Apr 8, 2015 12:30 PM

Shell's $70 billion takeover could herald wave of mergers

The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Oil and gas company Shell has agreed to buy British rival BG Group for 47 billion pounds ($69.7 billion), in a deal that may signal a new wave of mega-mergers as the energy industry tries to adapt to lower prices.

Royal Dutch Shell said Wednesday it will pay the equivalent of 13.67 pounds in cash and stock for each share of BG Group, 50 percent more than Tuesday's closing price. The deal will boost Shell's oil and gas reserves by 25 percent, including offshore projects in Australia and Brazil, and give it a bigger presence in the fast-growing liquefied natural gas market, Shell said.

Other energy giants may follow suit as they look to boost growth through acquisitions after increased production in the U.S. helped trigger a plunge in oil prices. The last wave of oil mergers took place in the 1990s after new production from the North Sea, Alaska and Mexico led to excess global capacity and companies linked up to protect themselves, or bought weaker rivals at lower prices.

"Will this be the opening shot in a new wave of mega-mergers like the 1990s?" asked Christian Stadler, associate professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School in Britain. "Quite a few oil companies are under cost pressure with no sense of the oil price recovering. Companies had got used to $100 a barrel, and many need $40 to $60 to break even so we could see more of these deals."

The international price of crude oil has plunged from over $115 a barrel last summer to a low around $45 before recovering somewhat in recent weeks to trade at $58 a barrel on Wednesday. Global natural gas prices have also dropped, because most of the natural gas traded internationally is linked to the price of oil.

Analysts at Wood Mackenzie say low prices have prompted most major oil companies to weigh acquisitions, though only a few have the size and resources to pull off a mega-merger. "If you're looking to the next big deal, ExxonMobil stands out as most likely to pull the trigger," they wrote in a research note.

Exxon made the last giant oil and gas acquisition when it agreed to buy the U.S. shale driller XTO Energy for $31 billion in 2009.

The takeover of BG Group allows Shell to replace reserves at a time when exploration budgets are being cut and after its attempts to join the U.S. shale boom did not amount to much, Stadler said.

Wood Mackenzie said BG's large position in the deep waters off of Brazil were likely the most attractive target for Shell. "It's all about the deepwater oil," analysts wrote.

The merger also combines the two largest investor-owned sellers of liquefied natural gas in the world. As new projects come on line in the coming years, the combined company will become the world's biggest seller of liquefied natural gas by 2018, Wood Mackenzie said.

The boards of both companies recommended that shareholders approve the deal, which they say will create a more competitive, stronger company amid the volatility in oil prices.

Shareholders seemed to think that Shell did not get much of a discount for BG, however, despite the low oil and gas prices. Shares in Shell were down about 7 percent Wednesday while those in BG Group soared 32 percent.

BG shareholders will own about 19 percent of Shell after the deal is complete.

Combining the two companies will produce savings of about 2.5 billion pounds a year, Shell said.

"This an incredibly exciting moment for Shell," Chief Executive Ben van Beurden told reporters. "It is bold and strategic moves that shape our industry."

BG's Norwegian CEO Helge Lund was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's press conference. Organizers said he remained at BG headquarters in Reading a two-hour drive from London to handle internal communication with the company's workforce. He will stay with BG only until the deal is completed.

He said in a statement that BG would benefit from the takeover.

"BG's deep water positions and strengths in exploration, liquefaction, and LNG shipping and marketing will combine well with Shell's scale, development expertise and financial strength," he said.


Jon Fahey in New York contributed to this story.


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