Crashing Oil Prices and Equity Market Volatility Grind Energy Deals to a Halt

At less than $1B in M&A, total Q1 upstream deal value falls to historic low

Enverus, the leading oil & gas SaaS and data analytics company, has released its Q1 summary of M&A activity, which revealed a substantial collapse as oil prices plunged to 18-year lows. Only $770 million in U.S. upstream deals were completed during the first quarter of 2020—less than one-tenth of the ~$8 billion average for Q1 from 2010-2019. Virtually all deal activity occurred before the global COVID-19 pandemic and production hike from Saudi Arabia slammed markets in early March.

"Even before oil prices collapsed on COVID-related demand issues and the surge in global production led by Saudi Arabia, M&A markets were highly challenged," commented Enverus Senior M&A Analyst Andrew Dittmar. "Responding to Wall Street pressures, E&Ps had slashed spending and refocused from growth to cash flow dampening the appetite for acquisitions."

The largest deal of Q1 was the successful stalking horse bid by Alpine Energy Capital for the assets of Permian producer Approach Resources, which opted for a sale of all assets in Chapter 11. In pursuing a post-bankruptcy sale, Approach joined STACK-focused Alta Mesa and Marcellus developer EdgeMark Energy. EdgeMark's assets were acquired in Q1 by KeyBank via a $90 million credit bid. With creditors perhaps leery of taking equity in a reorganization, Chapter 11 sales may drive future deal flow. On the other hand, creditors of Sanchez Energy are reportedly taking equity in a reorganized company as a possible conclusion to its Chapter 11 process and Whiting Petroleum filed a voluntary Chapter 11 on April 1st with a restructuring agreement in principle with certain debtholders.

More positively, mineral and royalty assets had substantial momentum coming into 2020. In early January, Kimbell Royalty Partners, one of six publicly traded royalty companies, bought a diversified package from private equity sponsored Springbok Energy I & II for $175 million.

"Mineral and royalty interests are playing an increasing role in deal markets," said Enverus Market Research Director John Spears. "We expect additional capital will be interested in deploying here, even in a down market. The challenge will be navigating a wide bid/ask spread between buyers and sellers with rig numbers and development plans for acreage in flux."

Wide bid/ask spreads are also an issue on the operator or working interest side of the industry, as buyers and sellers attempt to get a handle on collapsing crude prices. In addition, trends around a slowed pace of drilling and reduced capex have accelerated substantially, reducing the need to add further inventory. Finally, access to capital is tightly constrained for most E&Ps as debt and equity markets are largely out of reach and many banks are looking to trim rather than expand energy industry exposure for their lending books amid an uncertain outlook.

For select potential buyers that have or can access capital, there should be ample opportunities once some stability is established in commodity and equity markets. Buyer groups with potential to capitalize on opportunities are likely to include majors, private and institutional capital, and foreign buyers.

"As painful as the downturn is, this may finally push the industry into healthy consolidation that leaves us with larger, more efficient, and better capitalized operators when the recovery starts," added Dittmar. "These buyers will likely have opportunities to acquire high-quality assets that might have been viewed as too expensive before the downturn."

It remains to be seen when buyers may feel comfortable enough with the market to commit to deals. Based on past market crashes, it will take the establishment of a bottom in commodity prices and the creation of upward momentum before companies feel comfortable committing to deals. That timing remains uncertain and will be driven by a post-COVID return to normalcy and OPEC's decision around production levels.

Source: Enverus
Date: Apr 2, 2020