Royal Dutch Shell Plc accelerated its drive to shed assets on Tuesday by agreeing to the sale of fields in the North Sea and Thailand for as much as $4.7 billion as it looks to pare debt swollen by last year’s acquisition of BG Group Plc.
Shell said that for as much as $3.8 billion, the disposals include the sale of about half the company’s North Sea oil and gas assets to Chrysaor Holdings Ltd. Its stake in an offshore Thai gas field was agreed to be sold to a unit of Kuwait Petroleum Corp. for $900 million by Europe’s largest oil producer earlier on Tuesday.
Shell needs to hit disposal targets to stave off credit rating reviews and maintain dividend payouts and piled up borrowings following its biggest-ever acquisition, the $54 billion purchase of BG. Shell missed its target for asset sales last year as low oil prices depressed valuations while Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden has made debt reduction a top priority.
“The sale helps Shell focus on newer growth projects in the North Sea and gives away smaller, older fields and this makes it more focused,” said Iain Armstrong, a London-based analyst with Brewin Dolphin Ltd., which owns oil company shares. “It’s money in the bank for Shell which helps reduce debt. They are well on their way to meet the big $30 billion target now.”
At the end of September, Shell had almost $78 billion of net debt. Compared with 12.7 percent a year earlier, and noting it as being among the highest for European oil companies, the net debt to capital, also called gearing, was at 29.2 percent.
“This deal shows the clear momentum behind Shell’s global, value-driven $30 billion divestment program,” Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said in the statement. “It is also consistent with Shell’s strategy to high-grade and simplify our portfolio following the acquisition of BG.”
With potential further payments of up to $180 million for future discoveries, a payment of up to $600 million between 2018 and 2021 subject to commodity prices and an initial consideration of $3 billion are included in the deal with Chrysaor. The company said that for any decommissioning costs associated with the North Sea assets, Shell retains a fixed liability of $1 billion.
“Shell clearly wanted to be seen to make a material disposal but also this vehicle has been structured to be a U.K. champion,” Chrysaor CEO Phil Kirk said on a conference call. “We are looking at the top spot in the U.K.”
As more production assets become available, Chrysaor is looking at further acquisitions in the North Sea, Kirk said.
“We are looking at growth and activity,” he said. “This is not about cost cutting. This is not about winding down.”
With completion expected in the second half of 2017, the deal with Chrysaor is subject to partner and regulatory approvals. As much as $400 million of junior debt financing will be provided by Shell to Chrysaor.
Earlier this month, at a cost of $820 million, 50 percent stake in a petrochemical joint venture in Saudi Arabia was sold by Shell to Saudi Basic Industries Corp.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)