* Klesch buys Milford Haven refinery from Murphy Oil
* Refinery will restart after deal completed in autumn
* Deal safeguards around 450 jobs
* Investor eyes more refinery acquisitions in Europe (Adds comments from Klesch)
By Ron Bousso
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - U.S. entrepreneur Gary Klesch is buying the Milford Haven oil refinery on the coast of Wales, safeguarding around 450 jobs and betting an ailing European refining industry can only move up.
Klesch agreed on Thursday to buy the 135,000 barrels per day refinery from Murphy Oil for an undisclosed sum, and vowed to restart operations at the struggling plant.
The announcement followed more than two years of failed attempts by Murphy to sell its British refining and retail business and as many other European refiners face huge losses amid increasing overseas competition.
But Klesch, a seasoned investor credited with bringing distressed debt investing - or “vulture capitalism” as it is described by some of its critics - across the Atlantic, is confident now is the time to invest.
“Could it go lower? Yeah, probably. But the potential for upside versus downside is probably in your favour given where we’re at,” Klesch said.
The size of the refinery, the location on the Atlantic coast and its “passionate employees” all work in favour of the investment, he said.
“By taking a long-term investment view we aim to secure the future of this refinery for its employees and the broader community,” Klesch said in a statement announcing the deal.
He would not comment on the value of the deal, but said that the Welsh and British governments acted as “honest brokers” in the deal that ended months of speculation.
Klesch, 67, whose company already owns the Heide refinery in Germany, is planning on buying more European refineries.
“In the commodities cycle, we are probably in a trough ... so you will see us buying more refineries in the space of three to six months,” he said.
“You will see us add more to our metals side and buy some more steel mills. We are very active at the moment,” he said, adding most of that activity related to Europe.
Murphy halted production at the plant in May after failing to strike a deal with London-based private equity fund Grey Bull.
The plant will return to production once the acquisition is completed and cleared by the various authorities in the autumn, Klesch, 67, said.
“My guess is we will close it (the acquisition) in the end of October and re-start it (the refinery) very, very shortly thereafter,” he said.
Murphy said it was negotiating a separate deal for the sale of its UK retail business operated by subsidiary Murco.
The Klesch Group is a global industrial commodities business, with three divisions specialising in the production and trading of chemicals, metals and oil.
Around 2 million barrels per day of Europe’s oil refining capacity, or roughly 15 percent, must close by 2018 to balance the market, oil consultancy JBC Energy says. (Editing by David Holmes and Mark Potter)