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Freeport-McMoRan Sells Eagle Ford Assets to Encana for $3.1B

HOUSTON (The Deal) --  Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (FCX - Get Report) said Wednesday it agreed to sell its Eagle Ford Shale assets in South Texas to Canada's Encana (ECA - Get Report) for $3.1 billion to help pay down debt and focus on prospects in the Gulf of Mexico.

Encana will get Freeport-McMoRan's working interests in 45,500 net acres predominantly in Karnes County along with some in Wilson and Atacosa for around $14,000 to $15,000 per acre, which is net of 53,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day of production as of the first quarter. The production is 75% oil, 11% natural gas liquids and 14% natural gas.

The deal includes 355 gross producing wells along with an inventory of 400-plus gross future wells.

Encana called the acquisition a "bold strategic move" that will double its oil production and enhance its continuing efforts to reposition to a more balanced commodity portfolio and boost shareholder value.

"Gaining a position in a world class, oil-rich resource play like the Eagle Ford accelerates the transition of our portfolio and underscores our investment focus on high margin assets," Encana CEO and president Doug Suttles said in a statement. "With this transaction, combined with our announced divestments of Jonah and properties in East Texas, we're replacing natural gas production with high margin oil and liquids production."

Phoenix's Freeport-McMoRan expects net proceeds of $2.5 billion, half of which will be used to pay off debt and the other half to fund further investments in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

"The transaction is part of our plan to monetize approximately $4 billion in energy assets to provide meaningful proceeds for debt repayment while enabling us to refocus our asset base and capital allocation on our strategic growth areas in the Gulf of Mexico, which we believe provide industry leading margins, high impact long-term growth opportunities and superior investment returns," CEO Jim Flores said in a statement.

Freeport-McMoRan said it doesn't expect to book a gain or loss on the transaction.

Analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities Inc. said the move is positive for Encana at first blush as it's accretive -- by an estimated C$1 ($0.92) per share -- at a favorable valuation: 2.4 times first quarter 2014 cash flow annualized.

Global Hunter Securities Inc. analyst Sameer Uplenchwar wrote in a note that the company is paying around $58,500 per flowing barrel of oil equivalent versus Encana trading at around $45,000 per flowing barrel while selling low margin gas assets in the Jonah and East Texas areas for $30,000 to $35,000 per flowing barrel.

However, Uplenchwar said the deal is attractive on a cash flow basis with Encana paying less than 3 times operating cash flow versus the company trading around 7 times. "We see this acquisition as an opportunity for the company to apply its natural gas drilling factory mindset to an oil play while improving the overall profile of the company," he wrote.

Encana expects to pay for the properties with cash and proceeds from previously announced transactions when the deal closes in the second quarter. Encana said the transaction has to clear regulators.

Since announcing its strategic review in November, Encana has sold around $3.1 billion worth of assets, including Jonah (for $1.8 billion), East Texas ($530 million) and PraireSky ($800 million). Analysts expect additional non-core sales as the year progresses.

Uplenchwar said Encana had $2.6 billion of cash on hand at the end of last year and is well positioned to fund the acquisition without tapping the capital markets.

Encana plans to ramp up to four rigs in the Eagle Ford by year-end while maintaining its capital plan to focus on its other five core growth plays.

Barclays' Greg Pipkin and Chris Watson advised Freeport-McMoRan. Scotia Waterous' Doug Reynolds assisted Encana.

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