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Noble`s Patina Buy May Spark Round 2 Of Rockies Mergers


DENVER (Dow Jones)--Noble Energy Inc.`s (NBL) acquisition of Patina Oil & Gas Corp. (POG) announced Thursday may start round two of the Rocky Mountain energy company acquisition frenzy that began last spring.

The Noble-Patina deal continues a needed consolidation trend in the mature U.S. oil and gas sector, which is experiencing shrinking domestic production possibilities, analysts say.

"All these energy companies are long on cash and short on prospects, so the easiest way to grow is to buy somebody," said an analyst who asked not to be named.

Denver-based Patina had been at the top of the energy acquisition target list for months because of its Rocky Mountain assets and consistent long-term natural gas production outlook.

"This is not a great surprise," said analyst Michael Scialla of A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. "We thought Patina looked attractive to someone who wanted low-risk inventory in North America, and Noble fit the bill."

Patina is considered a "low-risk" company because of its low-cost natural gas operations that generate strong cash flow.

Noble`s $3.4 billion acquisition of Patina was the first Rockies energy buy since Petro-Canada (PCZ), Calgary, Alberta, bought Denver-based Prima Energy in June, which was the fourth Rocky Mountain energy deal of 2004. Analysts say the Patina deal may start another round of energy company acquisitions in the Rockies.

David Anderson, oil analyst for UBS, said in a research note Thursday that Patina`s "premium acquisition price may spark a new round of interest in small- cap E&Ps (exploration and production companies) with Rockies exposure."

Specific targets, according to Anderson, are Western Gas Resources Inc. (WGR), Denver; Ultra Petroleum Corp. (UPL), Houston; Gasco Energy Inc. (GSX), Denver; the Williams Co. (WMB), Tulsa, Okla.; and Bill Barrett Corp. (BBG), Denver, which just completed its initial public offering Wednesday.

Other companies frequently mentioned as acquisition targets are Questar Corp. (STR), Salt Lake City; and Quicksilver Resources Inc. (KWK), Fort Worth, Texas.

A.G. Edwards` Scialla, however, said he would be surprised if there was "a flurry of activity like we had in the first part of the year."

Oil and gas companies have seen a big run-up in their shares this year and potential acquirers fear they would be punished by Wall Street for paying too much, Scialla said.

Noble shares, in fact, fell after the Patina deal was announced Thursday, trading recently at $59.07, down $2.47, or 4%, on volume of 5.1 million shares, or 10 times its daily average.

The total $3.4 billion transaction price, which includes Noble assuming Patina`s debt, translates to about $1.98 per thousand cubic feet (Mcfe) of natural gas, based on Patina`s estimated 2004 proven reserves.

The other recent Rockies deals were in the $1.83 Mcfe to $2.37 Mcfe range, according to UBS.

What might help continue the Rockies acquisition trend is a warm winter, which could cause a pullback in energy sector stocks, said Scialla.

None of the analysts mentioned own shares of Noble or Patina. UBS seeks to provide investment-banking services for some of the companies mentioned in this story.

-By Heather Draper, Dow Jones Newswires; 303-293-9294; heather.draper@ dowjones.com

Dow Jones Newswires

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