via rail and companies are voluntarily curtailing output to avoid low prices.

After hitting highs of over US$52 per barrel in October, the WCS-WTI differential has settled at about US$32 per barrel this week. Upgraded synthetic crude from oilsands mines is selling at a US$22 discount to WTI and Edmonton light oil, which is comparable in quality to WTI, is receiving about a US$27 discount, DBRS reports.

Vallance said voluntary production cuts aren’t expected to affect credit ratings because they are considered a temporary measure.


— With a file from Christopher Reynolds in Montreal.

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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