(Updated with the Eagle Ford takeover targets, analyst comments)NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The above-60% premium that BHP Billiton ( BHP) is offering for Petrohawk Energy ( HPK) takes out an independent natural gas company that has had a "for sale" sign on its lawn for as long as many U.S. homeowners. But don't expect a wave of consolidation to necessarily follow, though the premium paid for Petrohawk makes a case for some higher valuations in the natural gas space. In November 2010, when Chevron ( CVX) acquired Atlas Energy, the market speculation ran wild with the next takeover targets in the independent exploration and production market. An article on TheStreet at that time, in fact, highlighted Petrohawk as top target in the sector.
Energy market analysts who lashed out at The New York Times report referenced Exxon Mobil's ( XOM) landmark acquisition of XTO Energy, with the argument that they trust Exxon Mobil over the Times to value energy assets, given Exxon Mobil's history of making the right deals. Chesapeake Energy ( CHK) shares, singled out by the Times in its shale gas expose, were up close to 5% on Friday morning. It's good for other independents "built to sell" to see Petrohawk find a premium exit value more quickly than many analysts expected. "You never want to be the last one holding the acreage," said BMO's McSpirit. At the time of the Chevron-Atlas deal, analysts thought it could be anywhere from a year to 18 months before Petrohawk was sold. Imperial Capital's Jones says that with low interest rates and high commodity prices there should be more activity than is occurring in the space. With Exxon, Chevron and BHP, among others already making their big moves into the U.S. shale, there's a finite number of deals left to be made among the majors, and many of the natural gas-heavy companies will wait out the low natural gas prices. Unless there is a major spike in the price of natural gas, Jones concludes, "The finite number of buyers and low natural gas prices means there's time to go for these companies as independents. Many of these companies will continue to grow organically and wait for natural gas to be back to $6. You already have the acreage locked up; it's just a matter of price." The stocks receiving the biggest boost in the energy sector have assets in the Eagle Ford shale where Petrohawk is among the biggest acreage holders. Petrohawk has 305,000 acres in the Eagle Ford. Only EOG, Chesapeake and Apache ( APA) and Pioneer Natural Resources hold more acreage in the Eagle Ford. Pioneer Natural Resources ( PXD), which holds 310,000 acres in the Eagle Ford, was up more than 7% on Friday morning. SM Energy ( SM), which holds 250,000 acres in the Eagle Ford, was also up more than 7% on Friday. Swift Energy ( SFY), which holds 79,000 acres in the Eagle Ford, was also up 7% on Friday morning. Shares of EOG Resources ( EOG), Southwestern Energy ( SWN), and EQT ( EQT) and Carrizo Oil & Gas ( CRZO) were all surging on Friday. Range Resources ( RRC) surged by 12%. Yet analysts note that Range, EQT and Southwestern already command premium multiples in the sector, unlike Petrohawk, which was trading at less than five times next year's EBITDA estimate before the deal. BMO Capital prefers Newfield Exploration ( NFX) as an undervalued name in the space that could see a takeout premium. Imperial Capital thinks Carrizo Oil & Gas and Cabot Oil & Gas ( COG) are among the best takeover targets. -- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.