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Where's the Next Play for the Giants of Oil?

What will they do with all that cash?

That’s the question investors are asking of major oil firms like Apache (NYSE: APA).

The company recently completed a slew of property sales, beefing up its coffers. First divesting its extensive Gulf of Mexico Shelf portfolio to privately-held Fieldwood Energy, for $3.75 billion. Then announcing the sale of one-third rights to its Egyptian acreage to Sinopec for $3.1 billion.

Combined with cash on hand, this will give Apache over $7 billion in the bank. Raising the issue: where will they spend it?

The same could be asked of other major oil firms. Most are making good profits with oil over $100 per barrel. Some like Shell have recently completed multi-billion dollar financings.

You’d expect such an environment to be rife with acquisitions. Companies re-deploying abundant capital to convince investors they’re positioned for growth.

And yet, few such deals have emerged.

In fact, there are signs that majors are actively shying away from some of their most stalwart global plays. Look at the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. An August lease sale brought in the lowest dollar amount of bids in 14 years, at $102.4 million. In total, only 61 bids were placed across 53 blocks—less than half of the 131 bids on 116 blocks put up in the same sale last year.

Even some of the world’s biggest, billion-barrel plays are getting the thumbs down from big oil.

ConocoPhillips (NYSE:…




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