Is BP a takeover play?

SECURITIES firm Investec says last week's decision by BP to resolve most of the overhanging liabilities resulting from the most catastrophic oil spill in US history, the 2010 Macondo disaster, could help attract new investors, if not potential suitors.
Is BP a takeover play? Is BP a takeover play? Is BP a takeover play? Is BP a takeover play? Is BP a takeover play?

Haydn Black

Reporter

BP's first $US20 billion ($US26.7 billion) trust fund, established to deal with the Macondo fallout in 2010, resulted in a strong share price outperformance, but it's 2012 class action suit resolution was less positive for investors.

The latest deal comes amid falling oil and gas prices that mean BP is set to turn in a solid, if unspectacular, performance over the medium-term, leading to underlying cash flow growth of 3-5% per annum, Investec said.

It has raised its target price to UKP4.60 per share ($A9.57) , up from around UKP4.37/share last week, and says the faithful should hold their shares ahead of the forthcoming second quarter results.

Investec said BP did well to negotiate a multi-faceted settlement with the US government as, pending judicial approval, the deal appears to be better than expected considering the company accidentally spilled more than three million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

"In addition to settling several issues simultaneously, the payment schedule is less lumpy and of greater duration than we had expected," Investec said.

It had assumed extra liabilities of $US9.5 billion, for a total of $US15.3 billion.

"This savings delta of $US8.3 billion equates to 29p/share," Investec said.

It says the unresolved issue of ongoing business economic losses, mainly from Gulf Coast fishing or tourism operators, could cost BP a further $US2 billion, although the British energy giant says many claims are spurious.

Clarity around that figure is expected by year's end.

The company is also continuing to appeal the ruling that it was grossly negligence under the Clean Water Act.

The question is now, how attractive a takeover target is BP in these troubled times?

And if it is considered a prospective dance partner, who wants to sweep it off its feet? And how complicated could the dance be?

The fact is a takeover of one of Europe's leading vertically integrated energy companies isn't going to be easy, but given the market just isn't there for attractive returns on individual asset sales it needs to be considered.

Besides, the long timeframe over which the big energy company can pay its piper, and its ability of offset those fees with tax deductions, will help improve the look of BP's balance sheet and will partly offset the adverse impact of the expensive settlement on earnings and cash flows.

With Shell out of the picture, ExxonMobil's name is the one that is most raised as a suitor for BP, although with around 50 possible investments being considered by BP the company could easily opt to go it alone now the outlook is clearing and it knows how it will meet its $US54 billion in liabilities - so far.

In fact, given BP's market cap of more than $US120 billion, the company is too big for most of the global energy companies.

Even the Chinese oil majors PetroChina, Sinopec and CNOOC are not in a position to acquire BP, even if they work together, so only ExxonMobil and Chevron Corporation are still contenders.

And with the UK government not inclined to see its big oil companies fall into foreign hands that seems unlikely.

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