Norwegian Fund in Favor of BG-Shell Merger

Ben van Beurden
Ben van Beurden

Published Jan 21, 2016 12:23 AM by The Maritime Executive

Norway's $790 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, will vote in favor of the merger of energy companies Royal Dutch Shell and BG , it said on Wednesday.

"Norges Bank Investment Management considers that the transaction accelerates value for BG Group PLC shareholders and is in the best long-term interest of Royal Dutch Shell PLC shareholders," the fund said in two statements to shareholders.

A spokeswoman for the fund said the price of the transaction was fair overall.

"In an environment of low oil price, we believe the companies will stand stronger together," she said.

The fund is Shell's fifth-biggest investor with a stake of 2.46 percent and BG's second-biggest investor with a stake of 3.73 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Shell’s Profits Hit

Shell expects to report a near halving in profits in the last three months of 2015 following the further slide in oil prices, it said on Wednesday, a week before shareholders meet to vote on the $47 billion deal.

Giving preliminary estimates for results ahead of the meeting, Shell said its underlying fourth-quarter earnings on a current cost of supplies basis would be between $1.6-1.9 billion, down from $3.26 billion a year ago.

Oil prices fell by another 24 percent in the fourth quarter, as global supplies continued to outstrip demand, further eroding oil companies' upstream revenues.

Shell said it expects a reduction of 10,000 staff after the merger. Synergies from the BG merger “will include a reduction of some 10,000 staff and direct contractor positions in 2015-16 across both companies, as streamlining and integration of the two companies continue,” Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden said.

BG Looking Good

However, BG, which also provided a short trading update on Wednesday ahead of its own shareholder meeting on the takeover deal next week, positively surprised investors by beating its 2015 production target.

"We believe the in-line performance of both companies should be viewed positively prior to the Shell shareholder vote," said analysts at BMO Capital Markets, who rate Shell shares as “underperform.”

The companies aim to have cut a combined 10,000 staff and contractor jobs by the end of this year and Shell said on Wednesday it could further cut combined capital investments below the $33 billion targeted for 2016.

Shell shareholders are set to cast their votes on the deal on January 27, followed by BG investors the next day, the final hurdles to be cleared for the deal to proceed, one of the biggest energy sector acquisitions in the past decade.

Many of Shell and BG's big shareholders have voiced support for the deal but a slump in oil prices below $30 a barrel has raised concerns that Shell may be overpaying for the smaller rival.

Shell said on Wednesday it expected the deal to go through within weeks.

"The completion of the BG transaction, which we are expecting in a matter of weeks, will mark the start of a new chapter in Shell, to rejuvenate the company, and improve shareholder returns," van Beurden said in a statement on Wednesday.

BG, which will report full-year results on February 5, said it expected 2015 production volumes to have hit 704,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), above its previous forecast of 680-700,000 boed, due to new fields that have come on stream in Australia, Brazil and Norway.

The news is positive for Shell, which is banking on access to new resource-rich areas, especially in Brazil, to make the BG acquisition worthwhile.

Shell said its asset sales in the past two years had amounted to more than $20 billion, far outstripping its original plan to make $15 billion worth of divestments.

For BG, the fall in oil prices meant it booked a $700 million impairment charge in the fourth quarter related to fields in the North Sea and Tunisia, it said on Wednesday.

Shell said it expected full-year core earnings of $10.4-10.7 billion which would be below the consensus market forecast of $10.8 billion. It will publish full-year results on Feb. 4.

It maintained its 2016-18 asset sales projection of $30 billion, provided its acquisition of BG goes through, and its 2016 dividend payment forecast of at least $1.88 per share.

Shell 'A' shares were down 5.6 percent at 1027 GMT and BG shares were 2.2 percent lower, in line with a 3.4 percent fall of the European oil and gas index.