Small Cap Success Stories: Isramco Inc.

Michael Teague  |

The Israel-based independent oil and gas producer Isramco (ISRL) has come a long way over the nearly two decades that it has existed as a publicly-traded stock

Indeed, since the company’s Initial Public Offering way back on August 18 of 1995, shares have gone from their first close at  $4.70 a piece to their current price of $110.60, an advance of over 2,300 percent.

Isramco’s performance has indeed been impressive, especially considering the fact that success didn’t really begin in earnest until about 2005. More impressive still is the fact that the company looks as though it has a lot of growing room, given its position as a central player in the nascent Israeli shale boom that is just getting under way after a decade or so during which a number of promising offshore reserves have been discovered.

The company’s history dates back to 1982, when the Israeli businessman Joseph Elmaleh teamed up with the American oil magnate Armand Hammer. Elmaleh had not long before founded Jerusalem Oil Exploration Ltd., through which he held a 35 percent stake in the fledgling effort.

The first three years of the company’s existence were relatively fruitless. Of the four on-shore wells the company drilled throughout that period, none of them were fit for commercial production and the total yield was about 9,000 barrels. This first failure was to be followed immediately by a second one, when the company joined the ill-fated Negev 1 partnership with domestic peers that included Jerusalem Oil as well as Delek Israeli Fuel ($DLKIS.TA) as well as Naptha Israel Petroleum Corporation ltd.

Another three years and nearly $20 million dollars later, however, the consortium’s exploration efforts amounted to two dry wells, leading to the termination of the partnership in 1988. But Isramco’s woes were to become far crueler still; in 1989 a second iteration of the Negev partnership, Negev 2, began to look as though it was close to hitting the bull’s eye as the companies began exploring off-shore licenses.

Subscribe to get our Daily Fix delivered to you inbox 5 days a week

In 1993, Negev 2 obtained five new off-shore licenses to drill the Eastern Mediterranean seabed, and that same year gas flares were often seen from its wells directly off the coast, attracting an avalanche of investor cash. But early the next year, the discoveries were deemed economically not viable, causing disappointed investors to retaliate, and sending shares quickly earthward. By 1995, Elmaleh relenquished his stake in Jerusalem Oil Exploration, which included Isramco as well as Naptha -Petroleum and Israeli Oil Exploration Lt., both state-owned, and the companies came under the aegis of two businessmen, Haim Tsuff and Jackob Maimon.

After 15 years of disappointments and setbacks, 1997 is the year things began to pick up. Isramco Inc. had begun trading on the NASDAQ two years earlier, and the company extended its exploratory efforts to the United States where it had acquired a number of properties. By 2001, however, and in tandem with the Delek Group as well as BP (BP) , seismic studies showed substantial reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean seabed, and the Tamar and Dalit fields were born.

The Tamar field only began producing gas for commercial use this year, but its proven reserves are upwards of 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and is Israel's second-largest depoist behind the subsequently discovered Leviathan field, which holds about twice as much. BP's role in the project ended in 2005, and was picked up by the US independent driller Noble Energy (NBL) , who hold the largest stake in the project, with Isramco having the second largest share at 28 percent.

The Tamar field put Isramco at the very center of what is for all intents and purposes looking to be Israel's energy revolution, which has resulted from a number of significant discoveries in the Mediterranean Sea, and could make the country energy-independent in the near future. Today, the $300 million market-cap Isramco Inc. is concerned primarily with the company's US projects, while the $8.2 billion Isramco Negev 2 Lp ($ISRAL.TA) handles most of the domestic work. Either way, it finds itself well positioned to take advantage of the nascent shale boom going on concurrently in the US and Israel.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


Symbol Last Price Change % Change