Chevron Corp said on Monday it would buy oil and gas producer Noble Energy Inc for about US$5 billion in stock, the first big energy deal since the coronavirus crisis crushed global fuel demand and sent crude prices to historic lows.
The oil price crash has decimated shares of many energy companies, making them attractive targets for those that have weathered the downturn and have the resources to buy. Chevron ended the first quarter with a cash pile of $8.5 billion after withdrawing a $33 billion bid for Anadarko last year and then being among the first big oil companies to slash spending during the downturn.
The purchase boosts Chevron’s investments in United States shale, and gives it Noble’s flagship Leviathan field off the shore of Israel, the largest natural gas field in the eastern Mediterranean.
The deal makes Chevron the first oil major to enter Israel. Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth told Reuters “We certainly are mindful of the fact that there are political differences and tensions” between Israel and neighbors where Chevron also has business including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the Kurdish region of Iraq.
He said Chevron was “apolitical” and “a commercial actor” in the region. “We engage with all of our different stakeholders as we go through something like this,” Wirth said, declining to detail the timing of discussions with partner governments.
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz called the deal “a tremendous expression of confidence in the Israeli energy market.”
The Israeli assets “will rebalance the portfolio towards gas and provide a springboard” in the region, said Tom Ellacott, senior vice president at Wood Mackenzie.
Oil companies are under pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. Gas is seen as a cleaner burning fuel.
Last year, Chevron dropped its offer for Anadarko when Occidental Petroleum Corp bid more. Noble “offers an unique combination of shale as well long-cycle assets,” much as Anadarko would have, said Jennifer Rowland, analyst with Edward Jones, adding that she thought the deal was unlikely to spark a wave of consolidation.
A bidding war for Noble was unlikely, said Pavel Molchanov, analyst with Raymond James. He noted the smaller scale of this deal - $5 billion versus the $33 billion Chevron had offered for Anadarko. He said other “prospective buyers would find it easier to replicate via other means.”
The acquisition will give Chevron a bigger presence in the shale patches of Colorado as well as the Permian Basin, the top US shale field. Chevron has been expanding there, and was under pressure to show how it planned to expand output when existing Permian assets are depleted.
Last year’s bid for Anadarko was an attempt to boost Permian production, but Chevron instead pocketed a $1 billion break fee.
Since then, margins and drilling have been decimated by the coronavirus crisis. Prices have rebounded to around $40 a barrel from an average of around $20 in April, yet they remain depressed and have weighed on energy company valuations. Just seven months ago, Noble had a market capitalization of about $12 billion compared to $4.63 billion on Friday.
Shares of Noble closed up 5.4 percent to $10.18, after falling more than 60 percent this year through Friday’s close. Chevron fell 2.2 percent to $85.27.
The offer values Noble at $10.38 a share, a 7.5 percent premium to its Friday close. Including the company’s debt pile, the deal is worth roughly $13 billion.
Chevron is paying a “moderate premium” reflecting a cautious outlook for oil and gas deals, said Andrew Dittmar, senior M&A analyst at data provider Enverus.
Noble shareholders will own about 3 percent of the combined company, after the deal closes, expected in the fourth quarter.
The deal will help save about $300 million on an annual run-rate basis and add to free cash flow and earnings one year after closing, if global oil prices stay at $40, Chevron said.
It would add about 18 percent to Chevron’s proved reserves. Noble had proved reserves of 2.05 billion barrels of oil and gas, while Chevron reported 11.4 billion.