Sinopec Group launched China's biggest-ever foreign oil acquisition on Wednesday, agreeing to buy Addax Petroleum Corp for about C$8.27 billion ($7.24 billion) to secure the Swiss oil explorer's high-potential oil blocks in West Africa and Iraq.
The offer of C$52.80 a share from Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration and Production Corp -- coming after a behind-the-scenes bidding war with Korea National Oil Co -- is a 16 percent premium to Addax's closing share price on Tuesday and more than four times the stock's November low of C$12.13.
The offer price was fair given prevailing oil prices and the project risks, analyst Gordon Kwan at Mirae Asset said. The Addax buy, if completed, is China's single largest oil acquisition in terms of deal value, he said.
Addax shares rose C$3.31, or 7.3 percent, to C$48.96 on Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The company has grown quickly since being formed 15 years ago by Chief Executive Jean Claude Gandur. Geneva-based and Toronto-listed Addax, named after an African antelope, averaged production of 136,500 barrels a day last year from 537 million barrels of reserves in onshore and offshore fields in West Africa and Iraq's Kurdistan region, including the promising Taq Taq field.
The Sinopec deal is the largest foreign purchase to date by a Chinese company. The country's state-controlled oil firms have been snapping up reserves worldwide to ensure the energy supplies needed to power the country's growing economy.
Sinopec, PetroChina and CNOOC Ltd (0883.HK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which enjoy access to low-cost loans from state-owned banks, have been bidding for reserves and supplies, often competing against Indian and other Asian rivals, in regions most Western oil companies are shying away from.
There's very few parties in the world that are interested in taking Africa risk at this stage, said Don Barclay, head of mergers and acquisitions, Canada, for BMO Capital Markets. It's really the guys like the Chinese and the Indians that are naturally buyers for that.
Sinopec's deal comes amid a flurry of merger activity in recent weeks among oil exploration and production companies.
Heritage Oil (HOIL.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) has said it is in merger talks with Genel Energy International, a unit of Turkey's Cukurova Group CUKRO.UL, and state-owned Emirates National Oil Co has said it is mulling a takeover of Dragon Oil (DGO.I: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).
RISKY KURDISH ASSETS
One of Addax's key assets is its Kurdish blocks. Its fields, including Taq Taq, have the capacity to ramp up output sharply in the coming months and have considerable exploration potential.
However, analysts said political risks attached to the assets could prompt Sinopec to sell them on to another party.
Iraq's Kurdistan region consumes relatively little oil and, although Baghdad has recently allowed companies to export oil via state-owned pipelines, there is still no mechanism to allow the companies to be paid for their oil.
The Iraqi oil minister has described contracts such as those signed by Addax as illegal and ruled out paying firms for their oil until a long-stalled oil law is agreed.
Baghdad has also previously barred companies that are involved in the Kurdish region from bidding for contracts elsewhere in Iraq.
Sinopec is qualified for bidding in Iraq's first oil licensing round, scheduled to start next week, as have CNOOC and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) CNPET.UL.
The Sinopec deal involves a break-up fee of C$300 million, Addax said in a statement.
The Sinopec Group is China's largest oil refiner and also has production interests. It is the state-owned parent of listed company Sinopec Corp (600028.SS: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).
(Reporting by Scott Haggett, Tom Bergin, Pav Jordan, Victoria Bryan, Paul Sandle and Amitha Rajan; editing by Rob Wilson)