July 27, 2018, by David Stringer and Kevin Crowley
BP Plc agreed to pay $10.5 billion, its biggest acquisition in almost two decades, for most of BHP Billiton Ltd.’s onshore U.S. oil and natural gas assets, including in the prized Permian Basin.
The deal gives the London-based energy giant a position in the Permian, a swath of west Texas and New Mexico that’s the world’s fastest-growing major oil region. It’s another sign that BP has mostly rebounded from crude’s price crash and the fatal 2010 accident in the Gulf of Mexico that left it with a more than $60 billion bill.
“We’ve just got access to some of the best acreage in some of the best basins in the onshore U.S.,” BP’s Upstream Chief Executive Officer Bernard Looney said in a statement. The Permian produces about 3.4 million barrels a day, which would make it the fourth-largest member of OPEC, behind Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.
To sweeten the deal for its investors, BP will lift its dividend by 2.5 percent in the second quarter, the first increase since 2014. Still, the shares reacted negatively to the transaction, falling as much as 2.4 percent in London. BHP gained 2.3 percent in Sydney.
The miner appears to have got the better side of the deal, selling the entire package of assets for a higher price than expected, RBC analyst Biraj Borkhataria said in a note.
Rising oil prices have boosted prospects for shale deals, while the Permian is a focus for industry consolidation as technological advances allow explorers to drill ever-longer sideways wells. Concho Resources Inc. agreed in March to acquire RSP Permian Inc., while Exxon Mobil Corp. bought drilling rights for about $6 billion last year.
“The Permian is the largest U.S. shale play with the most inventory so it’s not hard to see the long-term attraction,” said Leo Mariani, an Austin-based analyst at NatAlliance Securities LLC.
BP’s deal will also give it positions in the Eagle Ford and Haynesville basins in Texas and Louisiana.
In the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP sold acreage and infrastructure in the Permian, missing out on the region’s recent output boom. The deal with BHP underlines BP’s increasing confidence that it’s nearing the end of claims, fines and penalties related to the incident.
The British company will pay $5.25 billion in cash from its existing resources on completion of the transaction, expected by the end of October. It will sell new shares to finance the remainder, which will be paid in six monthly installments, the company said. It plans to buy back the new stock “over time” by selling $5 billion to $6 billion of assets.
The first payment will result in a “slight” increase in its debt to capital ratio, also known as gearing, but the metric will remain within BP’s 20 percent to 30 percent target range, Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary told reporters.
The deal is a “transformational acquisition,” BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said in the statement, and will add current production of about 190,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day and discovered resources of 4.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Acquiring the operations will give BP access to wells that pay back in months rather than the years common in bigger offshore projects.
While the Eagle Ford is currently the most valuable, “the Permian acreage offers the biggest longer-term upside,” Maxim Petrov, a Singapore-based senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said in a note. “There’s plenty of running room for BP to add value straight away as the assets have been under-invested for the past two years.”
To read a Bloomberg Opinion piece on how BHP got more for its shale assets than expected, click here.
Melbourne-based BHP, the world’s top miner, flagged plans last year to exit the shale sector amid pressure from investors including activist Elliott Management Corp., which argues its foray into onshore oil and gas, along with other decisions, wiped out $40 billion in value. A $20 billion spree on two U.S. oil and gas acquisitions in 2011 had been too costly and poorly timed, while the shale unit didn’t deliver expected returns, CEO Andrew Mackenzie said last year. Elliott declined to comment on BHP’s sale.
The BP deal and a $300 million sale of Fayetteville assets to a unit of Merit Energy Co. completes its exit from the sector, and proceeds will be returned to shareholders, Mackenzie said in a statement. BHP will recognize a $2.8 billion impairment against the onshore unit in financial results next month, the company said.
“Shale has been a problem child, so it’s good to finally resolve that,” said Sydney-based Andy Forster, senior investment officer at Argo Investments Ltd., which holds BHP and manages more than A$5 billion ($3.7 billion). “It’s a pretty good price too.”
BP was among as many as 60 companies that participated in the first round of bidding for BHP’s assets, Dudley said in June. BHP also drew initial offers from separate partnerships headed by Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, people familiar with the process said in June.
The sale process has been completed faster, and at a higher price, than some had expected, Melbourne-based RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Hissey said in a note. RBC had forecast BHP would garner about $8 billion for the assets, while UBS Group AG expected about a $10 billion sale. Completion of the deal may “provide the clear air for a refresh of the executive management group,” he said.