Oil Mergers Hindered by Heavy Debt, Occidental Boss Says

  • By one measure, drillers most indebted since at least 2001
  • M&A climate ``very sticky'' for potential suitors: Chazen

Oil and natural gas drillers are reluctant to acquire rivals pummeled by the worst market collapse since the 1980s because of huge debt burdens that would become payable upon takeover, said Occidental Petroleum Corp. Chief Executive Officer Stephen Chazen.

Under so-called change-of-control provisions, the debts of many U.S. shale explorers would have to be paid off by any company that acquires them, Chazen said during a panel discussion on Monday at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. The specter of large, upfront costs to retire the target company’s obligations is discouraging takeovers, he said.

“It’s a very sticky situation for putting companies together,” said Chazen, who is scheduled to step down as head of the Houston-based oil producer this year.

U.S. independent oil explorers, which don’t also own refineries and filling stations, slipped into the most precarious indebtedness since at least 2001, based on one measure of leverage.

The current liquidity ratio for the 50 drillers in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent E&Ps Valuation Peer Group averaged 0.81 last year. A ratio below 1.0 indicates the companies would be unable to cover short-term obligations with cash, receivables and other readily-available liquid assets.

Chazen said he expects crude markets to remain depressed for another 18 months or so, based on the history of global oil slumps.

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