Oil and gas information and insight provider 1Derrick expects 2016 upstream merger and acquisition (M&A) activity to rebound from a record low in 2015. This is based on detailed company and regional forecasts that will be publicly available in February. These forecasts are a result of strategic and financial analysis of more than 60 US producers, as well as transaction trends and assets on the market in major US regions and plays.
With the industry in crisis due to the steep decline and continued volatility in oil prices, US transaction value fell in 2015 to just $27 billion from $101 billion in 2014. Globally, upstream transaction value plunged to just $67 billion in 2015, excluding Shell’s $82 billion agreement to acquire BG Group, from $187 billion in 2014. In 2015, despite widely held expectations that financial stress would lead to industry consolidation, the number of corporate transactions plummeted to an eight-year low, as buyers and sellers were unable to agree on deal terms.
The competitive landscape within the US upstream sector is evolving. In addition to public companies jockeying for survival, numerous new PE-backed upstream companies have been formed, including Independent Resources Management backed by Warburg Pincus, Three Rivers Operating Co. backed by Riverstone Holdings, Rockcliff Energy backed by Quantum Energy, TRP Energy backed by Trilantic Capital, and multiple companies in the EnCap Investments portfolio. Such PE-backed companies will vie with public companies to drive up M&A activity in 2016.
2015 results show difficulties in negotiating oil and gas deals
As corporations cut costs, slashed capital investment, and tapped cash reserves to counter plunging cash flows, global transaction value fell to a record low $5 billion in the first quarter of 2015. The 2015 quarterly average of $17 billion (excluding Shell-BG) was the lowest in the last decade. For many exploration and production (E&P) companies, the focus shifted from growth to survival, contributing to $137 billion in assets on the market in December 2015. However, large deals were hard to complete, as only 106 transactions exceeded $100 million in 2015, down from 242 in 2014 and an average of 207 for 2008–2014.
Despite widespread predictions that financial stress would lead to a burst of corporate consolidation in 2015, the $25 billion in corporate deals (excluding Shell-BG) was the lowest in the last eight years. Continuing uncertainty about how low prices would go and the timing of any recovery made it difficult for buyers and sellers to reach agreement on price. 1Derrick’s data points to $30 billion in offers which were rejected by shareholders, including Woodside’s $11.5 billion bid for Oil Search, Scepter Partners’ $11.4 billion offer for Santos, and the $5.5 billion proposal by ALFA and Harbour Energy to acquire Pacific Rubiales.
Shell’s agreement to acquire BG Group, the largest upstream transaction since the merger of Exxon and Mobil in 1998, was a dramatic exception to this trend. The financial strength of both parties and the long term strategic benefits of the transaction outweighed the concerns about shorter-term commodity prices and supply-demand balance.
Asset transaction value plummeted to $42 billion, the lowest since post-recession 2009, from $117 billion in 2014.
North American shale plays were particularly hard hit; the total value of shale transactions was just $29 billion, down from $71 billion in 2015. The largest US transactions were Noble Energy’s acquisition of Rosetta Resources with assets in the Eagle Ford shale play and the Permian Basin, and WPX Energy’s acquisition of RKI Exploration for its Permian assets. Canadian upstream transaction value fell from $28 billion to $12 billion, excluding Suncor’s $5 billion still to be settled bid for Canadian Oil Sands.
Driven by the Shell-BG deal, which included assets in South/Central America, Australia, Africa, and other areas, transactions outside North America accounted for 71% of the total global value, up from 31% in 2014. The $24 billion in transactions other than the mega-merger included big-ticket purchases by national oil companies such as Sonangol, Emirates National Oil Co., and ONGC. Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) did not make any significant acquisitions during the year.
Identification of 2016 Predators and Prey
Given the new industry paradigms, applying past transaction trends has limited value. So 1Derrick combined fundamental M&A analysis with a new “bottoms-up” approach based on company financial and strategic analysis, new peer group comparative metrics, and new regional and play reviews.
Working with Oil and Gas Financial Analytics LLC, 1Derrick will publish profiles of more than 60 US oil and gas producers. This study will identify predators and prey, quantifying the financial capability and likely strategic focus of the strong companies and the specific vulnerabilities of the weakest. New comparative metrics will rank the likelihood of M&A activity within and between peer groups and between major regions and plays.
Early findings from the study point to a significant increase in US transaction value, driven in large part by corporate consolidation.
After concentrating on short-term responses to the steep plunge in oil prices that began in the fourth quarter of 2014, the more financially stable firms are now considering longer-term strategic moves, including the opportunity to acquire attractive assets from distressed sellers. Also, the general consensus that no significant oil price recovery is on the horizon could make it easier for buyers and sellers to reach agreement on price.
1Derrick/Derrick Petroleum Services is an independent oil and gas research firm with offices in Houston, London, Singapore, and Bangalore.