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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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Oil Majors Eye New Acquisition Targets In The Permian

Following the news that Chevron had agreed to pay a nearly 40 percent premium to acquire Anadarko Petroleum, investors quickly bid up the shares of other potential acquisition targets.

As I argued in the previous article, I believe the Permian was the key to the Anadarko acquisition, but there are plenty of other targets in the region. There are also several companies with the capability of making acquisitions.

In recent years, the few mergers and acquisitions in the oil and gas industry have been largely focused on the Permian Basin. The supermajor integrated oil and gas companies have been increasingly making forays into the Permian.

In addition to Chevron’s new acquisition, in 2017 ExxonMobil paid $6.6 billion to acquire Permian acreage from the Bass family of Fort Worth, Texas. ExxonMobil also spent $41 billion in 2009 to acquire XTO, which has a major presence in the Permian.

Permian Players

Today major acreage holders in the Permian Basin include the supermajors Chevron and ExxonMobil, as well as Occidental, Apache and Concho Resources. Occidental, in fact, reportedly attempted to acquire Anadarko prior to Chevron sealing the deal. But Occidental may now find itself in the crosshairs of a bigger player looking to shore up their Permian portfolio.

But there are many other major producers in the region, including ConocoPhillips, EOG Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources, Noble Energy, Devon Energy, and Diamondback Energy. Smaller producers in the region include WPX Energy, Parsley Energy, Cimarex Energy, Callon Petroleum, Centennial Resource Development, Jagged Peak Energy and Laredo Petroleum.

Let’s first take a look at the largest companies operating in the Permian according to enterprise value. This metric is preferred over market capitalization, because it includes a company’s debt. In the case of a potential acquisition, the acquiring company would be responsible for this debt in addition to the purchase price. Hence, it is a more comprehensive representation of a company’s market value. Related: Why Gasoline Prices Could Be About To Rocket

I have included the integrated supermajors that could have the ability to make major acquisitions, three of the larger exploration and production companies (which could make an acquisition or be a target themselves), and Anadarko for comparison. All data were retrieved from the S&P Capital IQ database.

(Click to enlarge)

Metrics for major oil companies operating in the Permian Basin.

  • EV – Enterprise value at the close on April 12, 2019 in billions of U.S. dollars
  • EBITDA – TTM earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization in billions of U.S. dollars
  • TTM – Trailing 12 months
  • FCF – Free cash flow in billions of U.S. dollars
  • Debt – Net debt at the end of the previous fiscal quarter
  • 2018 Res – Total proved oil and gas reserves in billion barrels of oil equivalent at year-end 2018
  • EV/Res – The value of the company divided by its proved reserves

Potential Buyers

Based on their size and debt metrics, ExxonMobil and Chevron still appear to be the most capable of pulling off a major deal. Shell has been moving in the direction of becoming a natural gas company, and has already made major capital expenditures in this area in recent years. Further, in 2016 they made their own major acquisition — a $70 billion deal for BG Group.  Meanwhile, Total hasn’t shown much interest in the Permian.

BP may not have an appetite for an acquisition as it continues to be weighed down by its obligations from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As an aside, the continued fallout from that disaster has also resulted in BP having the cheapest reserves on the books by far of any company listed in the table. Also note that the EV/Res metric for integrated supermajors isn’t directly comparable to pure oil producers like Anadarko, as the former also have midstream and refining assets.

ConocoPhillips appears to be the most attractive target for an acquisition from a pure valuation perspective, but as the largest pure oil company it would be a large bite for even ExxonMobil. With respect to making an acquisition, ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance stated earlier this year that the company isn’t feeling any pressure to do so. Related: Survey: Canada’s Government To Blame For Oil Crisis

Occidental also falls into the category of potentially making an acquisition or of being acquired. On a relative basis, they are more expensive than ConocoPhillips, but on an absolute basis the price would be more manageable.

What about smaller players like Parsley, WPX Energy, or Cimarex Energy? Based on the price movement following the announcement of the Chevron-Anadarko deal, investors are clearly betting that more deals will follow. Below are some of the metrics of potential acquisition targets (with Anadarko for comparison), including some of the large players listed in the previous table:

(Click to enlarge)

Metrics for smaller oil companies operating in the Permian Basin.

  • 1-Day Change – Change in share price on April 12, 2019, the day the Chevron-Anadarko deal was announced

Note that the double-digit gains of both Pioneer Natural Resources and Parley Energy imply that investors believe they could be next on the acquisition list. Parsley looks attractively priced according to its enterprise value and total reserves. Several other companies stand out, such as Devon Energy and Cimarex, although all of these companies outspent their cash flow in 2018. An acquisition by one of the larger players could give them the efficiencies and economies of scale to rectify that.

Another name on the list that stands out is Diamondback Energy, which has long been one of my favorite Permian Basin oil companies. Diamondback has been an outstanding performer in recent years, but now looks to be the most richly valued according to several metrics following its 2018 acquisition of Energen.

The biggest challenge with the smaller players is that they may not have enough reserves to really move the profit needle for the biggest players. Laredo Petroleum’s 200+ million barrels of oil and gas reserves might not be sufficiently appealing to ExxonMobil, which had 24 billion barrels of reserves at the end of 2018. But it could be appealing to a company like EOG Resources, which closed the year with 2.8 billion barrels of reserves.

Ultimately, price and valuation are only part of the equation. Anadarko wasn’t the cheapest acquisition target for Chevron, but Chevron liked the synergies of Anadarko’s locations. Thus, every major operator in the Permian is more likely to acquire companies whose properties are adjacent to their own. A deeper dive thus becomes an exercise in not only value, but in studying maps of the Permian producers — large and small.

By Robert Rapier

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  • CI on April 26 2019 said:
    Encana is at great value and over-looked. Taking out encana before it makes huge profits would be a very smart corporate move.
  • David Messler on April 26 2019 said:
    Nice article. I agree and think there will be more churning of shale acreage going forward. Cheers!

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