The results of Chevron's disclosure tomorrow morning could be pivotal in the company's politically charged battle to buy Unocal.

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SAN FRANCISCO — The stakes will be higher than usual tomorrow morning when Chevron discloses its second-quarter earnings — the results could be pivotal to the company’s politically charged battle to buy Unocal.

The financial report for the three months ended in June will carry added punch because it’s likely to influence the price of Chevron’s stock, which is being used to pay for 60 percent of the company’s Unocal bid.

If Chevron’s quarterly profit is impressive enough to boost the company’s stock price, then the Unocal offer becomes worth more than its value of $17.3 billion, or $64.07 per share, based this afternoon’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

As Chevron’s bid becomes more valuable, it becomes more difficult for China’s government-owned CNOOC Ltd. to overcome the prickly political opposition to its rival bid and persuade Unocal shareholders to accept its higher all-cash offer of $18.1 billion, or $67 per share.

On the flip side, a poor quarter from Chevron might depress its stock price, causing Unocal shareholders to override the recommendation of Unocal’s board and reject Chevron’s offer in a vote scheduled Aug. 10.

Tomorrow’s earnings announcement comes at a crucial juncture for Chevron and Unocal. Both companies began meeting with Unocal’s major shareholders today to drum up support for Chevron’s bid. The meetings are expected to continue for at least another week.

Propelled by persistently high oil prices, Chevron appears more likely to exceed the consensus analyst estimate of $1.69 per share than to fall below it, said Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit.

The consensus analyst estimate serves as a benchmark that typically influences the direction of a company’s stock after earnings are announced.

Although he is projecting second-quarter earnings of $1.70 per share, Gheit said he won’t be surprised if Chevron’s results are at least 10 cents per share above that figure.

“All the industry signs I have seen so far point in that direction,” Gheit said. “And if (Chevron’s) stock moves up on strong earnings and bullish comments from management, then it would be very difficult for CNOOC to go high enough to win.”

Two of the world’s largest oil companies, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, today reported that their second-quarter profits rose by about one-third, buoyed by high prices for oil and gas and rising worldwide fuel consumption.

CNOOC, part of the China National Offshore Oil Corp., already has been authorized to raise its Unocal bid to $69 per share, according to documents filed earlier this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But CNOOC Chairman Fu Chengyu declined to up the ante unless Unocal agreed to pay a $500 million fee that will be triggered if the deal with Chevron isn’t completed.

A CNOOC spokesman declined to discuss the Chinese company’s bidding strategy.

Morningstar analyst Mark Optigrove, echoing the sentiment of many industry observers, expects CNOOC to raise its bid before Unocal’s Aug. 10 shareholder vote. “Chevron seems to have the advantage now, but I don’t think we have seen the end of this story,” he said.

Investors seem to doubt the bidding will move higher. Unocal’s shares stood at $65.22, up 25 cents, during Thursday’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Unocal’s merger agreement doesn’t hinge on the fluctuations in Chevron’s stock price, said company spokesman Barry Lane.

But the final decision on Chevron’s proposed takeover will be made by Unocal’s shareholders — a group of capitalists generally interested in making as much money as possible.

Price, though, isn’t the sole consideration in this takeover tug-of-war because of the politics involved.

Congressional representatives have raised red flags about CNOOC’s bid, expressing concerns that the sale of a U.S. oil company to a company backed by communist China might raise national security risks _ fears that Chevron has played upon to rally support for its lower offer.

Lawmakers also have questioned whether the bidding field is unfairly tilted in CNOOC’s favor because the Chinese deal relies on government-subsidized financing that would be virtually impossible for a U.S. company to obtain.

The strident criticism of the CNOOC bid could lead to an extensive government review lasting six to nine months, ending with the deal being blocked and Unocal shareholders jilted at the altar. The risks of U.S. government intervention prompted Unocal to ask CNOOC to raise its 5-week-old bid even higher, to no avail so far.

If Chevron’s stock surges to significant gains after Friday’s earnings report, CNOOC may have to raise its offer to as high as $72 per share if it hopes to sway Unocal shareholders, Gheit said.

CNOOC is “playing with fire (by waiting),” Gheit said. “They have said that Unocal is a must-have asset for them, but they aren’t behaving in that fashion so far.”

The prospect of a Unocal takeover hasn’t done much for Chevron’s stock. The company’s shares are worth slightly less than their price of $59.31 just before the early April announcement of the Unocal deal.