by Aaron Levitt | December 26, 2013 12:53 pm
Legal troubles can create some pretty nasty problems for energy stocks. *Cough* BP (BP).
But they also can make for some interesting opportunities as well. One of those potential opportunities could be in independent producer Anadarko (APC). It’s toxic past — created by an ill-timed acquisition — has finally come to haunt the producer. After a year of working its way through the judicial system, APC has been handed its first ruling … potentially of many.
And it wasn’t too bullish a ruling for APC stock; shares plunged on the news that Anadarko may have to pay out some pretty big bucks in settlements.
For investors and potential acquirers looking for massive crude reserves, APC stock could be a value in the making.
Anadarko’s current problems stem from its 2006 purchase of oil producer Kerr-McGee. While that seemed like a good purchase at the time for the company and APC stock, the U.S. EPA estimates that Kerr-McGee was one of the worst polluters since its founding in 1929. The company was responsible for various environmental “atrocities” that span everything from uranium mines to creosote wood treatment plants in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
Overall, various environmental agencies estimate that Kerr-McGee fouled over 2,772 sites throughout the country.
Under the strain of the environmental liabilities, Kerr-McGee was forced to reorganize in 2001. As a result, it eventually spun off its chemicals business and a paint pigment plant into Tronox (TROX) in 2005. That spin-off took many of Kerr-McGee’s old environmental liabilities with it. Three months after it was complete, Anadarko offered to buy Kerr-McGee’s oil and gas assets. Tronox was later forced to file for bankruptcy under the weight of the fines and levies.
Here’s where it gets interesting … and potentially bad for APC stock.
TROX later sued APC, claiming that Kerr-McGee purposely had begun to separate oil and gas assets from toxic liabilities and committed fraud by shifting all the bad stuff unto shareholders through the Tronox IPO.
Well, it seems that the judicial system may agree with TROX. A recent court ruling holds Kerr-McGee — and therefore Anadarko — liable for billions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper handed down a ruling saying that APC must pay between $5.15 billion and $14.17 billion in environmental cleanup costs as Kerr-McGee acted with “intent to hinder.” That amount in damages was substantially more than Anadarko predicted and the firm only set aside around $525 million in reserves to cover the fines.
While it still could take years before a resolution is finalized, the market didn’t like what it heard. APC stock plunged about 9.4% when the verdict was announced. Overall, shares of APC stock fell more than 19% as the trial neared its completion during the last three months.
Despite the pending legal mess, APC stock could be a value in the making. The key is that Anadarko is small enough to be bought out, but large enough to make a serious impact on a firm’s oil production and reserve numbers.
APC has huge assets in the Gulf of Mexico as well as offshore Africa. Its claims in Mozambique are some of the largest natural gas fields in the world. At the same time, Anadarko has expanded heavily into U.S. shale fields and has seen its fortunes rise in the Eagle Ford and Colorado’s Niobrara shale. Overall, Anadarko expects that its production will gain about 5 to 7% annually for the next ten years as it taps these assets.
Those huge fields are just the kind of plays that the large super-majors — Exxon (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and Total (TOT) and the like — are clamoring to add. And with the downside now known — a max of $14.6 billion dollars — APC could finally be buy-out bait for one of the giants.
While it wouldn’t be cheap — analysts estimate that APC has an enterprise value of around $51 billion and a buy would it make it the energy industry’s second-biggest corporate takeover in the last ten years — it still could be done. Especially by a state-backed energy firm with deep national pockets.
Even if it doesn’t happen outright, APC stock holders should be alright long-term. The firm has plenty of non-core assets that can be sold to pay for the max liabilities. While that might dent the appeal of APC stock in the short run, Andarko could become a “lean and mean” player over the long haul … and actually perform better.
With a forward P/E of 15, APC stock isn’t the cheapest energy firm on the planet … but it is one of the best run with significant assets. The court ruling has provided a nice entry point. Investors may want to snatch up shares of Andarko before some super major does.
As of this writing, Aaron Levitt did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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