The unsolicited $18.5 billion bid from the Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC to buy oil and gas company Unocal yesterday has big regulatory...
LOS ANGELES — The unsolicited $18.5 billion bid from the Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC to buy oil and gas company Unocal yesterday has big regulatory hurdles to overcome, not least of which is whether the deal would threaten national security.
Chevron, which has a deal in place to buy Unocal for nearly $16.6 billion in cash and stock, said it will not sweeten its bid — at least not yet.
“We’re satisfied with the bid we have on the table,” Peter Robertson, Chevron vice chairman, told CNBC. “We think it’s still the best opportunity for the shareholders.”
Unocal said Wednesday its board will consider the CNOOC offer. The El Segundo, Calif., company said it had no new comment on the bid yesterday.
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Already, Congress was building pressure on the Bush administration to carefully examine the bid by CNOOC, 70 percent owned by the Chinese government.
A letter to Treasury Secretary John Snow was circulating in Congress yesterday, also calling on the Bush administration to investigate the national-security implications of the proposed deal. So far it had been signed by Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Al Green (D-Texas), Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas).
Snow, who chairs a federal panel that considers security risks of foreign firms buying or investing in U.S. companies, told a Senate Finance Committee hearing on China’s currency system that he expects both parties to voluntarily submit to a review.
Other officials have also said they will press for a review.
“It’s not a business transaction at all,” said C. Richard D’Amato, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional advisory panel.
“This is not a free-market deal. This is the Chinese government acquiring energy resources.”
Even before CNOOC made its offer, two members of Congress appealed to President Bush last week to review it for possible security threats.
They warned of China’s “pursuit of world energy resources.”
Robertson told CNBC a Chevron deal would put more oil and gas into the commercial market.
“Americans are worried about the supply of oil and gas. There is an issue here of who can put more oil and gas into the market on a commercial basis. I think if the Chinese government buys this asset, you can be sure that much of these materials will go to China,” Robertson said.
But many oil-industry experts said that fears being stirred up in Congress over the potential deal are unwarranted, and they warned the response could make it harder for U.S. oil giants to gain the international access they need to grow.
They said a deal between CNOOC and Unocal could benefit U.S. companies, consumers and workers in the long run.
“This is not a company building military aircraft or missile technology. This is energy, at the end of the day,” said Lawrence Goldstein, president of the nonprofit Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York.
Because Unocal’s resource base in the United States is relatively small — it is Unocal’s Asian assets that CNOOC wants — analysts said there is no genuine supply threat to the U.S. market, which imports almost 10.5 million barrels of oil per day.
CNOOC said the acquisition would more than double its production and estimated that 85 percent of the combined reserves of both companies are in Asia and the Caspian Sea region.
Oil analyst Fadel Gheit at Oppenheimer in New York said it would be the “pinnacle of hypocrisy” for the United States to put roadblocks in the Chinese company’s way considering that the Bush administration has repeatedly scolded Russia for not opening its doors wide to U.S. oil companies.
“American companies must expand globally, but if we cut off people from coming into our country, other countries will just block our companies from doing the same,” Gheit said.
Chevron might raise its bid slightly but is not likely to engage in a bidding war with the Chinese government, said Gene Gillespie, an oil analyst with investment firm Howard Weil.
“I think Chevron is more financially disciplined than that,” Gillespie said.
Chevron is not under great pressure to do anything in the short term, Gillespie said, because of the high degree of uncertainty over whether the CNOOC bid would be approved.
The company might raise the cash portion of its bid slightly but will not get involved in “a bidding war with an irrational competitor,” he said.
“They don’t care about returns,” Gillespie said of CNOOC. “They have an unlimited amount of money behind them.”
Another scenario is that the three companies negotiate a deal to divide Unocal’s assets. CNOOC has said it would sell off the company’s U.S.-based operations.
“Maybe the three of them want to sit down and carve up Unocal and take the assets,” said Brian Hicks, co-portfolio manager of the Global Resources Fund, which owns shares of CNOOC. “That make sense.”
Unocal shares rose 16 cents to close at $65.02 yesterday. Chevron shares fell 94 cents to close at $57.33.