I find it interesting that in the past weeks we have seen a few reports stating that BP (LON:BP) could be taken over by Exxon (NYSE:XOM). Given that the idea seems to be taking hold at a couple of banks, I believe that in order to properly analyse that possibility, apart from brokers' speculation, one would have to answer a few questions, critical to assess if a $400bn company would bid for a $139bn one at a premium (which inevitably would require masses of synergies and benefits, as it would have to be done with a capital increase).
I would suggest an academic thought process that answered these questions:
A) Does Exxon want Amoco at a higher price after the history since 1998? When BP merged with Amoco in 1998, the energy world was shocked. Shocked partly because Amoco was seen as a "less attractive" set of assets in the industry. Exxon's current CEO, Rex Tillerson, was a top manager then and knew Amoco well. Since the $110bn merger of BP-Amoco in 1998, what we have seen out of the integration have been challenging returns, unfortunate incidents from Texas City, to Thunderhorse and Prudhoe Bay, culminating in Macondo. Considering that the liabilities and risk of gross negligence of Macondo are better understood but not fully clarified, would Exxon pay premium multiples for a replica of their core business and such a risk?.
B) Is BP much cheaper than other Big Oil stocks? It does not look massively cheaper than its peers, it is simply more of a conglomerate due to TNK. The entire sector has de-rated (see here), and BP only trades at a small discount to its peers (c5%), yet trades at a premium to mid-sized US integrateds. Exxon is much more expensive than BP on multiples, but that is a reflection of its industry leading ROCE position, lack of quoted divisions and centralized structure. Just on ROCE metrics, a very important one for the US giants, BP would be highly dilutive (Exxon's ROCE stands at the top end of the industry range, at 23%, BP at 17.6% ex-Macondo costs).
Meanwhile, BP is conducting a very logical and commendable "shrink to grow" strategy that will inevitably make the company focus in re-structuring. And selling legacy assets means also selling high return, fully depreciated assets, at good price admittedly, but puts pressure on delivering super-normal returns…
Daniel Lacalle's views expressed in this blog are personal and should not be taken as buy or sell recommendations.