Acquisitions in the oil and gas industry appear ready to increase in 2018 and shift from survival strategies toward growth objectives, key business observers at worldwide professional services firm EY said on 13 February in its Global Transactions Outlook webcast.
Although the total value of industry acquisitions declined in 2017, that outcome mainly reflected a small number of very large deals the previous year. If those deals—including five valued each in excess of $10 billion—are removed from consideration, the value of the remaining transactions showed an increase and a growing upward trend during 2017, said Andy Brogan, global oil and gas transactions leader at EY in the United Kingdom.
“We saw the market shift from very much survival mode to sensible growth mode,” he said and called last year’s market performance as “healthy.” Brogan described sensible growth as “growth in an era where people are a lot less confident of what the future is going to look like than they would have been, so they’re orienting growth to be resilient in the face of uncertainty.”
As a result, he said, companies are “carefully targeting the assets that will make money during the life cycle, carefully targeting the assets that will be more flexible from a capital-intensity perspective, and integrating assets” to provide a number of options across their businesses.
“Those I think are the trends that are now going to be with us in the medium term,” Brogan said.
Jon Clark, Europe, Middle East, India, and Africa (EMEIA) transactions oil and gas leader at EY in the UK, said, “We’ve seen a stabilizing oil price, we’ve got more and diverse capital sources, and we’re seeing structural innovation in deals. So I think they’re all going to contribute to a more active level of deals in 2018.”
Oil Demand Becomes Key
However, deal strategies could change. “We’ve talked about peak oil for many, many years, but that’s been from a supply standpoint,” Clark said. “We’ve basically meant, if you find it, someone will buy it. But now the conversation about peak oil is turning much more toward demand perspective.”
While peak demand may not be imminent, he said, “I think deals in 2018 and beyond, and indeed Capex spend, are really going to focus much more on volumes that can be connected to a market. Or in fact, we may simply be seeing deals that actually just buy that market access. So I think we’re going to see some very different deals in 2018, greater volume, and I’m really excited about the next 12 months.”
Vance Scott, Americas oil and gas leader in transaction advisory services at EY, said, “I think shale will continue to be resilient and reset the industry. …. The gains in technologies and efficiencies are going to drive through and continue to pressure the supply side. Like Jon, I think the demand development is going to be the wild card in how the market balances.”
Dividends Taking Precedence
A further trend is an emphasis on acquisitions that can generate free cash-flow returns. “Boards of directors are asking the management to pay dividends, rather than just completely reinvest capital for growth,” Scott said. “I think there is going to be a focus on creative transactions that is fueled by private equity and, I guess, more capital discipline in the industry, as the boards try to drive for these better returns from their past investments.”
However, any move toward growth will likely be slower in the oilfield services (OFS) sector than elsewhere in the industry.
“I’m afraid we simply are going to continue to see a difficult year in this [oilfield services] industry, and the markets are not yet shifting from survivor [mode] to growth mode,” said Celine Delacroix, EMEIA oilfield services transaction advisory services leader at EY.
Continued OFS Restructuring
“So we see more of an activity driven by restructuring,” she continued. “Also by portfolio optimization, divestment from some geographies or of noncore assets and divisions, which could actually create some very good opportunities for trades and private equity alike because there will be some good businesses that have underperformed or been neglected within large groups, which are going to come to market.”
In all, she characterized her outlook for acquisitions in oilfield services as “not too optimistic but not too pessimistic either.”