CNOOC’s $15.1 billion bid for Nexen still faces months of regulatory and political scrutiny in Canada before being finalised but, seven years on from a chastening failed bid for Unocal, some analysts and energy insiders believe a wiser CNOOC may finally get its long-coveted slice of the North American energy industry.
CNOOC was forced to withdraw an $18.5 billion takeover bid for Unocal in 2005 in the face of political opposition in the United States. The lingering impact of the abortive Unocal bid has been apparent in the M&A strategies of China’s state-owned majors in recent years, with minority stakes in North American companies and assets preferred to takeovers as a means of mitigating potential backlash against the deals.
The bold takeover bid for struggling Nexen, however, appears to be one that has been carefully crafted by CNOOC to avoid the political and regulatory pitfalls that doomed its Unocal bid.
“This deal has been in the making for several years,” one Hong Kong-based analyst at an international investment bank told Interfax. “I think the regulators have been kept in the loop, in a sign of respect, so the deal should not be a shock,” the analyst added.
“CNOOC’s assurance to maintain Nexen’s staff and potentially list on the Toronto Stock Exchange may please the regulators and potentially secure an approval by the late fourth quarter,” Nipun Sharma, analyst at Mirae Asset Securities in Hong Kong, told Interfax.
Other incentives CNOOC has offered include repayment of Nexen’s debt, enhancing capital expenditures on Nexen’s assets, and establishing Calgary as CNOOC’s North and Central American headquarters.
“We learned how to earn a social licence to operate here,” Fang Zhi, CNOOC’s lead negotiator with Nexen, said in an interview this week. “This is a different, unique story [from Unocal],” added Chief Executive Li Fanrong.
Under the ‘net benefits’ guidelines of the Investment Canada Act, the final decision on regulatory approval rests with the Minister of Industry Tony Paradis, a member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
Concerns have been raised that political opposition to what would be China’s largest ever foreign takeover could scuttle the deal, but some energy insiders in Calgary believe it is unlikely to be the case for CNOOC this time around.
“We just don’t have those kinds of politics in Canada [at the moment],” said a source in Calgary familiar with the deal. “This is not to say that there won’t be discussions over the coming months, but Nexen is in a rut with their problems in Yemen, cheap gas in North America and their oil sands missing targets, and this may be a good thing for the company.”