Maersk, DONG oil and gas merger talks stall over price – sources

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Ron Bousso

COPENHAGEN/LONDON (Reuters) – Talks between shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk <MAERSKb.CO> and DONG Energy <DENERG.CO> to merge their oil and gas business have stalled after the two Danish firms could not agree on a price, industry and banking sources said on Wednesday.

The breakdown in talks aimed at creating a joint company worth more than $10 billion may open the door for other bids for DONG’s operations, which it is spinning off as it moves away from fossil fuels to focus on offshore wind, the sources said.

Maersk entered talks with DONG in November after announcing plans to merge or spin off its energy assets as part of a major restructuring to shift the company’s focus to its transport and logistics businesses.

The development will be a blow for Maersk, which said on Tuesday it may consider selling assets or cutting dividends as it seeks to retain its credit rating, which is at risk.

In June, Maersk announced it had lost a major oil production contract in Qatar, adding to capital pressures.

Several private equity funds, including EIG Global Energy Partners, have shown interest in DONG, according to banking sources.

Maersk, DONG and EIG were not immediately available to comment.

This was the second merger attempt of the two businesses in recent years, the sources said.

Bringing together the two Danish companies’ oil and gas divisions was seen by many in the industry as a natural fit, creating a company focussed on the UK and Norwegian North Sea.

But they were unable to agree on the valuation of their assets and the terms of the merger, several sources close to the talks said.

The negotiations were unlikely to resume “any time soon”, according to one source.

Maersk’s Baa1 credit rating was put under review for a downgrade by Moody’s in September. Last month, Standard & Poor’s lowered the company’s credit rating to BBB from BBB+ with a negative outlook.

Maersk said separately this week its planned acquisition of German shipping company Hamburg Süd will replace some 60 percent of revenue lost when the group spins off its energy division.

Nevertheless, Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note this week that all of Maersk’s energy units remained under pressure due to sluggish markets and finding ways to cut costs.

Deal making in the North Sea has slowed in the past few years partly as a result of a global oil price slump and a sharp rise in the number of assets offered for sale in the ageing basin. Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L>, ConocoPhillips <COP.N> and French utility Engie <ENGIE.PA> are seeking to sell their North Sea operations.

DONG produced 89,000 barrels of oil and gas per day in 2016, down from 115,000 barrels daily last year. Its main producing assets include the Ormen Lange, Syd Arne and Laggan-Tormore fields.

Maersk Oil produced an average of 295,000 barrels of oil equivalent in the first nine months of 2016. It suffered a major setback when Qatar chose not to extend its 25-year licence to operate the giant Al Shaheen field and award it from 2017 to Total <TOTF.PA>.

(Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Jane Merriman and Susan Thomas)

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