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$7 Billion in Chesapeake Energy Deals Reshape Bull-Bear Divide

"We are pleased to announce further progress towards our asset sale goals for 2012," said Chesapeake Energy CEO McClendon, in a statement. McClendon noted that the sales put Chesapeake on track to meet fundraising targets and reiterated that the company is continuing to rebalance its drilling portfolio, as the company focuses on 10 "core plays in which Chesapeake has built a #1 or #2 position."

Chesapeake Energy shares little changed on the deal news, and trending down in Wednesday trading. The company's shares are down nearly 10% this year; however they've risen nearly 50% from 2012 lows, when questions on its financial condition and leadership escalated.

In addition to shale asset sales, Chesapeake Energy completed "substantially all" of its midstream asset sales in four separate deals that will raise a combined $3 billion.

The company has entered into a letter of intent with Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) to sell most of the midstream assets owned by Chesapeake Midstream Development for roughly $2.7 billion. Those assets include gathering and processing systems in the Eagle Ford, Utica, Haynesville and Powder River Basin Niobrara shale plays. In addition, Chesapeake has sold or entered into purchase and sale agreements with two unspecified companies to sell midstream assets and other gathering assets in the Eagle Ford Shale for roughly $300 million.

When combined with roughly $2 billion in midstream asset sales year-to-date, Chesapeake Energy has upped total asset sales to $5 billion.

Finally, in four separate deals, Chesapeake is in the process of selling "non-core" leasehold assets in the Utica Shale for roughly $600 million. After the sales, Chesapeake will own approximately 1.3 million net acres of in the Utica Shale.

Jefferies and Goldman Sachs are serving as financial advisors to Chesapeake regarding the Permian Basin asset sales and the sale of midstream assets to GIP.

In total, the deals, which are Chesapeake's largest sale since questions emerged about CEO Aubrey McClendon's stewardship of the nation's second-largest gas driller, also comes amid a board shakeup that will give investors, including activist Carl Icahn, representation on its board.

In June, Chesapeake Energy said that following "extensive discussions" with its two largest shareholders, Southeastern Asset Management and Icahn, it had agreed to add four new independent directors to replace four existing independent directors who will resign from Chesapeake's board. Three of the new independent directors will be proposed by Southeastern and the fourth will be proposed by Icahn. Meanwhile, CEO McClendon stepped down as chairman, ceding to role to former ConocoPhillips head Archie Dunham.

Underlying a board shakeup and the initiation of asset sales, were Chesapeake's efforts to shore up its balance sheet, which will remain a key focus into 2013 and beyond.

Highlighting Chesapeake's struggles from earlier in the year and how the situation can't be resolved entirely by asset sales, was Moody's commentary on the company's needed to sell $7 billion in assets in 2012 to avoid a ratings downgrade and breach of its debt covenants. "Even $7 billion in asset sales could place Chesapeake's covenant compliance for its revolving credit facility in some doubt, and the company would still face a significant funding gap in 2013," wrote Moody's analyst Peter Speer on May 31.

For more on Carl Icahn, see his investment portfolio. For more on energy stocks, see the energy stocks bought and sold by hedge funds in the latest quarter.

See 5 ways Chesapeake Energy can be saved from itself for more on how it can initiate a share turnaround.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York
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