Maersk Intensifies M&A Search as Oil Unit Loses Biggest Field

  • Losing Qatar field frees up resources elsewhere, CEO says
  • Maersk Oil CEO prefers takeover targets in North Sea

Total to Run Qatar's Al Shaheen Oil Field

A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S is intensifying its search for acquisitions to build up its oil unit as the Danish shipping and petroleum conglomerate loses Qatar, the biggest field in its portfolio.

“We’re getting some resources freed up now,” Maersk Oil Chief Executive Officer Jakob Thomasen said in an interview. “We appreciate the clarity that we now have after Qatar and can focus on other areas.”

Maersk said on Monday it will stop its 25-year involvement in the Al Shaheen offshore field when the current agreement expires in July 2017, after losing a bid for renewal. In a separate statement, Total SA said it won the tender.

Maersk Oil has struggled with declining output from its maturing fields in the Danish North Sea and needs acquisitions for the unit to achieve critical scale. Qatar made up close to half the company’s 2015 production and has contributed the most to Maersk Oil’s production for the better part of the past decade.

“We see good opportunities for creating value in the North Sea area,” Thomasen said, while declining to respond to a question about concrete talks with potential takeover targets. “We’re still on the look-out for expanding the business.”

Maersk last week fired Group CEO Nils Smedegaard Andersen and Chairman Michael Pram Rasmussen said the company, which owns the world’s biggest container line as well as a terminal operator and a drilling division, may split up its operations into separate entities.

Credit Suisse said in a note last week that the Al Shaheen oil field probably contributes as much as two-thirds of Maersk Oil’s cash flow and that a renewal of the tender may influence the board’s view of the strategic relevance of the division.

Thomasen said it was too early to speculate whether Maersk Oil would be spun off or how losing the tender would affect its future in the Maersk group.

“There are many companies of our size that are very capable of creating value,” he said.

Maersk Oil produced about 350,000 barrels of oil a day in the first quarter, measured by entitlement production. That number may drop as low as 170,000 when the Qatar contract expires, according to an estimate by Frode Moerkedal, managing director at Clarksons Platou Securities.

Still, Maersk Oil has “some very good projects in the pipeline which will help production and make up for the loss of Qatar,” in the form of its Norway and U.K North Sea fields Johan Sverdrup and Culzean, Thomasen said.

Maersk shares rose 2.8 percent as of 10:31 a.m. in Copenhagen, compared with a 2.3 percent gain in the OMX Copenhagen 20 CAP index, which tracked moves across most European equity markets. Maersk shares had plunged 8.6 percent on Monday, as most markets were sold off amid continued panic over the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union.

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