Callon Petroleum, Concho Resources, Jones Energy Look Like Attractive Takeover Targets

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Excitement rippled through the oil patch last month on the news that Noble Energy (NBL) was purchasing Rosetta Resources (ROSEfor $3.9 billion and Diamondback Energy (FANG) picked up properties in West Texas from privately held Cobra Oil & Gas for $438 million. It looked like deals were raining down on the industry again after a long drought.

It was high time, as there are plenty of mid-sized players that would benefit from the economies of scale and access to capital that being part of a larger entity would provide, especially during a downturn like the industry is experiencing with lower oil and gas prices. And those deals gave nice valuations to the properties involved, a positive jolt after months of layoffs, idling of rigs and sliding share prices.

Callon Petroleum (CPE), Concho Resources (CXO) and Jones Energy (JONE) rank among the most likely consolidators of properties until conditions improve. Or they could be swallowed up themselves.

Global Hunter Securities wrote in a report Tuesday that there are four or five asset sale processes going on in West Texas' Midland and Delaware basins, and Natchez, Miss.-based Callon could be a buyer. None of the auctions are distressed situations: the sellers are looking to take advantage of the attractive valuations in the Noble/Rosetta and Diamondback transactions and Callon, led by Fred Callon, might consider picking up properties in the Delaware basin, a new area for the company.

An ideal seller might be a private equity-backed company that was planning to do an initial public offering but shelved it after the decline in oil prices. Callon has told the analysts that such a candidate may be willing to accept shares of its stock to keep some of the upside in its assets.

Callon has already done some buying. It recently closed the acquisition of an incremental 5% working interest at its Taylor Draw field in the southern Midland Basin and is in discussions about a similar transaction at its CaBo and Carpe Diem fields, GHS said. In September it bought interests from partners in the Carpe Diem and Pecan Acres properties from unnamed sellers for $212.6 million.

As it builds its acreage interests, Callon becomes a more likely candidate to be sold. Activist shareholder Lone Star Value Management's Jeff Eberwein has long thought so, pushing the company to review strategic alternatives last year. His firm owns around 4% of the company and gained two board seats. Potential buyers? Given their multiple premiums, RSP Permian (RSPP), Parsley Energy (PE) and Diamondback are possibilities, according to industry watchers.

Concho could also be a consolidator in West Texas' Delaware and Midland basins, according to a report Monday by Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities. Analysts Matt Portillo and Jeoffrey Lambujon said the Midland, Tex.-based company, led by Tim Leach, is their top pick among exploration and production companies as they believe progress in the Delaware Basin -- where Concho is focused -- will provide the next leg up for companies with the right exposure. They think the stock has a net asset value of $187 per share, heading to $200 per share through a combination of downspacing and acceleration to the development of its properties over time.

Analysts have also named the company as an enticing takeover target, mostly because of its dominant position in the Permian Basin -- particularly after Noble's groundbreaking purchase of Rosetta.

Finally, Jones Energy could also be shopping for properties, given its $500 million liquidity position (it raised $376 million in February through various equity and debt offerings). The company, based in Austin, Tex., and led by Jonny Jones, is focused on two areas: the Cleveland field in the Anadarko basin in Oklahoma and Texas and the Woodford field in the Arkoma basin in Oklahoma. GHS thinks it would probably boost its asset base rather than accelerate development in a low commodity price environment, especially since the market has shown an improvement in deal quality recently.

Is Jones also a possible takeover target? There were rumors to that effect last month. And anything's possible in this environment.

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