Failed $1 Billion Oil Move Has Alfa Investors Asking What's Next

  • Efforts to jump into the oil business have been stymied so far
  • Energy strategy isn't `well defined or public,' analyst says

Alfa SAB executives set their sights on becoming “real oilmen’’ as Mexico scrapped a 75-year-old state monopoly on crude production. Two years, $1 billion and a failed takeover attempt later, investors are clamoring to know what’s next.

The Mexican company last month abandoned attempts to buy Pacific Exploration & Production Corp. after its latest proposal was rejected. When Mexico held the first oil auctions since a 1938 expropriation last year, Alfa made a single bid and lost. Its small U.S. oil and gas unit just swung to a first-quarter loss, a victim of lower crude prices.

There’s still time for the maker of petrochemicals, auto parts and lunch meats to make good on its vow to add a major oil business, said David Neuhauser, a money manager at Livermore Partners Inc. who holds Alfa shares. Having been hurt by collapsing crude prices after spending an estimated $1 billion to amass its 19 percent stake in Pacific, Alfa could now benefit from the rout by becoming a bargain shopper.

“This should be the perfect time to be calculating in their approach, find the right company or assets and acquire now,’’ Neuhauser said by telephone. “The forward-looking path that oil prices will eventually normalize is there, so this is the time to be making investments.’’

IPC Laggard

Alfa declined to comment. The company will continue seeking oil-related opportunities in Latin America and the U.S., Chief Financial Officer Ramon Leal told investors and analysts on a conference call last month, without providing details.

“Their strategy to participate in the sector is not well defined or public at this point, so we’re waiting for what could happen,” Jean-Baptiste Bruny, an analyst at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, said by telephone. “Could that justify the poor performance the shares have had this year? Surely.”

Alfa slid 5.7 percent this year, trailing the 5.5 percent gain of the benchmark IPC index. The company’s shares fell 0.4 percent to 32.17 pesos at the close of trading Wednesday.

Drilling Halt

Newpek, Alfa’s oil unit, said last month it would halt drilling activities in the Eagle Ford formation of southern Texas until oil prices recovered. The company swung to a $2 million loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the first quarter, selling fewer and cheaper barrels of oil per day than a year earlier.

The unit was part of Alfa’s plan to become “real oilmen,” as Chief Executive Officer Alvaro Fernandez said in 2014. At the time, Alfa was also increasing exposure to Pacific as it sought to enter Mexico’s newly opened oil industry. When the country’s first three rounds of bids for onshore and offshore shallow-water fields rolled in, Newpek made a single bid in the third round and lost.

“I’m confident the board and management will continue along the path to increase their energy exposure,” said Neuhauser. “I’m sure they’ll be calculating in their approach and timing will be key.”

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