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BP’s Vietnam Gas Project In Dealmakers’ Radars

12 July, 2010

Of all the BP units that Asian buyers may be eager to scoop up across the globe, an asset closer to home in southern Vietnam could evoke the most immediate interest.

Asia’s energy investment bankers are busy doing their homework on BP’s stake in the $1.3 billion Nam Con Son gas project offshore of Ho Chi Minh City.

China’s CNOOC and Sinopec, as well as Thailand’s PTTEP and India’s ONGC — already a partner of BP’s in Vietnam — are likely to show interest in BP’s stake in the project, bankers and analysts who are familiar with the asset told Reuters.

BP, among the biggest foreign producers of natural gas in Vietnam, discovered four gas fields in the southern part of the country roughly 20 years ago. The British giant also has a gas-fired power station and a pipeline there. Together, they are known as Nam Con Son, Vietnam’s largest gas project.

If and when Nam Con Son will be put on the auction block remains to be seen. But some bankers say Asian interest will be strong, especially from Thailand and India, who have regional ambitions but often play second-fiddle to China’s outbound M&A dealmaking prowess.

A BP spokeswoman in Vietnam declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. CNOOC spokesman Xiao Zongwei also declined to comment, and Sinopec declined to confirm any interest in Nam Con Son. Officials from ONGC were not immediately available for comment.

The British oil company announced a $10 billion asset sales program in June as part of a broader set of moves designed to ease pressure from the U.S. government.

“If they (BP) want to make $10 billion through asset divestitures — it’s a discreet field and there will be a lot of buyers for it,” said an Asia-based investment banker who has advised Chinese energy companies on outbound deals.

The banker, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter and declined to be named, added that investment bankers from multiple banks are busy doing due diligence on Nam Con Son, and are trying to convince BP that the project would be an easy asset to sell.

“We haven’t looked at it yet as BP hasn’t opened the bid officially,” PTTEP CEO Anon Sirisaengtaksin told Reuters.

“But (we) heard people say it wants to sell non-core assets.”

FLAT GROWTH

Vietnam’s relatively small status as an oil producer and flat production growth over the last five years means Nam Con Son is unlikely to attract global players such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron, some analysts say.

“With crude reserves of 4.5 billion barrels, the potential there is moderate,” said Neil Beveridge, a Hong Kong-based senior oil analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

“While I expect to see a bit of (production) growth going forward, I don’t think it has the potential to yield the large discoveries that would attract the supermajors.”

U.S.-based ConocoPhillips, Korea National Oil Corp. and Malaysia’s Petronas, have all flocked to invest in Vietnam, even though the southeast Asian frontier market is deemed to be risky and opaque for investors.

Analysts say Chinese oil majors could also come up against political opposition in Vietnam, where suspicion of China runs high due to the territorial disputes between the countries in the South China Sea.

BP has multiple partners in the Nam Con Son project. The exact breakdown of its ownership stake in each portion of the project was not immediately clear. Government-run PetroVietnam is also a partner in the project. BP’s website says the project is worth $1.3 billion.

The assets are considered a high-quality venture that BP — desperate to raise cash for its colossal $20 billion clean-up bill — could easily drum up interest among Asia’s energy giants, many of whom are eager to expand into Southeast Asia.

“ONGC and PTTEP are possible,” Sanford Bernstein’s Beveridge said. “They are active in Vietnam and are always looking for overseas assets.”

Elsewhere, chatter is growing louder that the British giant is seeking deals in other parts of the world.

On Sunday, a source told Reuters that BP is in talks with U.S. oil and gas company Apache Corp and other companies over potential asset sales, but added those sales are still at an exploratory stage.

Also mentioned in media reports and analyst notes as potential disposals: BP’s partnerships in Venezuela, its 60 percent stake in Argentina’s Pan American Energy and its stakes in the Cusiana and Cupiagua fields in Colombia.

CNOOC, China’s largest offshore oil producer, is seen as an interested party for BP’s Pan-American stake after it bought a 20 percent holding when it agreed in March to pay $3.1 billion for half of BP’s partner, Bridas Corp.

CNOOC’s bigger peer PetroChina is “open to closer ties” with BP, but declined to give specifics about involvement in asset sales, PetroChina’s head of investor relations Mao Zefeng told the Financial Times in an article published on Monday.


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BP’s Vietnam Gas Project In Dealmakers’ Radars

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