Will Occidental Pare Assets to Soften Blow of $2 Billion Permian Acquisition?

Occidental Petroleum (OXY) , a traditionally conservative deal maker, has joined the rest of the U.S. oil and gas industry in bolstering its operations in West Texas' lucrative Permian Basin ahead of a commodity upturn that many hope is on the horizon.

The Houston based oil and gas explorer and producer, which has substantial assets in the Delaware Basin, a sub-basin of the Permian, said Monday, Oct. 31, after the markets closed that it will acquire a package of assets in the Permian through two separate transactions worth a total of $2 billion. 

But the deal has company followers and investors questioning whether or not Occidental may need to put some assets on the block in the near future to better swallow this pricey Permian pill. 

"Although we do not believe the market will frown upon the idea behind the investment, the costs for the resources seem high at first glance," wrote Jim Cramer and Jack Mohr, co-managers of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, which owns Occidental. "OXY has always boasted the most pristine balance sheet among its peers, but a transaction of this magnitude does raise questions as to where the balance sheet will sit moving forward and whether the company has plans to announce any additional non-core asset sales to support the purchase."

OXY shares were trading down about 4.7%, however, around 1 p.m. Tuesday, as the company posted earnings results that morning that were short of analysts' expectations. 

The company posted an adjusted loss of 15 cents per share on $2.73 billion in sales, versus the Street's expected 12 cents per share loss on $2.65 billion in revenues.

Occidental's asset purchases, which appear to have been made at a premium $41,000 per acre price tag, according to JPMorgan analysts, may cause Occidental to consider some options in the coming months. 

The deals put OXY's purchase just behind RSP Permian's (RSPP) $2.4 billion Permian Basin acquisition earlier this month, which came in at about $42,000 per acre, but well ahead of Diamondback Energy's (FANG) $560 million purchase in the play this summer (valued at about $26,000 per acre). 

JP Morgan's Phil Gresh and John Royall wrote in a Tuesday research note that post deal, OXY's balance sheet, which the firm has also considered "pristine" compared to those of its peers, will be levered at a debt-to-Ebitda ratio of 2.2 times, versus its previous 1.6 times. 

In order to soften the blow of adding $2 billion in debt to the balance sheet (Occidental said it would pay for the deal with cash on hand), JPMorgan sees the divestiture of the company's 13% interests in the affiliate of pipeline operator Plains All American Pipeline (PAA) and its holding company Plains GP Holdings (PAGP)

Gresh and Royall see the interest sale fetching about $1 billion in today's market, and the analysts noted Tuesday that Occidental has stated it considers the stake as noncore.

On the company's third quarter earnings conference call Tuesday, CFO Christopher Stavros said in response to a question posed by Gresh about how the company would fund any cash flow gap created by the acquisition: "It's going to depend on commodity prices ... but should the need arise, we would expect to monetize some noncore, non-strategic assets, that would more than, we believe, cover our needs."

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