China Oil Giants Seek Asset Sales as Clock Ticks to Year-End

  • PetroChina may sell share of refining assets to boost results
  • Sinopec seeks to raise about $600 million from insurance stake

China’s biggest energy companies are seeking to unload assets and urging workers to cut costs in a last-minute rush to meet annual government-set growth targets as lower crude prices drag down earnings.

China Petrochemical Corp. faces “unprecedented pressure” amid falling prices and workers should “give their full efforts,” according to a statement on its website Tuesday. PetroChina Co. and its state-owned parent plan to sell assets that may include pipelines and refineries before the end of the year, people with knowledge of the situation said this week.

Efforts to meet the goals are complicated by the slowest economic growth in more than two decades and a global crude glut that has nearly halved prices over the past year. China Petrochemical, who’s listed unit China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. posted a 92 percent third-quarter profit decline, offered this month to sell 4 billion yuan ($626 million) stake in an insurance company and has said it hasn’t yet met its target.

“Like all oil companies, state-owned firms have suffered from the crude price plunge and need to find a way to survive,” said Lin Boqiang, director at the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University and an independent director on PetroChina’s board. “If they use the opportunity to sell assets that aren’t essential to operations they can move forward with a sharper focus on core businesses.”

PetroChina gained 0.4 percent to close at HK$5.73 in Hong Kong. China Petroleum fell 0.6 percent. The city’s benchmark Hang Seng index lost 0.4 percent.

‘Significant Impact’

China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission sets annual profit targets for the 110 companies under its supervision as a benchmark for annual performance reviews. The chairmen of each company commit at the beginning of the year to meet the goals and can face punishment for failure such as demotion or a company-wide salary freeze.

“Failure to meet the target will have a significant impact to the company’s growth as well as employee compensation,” China Petrochemical, also known as Sinopec Group, said in its statement Tuesday, without providing details of its target.

Profits, in principle, should rise every year at companies controlled by the central government, Sasac said in a statement in February. Those where profit declines can’t give their employees raises, it said. Sasac didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

PetroChina’s third-quarter net income fell 81 percent to the lowest since Bloomberg started compiling the data in 2007. Cnooc Ltd., listed unit of China National Offshore Oil Corp., posted a 32 percent plunge in sales during the same period even as oil and gas output rose by almost a quarter.

Sinopec Group on Nov. 17 listed for sale 561 million shares of Huatai Insurance Group, or 13.94 percent of the insurer, on the China Beijing Equity Exchange, according to the bourse’s website.

A Beijing-based spokesman for Sinopec Group and its listed unit didn’t answer two calls to his office seeking comment. Spokesmen for CNPC and PetroChina didn’t answer calls to their offices and mobile phones seeking comment.

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