The move comes amid a breakup plan pitched by the New York-based driller and opposition to the company's efforts from activist investors Elliott Management and Relational Investors, which argue the company still isn't going far enough in unlocking the value of its assets and restructuring its oft-criticized Board of Directors.
While some recent asset sales may have underwhelmed investors and Wall Street analysts, Hess's Monday deal was received strongly, as shares gained over 2% to a new one-year high of $73.87 in early afternoon trading.
Hess shares have gained nearly 40% year-to-date as the company works to sell terminal, refining and non-core energy assets and become more focused on drilling assets in promising U.S.-based shale basins.Hess will be selling 100% of its Russian subsidiary Samara-Nafta to OAO Lukoil, in a deal the company says will garner after-tax proceeds of $1.8 billion. Samara-Nafta is currently producing 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the Volga-Urals region of Russia, Hess said in a press release announcing the deal. "As the sale of Samara-Nafta indicates, we are making excellent progress in executing our asset sales program, which is a central component of our plan to transform Hess into a more focused, higher growth, lower risk pure play exploration and production company," John B. Hess, Hess Chairman and CEO, said in a Monday statement. In March, Hess said it sold a 4,300-acre Eagle Ford Shale oilfield to Sanchez Energy (SN) for $265 million, in a deal that fetched about a third of the value that more optimistic analyst had forecast when the New York-based driller put the assets up for sale in 2012. According to Hess, the company has raised $3.4 billion in announced or completed deals to sell interests in the Beryl field in the U.K. North Sea, the Eagle Ford play in Texas, and the Azeri, Chirag and Guneshli fields in Azerbaijan. "[By] applying the proceeds from these divestitures to reduce debt and strengthen our balance sheet, Hess will have the financial flexibility both to fund its future growth and also to direct most of the proceeds from additional asset sales to returning capital directly to its shareholders," CEO Hess added in the Monday statement. Asset sales come at a crucial time for Hess, which is embarking on an ambitious strategy to spin off its refining and marketing businesses and become a pure-play oil and gas driller with a leading position in promising shales like the Bakken. Still, as Hess continues a sharp 2013 share price rise on optimism that it may be prodded into unlocking the full value of the company, management continues to face scrutiny from large investors. Hess's proposed split off of downstream businesses, its recent announcement of a $4 billion share repurchase plan and a previous planned sale of its East Coast terminal network come just as activist hedge funds Elliott Management and Relational Investors take large positions in the driller and seek board seats. Unimpressed by the details of Hess's decision to deconsolidate its integrated energy empire, Elliott and Relational are pressing their own slate of directors to counter the company's proposed board reconstitution, which will add directors with experience at TNK-BP Russia and Royal Dutch Shell and lead to a board of 13 of 14 independent members.
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