Sinopec’s Quest For Deals

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, a report on Sinopec’s quest for deals:

Sinopec has kicked off 2012 with a bang. Stay tuned for more.

State-owned China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., better known as Sinopec, has been on a tear in acquisitions in the past year, the most recent deal being Tuesday’s multi-billion U.S. shale deal.

At the helm of Sinopec is someone who has tried, and failed in the past, in the U.S.

Chairman Fu Chengyu was formerly head of another state-owned behemoth, Cnooc, or China National Offshore Oil Corp.,  better remembered as the company that attempted that audacious takeover of Unocal Corp.

Since then, Mr. Fu has refined his acquisition strategy, taking smaller stakes in the U.S. to avoid ruffling any feathers. Failing in the Unocal bid, Cnooc later tempered its ambitions and bought a stake in a deepwater offshore field in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, as well as U.S. shale assets from Chesapeake Energy.

Mr. Fu was appointed chairman of Sinopec  last April in a routine reshuffling of executives among China’s state-owned companies, and is on a mission to turn Sinopec around. It helps that the climate toward  Chinese investment is noticeably more relaxed six years after the Unocal bid. For example, Chinese companies have acquired whole companies in Canada, while Asia-Pacific inbound M&A in the U.S. was at a record high last year, according to Dealogic data.

“Cnooc was just an offshore Chinese oil company, but now it has assets all over the world. That’s been built up over time…[through] aggressively acquiring assets in places like Uganda and Canada,” said Barclays Capital analyst Clement Chen. “Cnooc has constantly delivered production growth over the last  10 years…most of the credit can go to Mr. Fu.”

Part of Mr. Fu’s strategy is aimed at reducing Sinopec’s reliance on refining, which has been a drag on profitability, by buying up oil and natural gas assets, including unconventional resources, like shale gas. So far, he’s kept true to his word. Recent acquisitions include shale assets in North America, as well as conventional oil in locales including Iraq, Cameroon and West Africa. According to Dealogic, Sinopec spent $19.7 billion on acquisitions in 2011, including $5.19 billion on Portugal’s Galp Energia SA’s Brazilian assets, the largest Chinese outbound deal last year.

Compared to returns posted by the company’s Chinese peers, Sinopec’s refining focus meant lower profits. While the company posted a profit in the first half this fiscal year, its refining unit made an operating loss. That’s because Beijing keeps prices artificially low for gasoline and other products sold to consumers, leaving Sinopec paying market prices for oil and gas and often selling it at a loss.

That could be changing as the government implements market-driven pricing reforms this year, which Goldman Sachs says are a top priority for the government due to “concerns of energy security and import dependence.” It wants the industry to become more efficient and reduce corporate losses, which could push companies to accelerate their investments overseas.

While Sinopec’s rival, PetroChina – which on Tuesday completed an oil-sands deal in Alberta, Canada – is seen to have deeper pockets because of support from its parent, CNPC, analysts question the abilities of any Chinese company to operate these assets. Chinese companies still lag behind Western oil majors in know-how of unconventional energy sources. But now is as good a time as any to start learning.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 5th, 2012 at 1:12 pm and is filed under Sinopec.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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