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Chesapeake Energy Can't Get the Chinese to Overpay for Every Acre

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back in June, the Financial Times spurred M&A chatter about Chesapeake Energy (CHK - Get Report) with a report that Chinese oil giant Sinopec was working on a deal for Chesapeake assets. With Chesapeake already openly trying to sell its Permian Basin acreage, the interest of a Chinese buyer (read "big premium payer") stoked market expectations that Chesapeake could raise as much as $6 billion from the Permian wheeling and dealing.

On Wednesday Chesapeake announced that it has sold the Permian assets, but not to Sinopec.

In fact, the assets were not even sold to a Chinese company like Sinopec or CNOOC (CEO) or any foreign state-controlled oil company (NOC). In addition, Chesapeake sold its Permian Basin interests -- roughly 6% of its production with a tilt to all-important liquids -- at a price that didn't just come below $6 billion, but below a previous Chesapeake estimate that the Permian could raise $4 billion to $6 billion.

With $3.3 billion in Permian assets deemed as "non-core," being sold off to oil giants like Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A - Get Report) and Chevron (CVX - Get Report) as they push further into promising shale basins, the lack of a big premium from a foreign NOC reminds energy investors betting on Chesapeake's monetization strategy that when push comes to shove, a foreign buyer -- in particular a Chinese national oil company -- would raise so many political red flags it's hard to imagine an outright sale could be made.

All the M&A chatter about the foreign NOCs driving up values for shale acreage doesn't have much weight when the Chevrons and Shells of the world know that the U.S. government would never remain quiet on Chesapeake selling assets outright to a Chinese company. They also know that Chesapeake needs cash right now, not a fight.

When it first announced the planned sales, Chesapeake said it would raise $6 billion to $8 billion from Permian sales, a joint venture in the Mississippian Lime, and other miscellaneous transactions. Later, the company talked about a $4 billion to $6 billion value for the Permian alone.

Though, on its most recent earnings conference call, Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon declined a request from Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Doug Leggate to update the outlook on deal value. "Aubrey, I don't suppose you would care to comment on the $4 billion to $6 billion original range that you gave relative to what you think you are going to realize?," Leggate asked, with McClendon replying that when the company had final numbers to report it would do so.

Wells Fargo analyst David Tameron was one of the analysts to write on Wednesday that the Permian deal came up short of expectations .

Phil Weiss, analyst at Argus Research, said the Permian brought in less than expected and yet the midstream sales raised more money than expected, so there's a tradeoff and Chesapeake continues to dig itself out of the hole it dug for itself. Nevertheless, "The price looks more reasonable for the buyers than seller," Weiss said, adding "This is U.S. property, so you cant get the same [NOC] premium."

There are plenty of caveats to the market's read on the deal as slightly disappointing.
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