What Tricks Does Billionaire Philip Anschutz Have Up His Sleeve for Forest Oil?

The same question might be asked of John Malone with TCI Satellite.
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Taken a look at the number of restructuring deals in the oil patch lately? In recent months a number of companies, including

KCS Energy

(KCS)

,

Trico Marine Services

(TMAR)

and

Key Energy

(KEG) - Get Report

, have announced deals geared toward paring down their debt. In each case, slumping oil prices had hurt the company's business, but the problems were magnified by the addition of too much debt right as prices started to fall. With oil and gas prices on the rise, deal makers are starting to get involved.

"Natural gas is natural gas," explains one veteran oil industry investor. "It's a fungible commodity. Just because a company has lots of debt is why it's valued lower than a company with less debt. But if you can take that debt away, you have no balance sheet risk. Then all you have is the value of the reserves, and the intrinsic value of the company will be valued in the stock market."

A growing number of companies are getting their balance sheets cleaned up by financiers. "The whole damn industry has been restructured in six months," says this veteran investor, who cites other deals involving such companies as

Nuevo Energy

(NEV) - Get Report

and

Pioneer Natural Resources

(PXD) - Get Report

. He adds, "If all of these companies get restructured and have liquidity, then what will they do with their liquidity? They'll drill!"

Which brings us to Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, another longtime oil industry investor who is known for his good timing, shrewd judgment and a record for doing things right. It's no secret among oil industry insiders that he intends to buy up distressed oil and gas properties. He has already become one of the largest bondholders in

Forcenergy

(FENYQ)

, which has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. And he holds a controlling stake in

Forest Oil

(FST)

.

In recent weeks there has been growing chatter than Anschutz has told Forest that he could be willing to make available to Forest as much as $500 million for oil patch investments. In essence, that would make Forest his public oil industry vehicle.

A Forest spokesman, not confirming any dollar figure, says Anschutz has only said that he may invest with Forest. "He has no pre-arranged deal with us," he says. He adds that Anschutz may invest through his private oil and gas partnerships or by giving the money directly to Forest and allowing Forest to make oil patch investments, or some combination thereof.

Considering Anschutz's role with Forcenergy, there is some speculation that he is negotiating to buy Forcenergy. However, one source close to Forcenergy's bondholder committee warns about jumping to that conclusion.

Apparently, there are a number of bidders. And this tip to potential investors, who think a deal for Forcenergy makes its stock a no-brainer: Remember, bondholders get first dibs on the money; shareholders in bankruptcy reorganizations usually get zip, or close to it. Forcenergy did not return a call.

Mulling Malone

: Normally this column ignores bulletin board stocks. But when it's the stock of a company run by ex-cable mogul head John Malone, and when it has zoomed to above 4 from around 50 cents in less than a month, we'll make an exception.

The company is

TCI Satellite Entertainment

(TSATA)

. Until a week ago it owned a 37% stake in Primestar, the country's second-largest satellite-television company. Now, in exchange for that stake, it owns $65 million in

Hughes Electronics

(GMH)

stock. It also has about $400 million in tax-loss carry-forward credits, which can be used to offset taxes on future operating profits.

Malone hasn't yet shown his hand. But speculation about what he might do is behind the stock's run. One analyst from a major brokerage firm, who requested that his name not be used, and who insists he has spent 10 days gathering information from his best sources, has issued a private report to his private clients that he believes TCI Satellite could be used as a vehicle for a new venture that may include broadband and telephony.

Is it true? Don't know. A TCI Sat spokesman declined comment, saying, "It's all conjecture and speculation. The company is not in a position to make a statement."

Mark Martinez contributed to this column.

Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at

herb@thestreet.com. Greenberg writes a monthly column for Fortune and provides commentary for CNBC.