Statoil scouts for deals yet to become ‘cheap’ after oil slump

5/11/2015

FRANCINE LACQUA and MIKAEL HOLTER

STAVANGER, Norway (Bloomberg) -- Statoil, Norway’s biggest oil company, is keeping a close watch of acquisition opportunities after a crash in crude prices.

“Acquiring barrels might be cheaper than exploring for barrels, so we are monitoring it very closely,” said Torgrim Reitan, the Stavanger-based company’s CFO. “There are a lot of assets for sale. But I think it’s fair to say that high-quality assets are still not cheap.”

A 50% drop in oil prices in the second half of 2014 has already led to the biggest takeover deal in the industry in at least a decade, with Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s $70-billion move for BG Group last month. At the same time, oil companies such as Total are selling assets to reduce investments and bolster cash reserves to pay investor dividends.

Shell’s acquisition of BG has sparked speculation that a new wave of consolidation could follow, mirroring the aftermath of an oil-price slump in the late 1990s. It’s still “unclear” what the most recent deal means for the industry, Reitan said.

“History never repeats itself, but it tends to rhyme,” he said. “Fifteen years ago there was a wave of consolidation. It’s not obvious that that will happen this time as well, but we never know.”

Exploration Focus

While Statoil is monitoring acquisition possibilities, the company remains focused on exploration and has no gaps in its portfolio of investment opportunities, Reitan said. Statoil plans to spend $3.2 billion on exploration this year, down from $3.5 billion last year, while the company is cutting total capital expenditures to $18 billion from $20 billion.

Oil prices have recovered over the past month, with benchmark Brent rising about 16% since April 8, the day the Shell deal was announced. While that “strength” shows the market’s balance price should be higher than the current level of about $65/bbl, Statoil expects more volatility in the oil market, Reitan said.

“Volatility is the name of the game,” he said. “The last three years have been an exception, with a very stable oil priceabove $100 oil. It was almost like we got used to it, and we almost forgot what we are actually dealing with. It’s a very cyclical industry.”

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