S.Korea says KNOC reviews several oil firms for M&A
Reuters - Tuesday, January 6
By Angela Moon
SEOUL, Jan 5 - South Korea, the world's No.5 crude oil importer, said on Monday its state oil firm was reviewing several foreign energy firms for acquisition, as it seeks to raise reserves six-fold by snapping up depressed resource assets.
The move shows that Asia's hunger for resource assets remains voracious despite the financial crisis, and the region is prepared to risk further commodity price downside to power economic growth that is still significantly faster than in the United States and western Europe.
" will actively take advantage of a sharp fall in resource asset prices and review ensuing opportunities to grow Korea National Oil Corp through M&A with mid-sized oil firms," Seoul's energy ministry said in a statement.
The collapse in oil and commodity prices has depressed the value of resource assets by nearly 70 percent, with a Canadian energy firm, for example, now valued at $7.9 billion, down from over $22 billion when the market was booming until early last year, the ministry said.
Oil prices had plunged to below $40 a barrel in December, compared to a record-high of $147 in July.
Under the government plan, KNOC, which aims to boost its oil production capacity to 300,000 barrels per day by 2012 from 50,000 bpd now, would add 20,000 bpd by buying mid-sized oil firms this year.
"We are reviewing seven to eight resources development firms with 100,000-150,000 barrels production capacity for acquisitions," Lee Jae-hoon, Seoul's vice energy minister, told a press briefing.
As part of the plan, KNOC will buy a Latin American energy firm in the first quarter of 2009, a deal that would secure 10,000 barrels of crude production for South Korea.
The ministry did not disclose details of the acquisition target, but a source with direct knowledge of the pact told Reuters the deal would be valued above $1 billion.
The move comes after KNOC lost out in its bid to buy UK-based Burren Energy, a small oil producer with operations in the Republic of Congo for which Italy's ENI <ENI.MI> had agreed to pay $3.6 billion in 2007.
Asia has renewed its huge appetite for natural resources in recent months, as a collapse in commodity prices prompted by the global financial turmoil has pushed cash-rich firms to go bargain hunting.
SK Energy <096770.KS>, South Korea's top refiner, told Reuters in November it was eyeing small M&As to double its crude production to around 60,000 barrels per day this year.
In China, China National Petroleum Corp, the parent of Asia's top oil and gas producer PetroChina <0857.HK> is reportedly looking to bid for Australia's No.3 oil and gas firm Santos <STO.AX>. [ID:nSYD417351]
Chinese metal companies, such as CITIC Resources <1205.HK>, Minmetals Corp and Chinalco, are also showing interest in Australian zinc miner Oz Minerals <OZL.AX>, while Yanzhou Coal Mining <600188.SS> <1171.HK> is looking to Felix Resources <FLX.AX>. [ID:nSEO231883]
South Korea, which is almost wholly reliant on imports for oil, said on Monday domestic companies were expected to increase overseas investment in energy assets by 23 percent to $7 billion this year.
The investments, which exclude M&A deals and stakes in oil and gas fields already in production, will mainly centre on oil and gas assets worth $5.2 billion.
South Korea expects its self-sufficiency ratio for oil and gas to exceed its target of 7.4 percent in 2009, or daily production of 53,000 barrels per day.
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