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Investors Like Apache's Asset Sales

Stocks in this article: CHK APC XOM SNP CVX

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The volatility in commodity-driven industries like oil and gas can disrupt the sleep of even the most seasoned investor. Sleep can be even tougher for investors in Apache (APA), which has had significant exposure to politically volatile Eqypt.

Like peers Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Anadarko Petroleum (APC), Apache has been a respected name in the energy space because of a willingness to grow by acquiring assets at good prices.

Apache has generated significant value with some of its deals, but lately the Street has punished the company. What analysts once described as "strategically branching out," they now describe as management's "scattered ambitions."

It's true that Apache's production growth profile diminished. But this was also the case for Anadarko, Chevron (CVX) and Exxon Mobil (XOM). The Street wasn't honest in providing the real reason for its bearish thesis on Apache, which is the company's reliance on Egypt.

Egypt's political upheaval created more risk than the Street was willing to tolerate, which is why Apache stock plummeted earlier this year.

Egypt, however, has been a consistent growth contributor, generating more than 30% of the company's cash flow and 20% of its total production.

Even so, the risk as perceived by the Street was not lost on Apache management.

In a decision that I believe was too hasty, the company sold one-third of its interest in Egypt for $3.1 billion in cash to Sinopec (SNP). The cash generated from this deal is impressive, but I don't believe it was worth management giving in to Wall Street pressure.

Shares have soared 20% since the deal was announced, Apache isn't any better off -- or worse off -- than before the sale. It is true that selling one-third of the assets does eliminate some seizure/interference risk until Egypt gets its act together. But the idea that the remaining two-thirds exposure in Egypt is somehow "OK" when the other third wasn't doesn't make sense to me.

Let's not forget that that Egypt generated some above-average production returns for pretty meager ongoing costs for Apache.

To me, it's disappointing that management forfeited this advantage.

The sale wasn't a complete surprise, because it helped the company meet 80% of its previously announced divestment program goals, which had been doubled to $4 billion from $2 billion.

The question now is the extent to which this and future deals can unlock further value in the stock. Much that value will depend on what happens with the remaining two-thirds ownership stake in Egypt. Apache's upstream oil and gas projects, which it will jointly pursue with Sinopec, may prove worthwhile, but there's really no way to assess the significance of this venture beyond a "best guess."

The good news for Apache is that there is a clear recovery in the global energy market. And with new talks involving asset sales in Argentina, where Apache has rights to Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field (among other locations), it seems management is committed towards being more focused. This should produce long-term benefits in operational efficiency.

I've expressed some frustration toward management for "giving in" to analysts, but I still believe that going into 2014, Apache's value-creation ability makes it a worthwhile name in the energy resurgence.

At the time of publication, the author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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