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PETALING JAYA: Hong Leong Investment Bank (HLIB) Research has slashed Hibiscus Petroleum Bhd’s target price (TP) by almost 11%, after the company was embroiled in a tax dispute with the Sabah state government.
Nevertheless, the research house remained bullish on Hibiscus’ outlook, with a “buy” call and a new TP of RM1.54. The stock closed 3.03% higher yesterday at 85 sen per share.
Following a briefing with Hibiscus, HLIB Research said the pure upstream oil and gas (O&G) operator was bent on assessing its options, rather than caving in to pay the state sales tax (SST).
“Post-briefing, we came to an opinion that the entire debacle will require more time to solve and is inconclusive at the moment, pending further negotiations with the Sabah state government,” according to the research house.
The Sabah state government had demanded that Hibiscus pay RM97.3mil, comprising RM66mil in SST and RM31.3mil in penalty incurred for late payment.
It is noteworthy that Hibiscus has not paid the SST for its north Sabah assets since the implementation of the tax in April 2020.
“Hibiscus consistently highlighted throughout the briefing that the group has received a couple of written advice from its legal advisors that it does not need to pay SST on a few grounds.,
“Firstly, while the extraction and production of oil is done operationally in Sabah, the oil is typically sold in Labuan.
“Secondly, Labuan has a maritime border and jurisdictions of its own and does not require Hibiscus to pay SST,” stated HLIB Research in a note.
Hibiscus is in a unique situation compared with other oil producers in the region, mainly because its oil goes directly to Labuan and not into the Sabah state.
Hibiscus is the only company landing oil in Labuan.
The O&G player claimed the RM66mil tax bill stemming from non-payment for the north Sabah oilfield is far off the actual figure, although it did not specify the exact sum, according to the research house.
On the issue of the Sabah state government revoking the work permits for Hibiscus subsidiaries – Repsol Oil & Gas Ltd and SEA Hibiscus Sdn Bhd – in the event of non-payment, HLIB Research said the company expects operational hiccups to occur should they be terminated.
About a quarter of the Hibiscus workforce are Sabahans, who will not be impacted by the termination of the work permits as they only affect non-Sabahan workers.
“In a worst-case scenario, there will not be a complete shutdown of operations assuming work permits are not renewed. However, the group expects capital expenditure and maintenance planning to be deferred if this problem persists,” said HLIB Research.