Exclusive: U.S. Murphy Oil eyes up to $3 billion Asia assets sale - sources

HONG KONG Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:37am EST

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Murphy Oil Corp (MUR.N) is considering selling some of its Asian oil and gas assets in a deal that could fetch up to $3 billion, sources said, as it looks to scale down in the region like some other U.S. energy companies.

Energy majors from BP (BP.L) to Shell (RDSa.L) have faced pressure from shareholders to control spending and return spare cash amid concerns over the impact of rising costs and the returns available if oil prices drop.

These sales provide Asian energy firms with an opportunity to expand in the region.

Brightoil Petroleum Holdings Ltd (0933.HK) is one such company that has been keen to buy upstream assets for years.

The Hong Kong-listed oil trader and shipping firm has held talks with U.S. oil companies Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) and Newfield Exploration Co (NFX.N) to buy their China operations, sources said.

Trading in Brightoil's shares has been suspended since February 11 pending an announcement of a "very substantial acquisition".

Murphy's planned sale comes after Newfield and Hess Corp (HES.N) sold their Southeast Asia operations, partly to address share price underperformance. The move has been prompted in part by the strong demand generated from the Newfield and Hess auctions last year, the sources, who had knowledge of the plan, said.

The process, however, was still in its early stages and that Murphy could, in the end, decide not to sell, they said.

Murphy, which has a $10.7 billion market value, is working with a U.S.-based consultant which has informally reached out to some potential Asian energy companies and sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, they added.

Murphy has interests in oil and gas fields in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and Australia. Malaysia is the biggest of Murphy's Asian portfolios, and accounted for more than 45 percent of its total 2012 net production, according to the company's website.

As at December 31, 2012, the company had majority interests in six separate production contracts in Malaysia, covering approximately 2.79 million gross acres, and holds interests in four exploration licenses in Indonesia over a total of 3.381 million gross acres, according to the website.

One of the deal structures being discussed include selling just 30 percent of the Malaysian operations, one of the sources said.

A Murphy spokesman did not immediately reply to an email and return a call to his office seeking comment. The sources declined to be identified as the company's plans are confidential.

(Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu in HONG KONG and Jane Xie in SINGAPORE; Editing by Michael Flaherty, Miral Fahmy and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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