* InterOil looks to focus on gas exploration, LNG
* Trafigura's Puma beefs up Asia-Pacific business
* InterOil would make an attractive takeover target -
(Adds details on PNG operations, analyst comments, Puma
By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, June 30 InterOil Corp has
agreed to sell its Papua New Guinea oil refinery and petroleum
products distribution business to Singapore-based Puma Energy
Group for $526 million to focus on gas exploration.
The move could set up InterOil as a target for major oil and
gas companies looking to expand into Papua New Guinea, where
ExxonMobil Corp recently started exporting liquefied
natural gas from its $19 billion PNG LNG project.
"It certainly increases the attractiveness of InterOil to
potential M&A," said Nik Burns, an analyst at UBS. "We think
there is considerable interest in their upstream business."
InterOil's main attraction is its 36 percent stake in the
Elk and Antelope gas fields in PNG, where it recently brought in
France's Total SA as a 40 percent partner and where
Oil Search Ltd also recently bought a 23 percent stake.
"Our upstream and LNG business has become core to the
company's growth and, as a result of the success we have had in
discovering and monetizing gas, the time is right to focus on
this part of our business," InterOil chief operating officer Jon
Ozturgut said in a statement.
InterOil and Total want to develop the Elk and Antelope
fields by building a new LNG project in PNG, while ExxonMobil
and Oil Search see the fields as a potential source of gas for
an expansion of the PNG LNG project.
Another company that has been eyeing opportunities in PNG is
Australia's Woodside Petroleum, which is looking for
acquisitions to fill a gap in its growth prospects.
For trading giant Trafigura's Puma Energy, the acquisition
of InterOil's refining arm marks the latest in a rapid expansion
following its purchase of two fuel distributors in Australia
last year. It plans to fund the acquisition using available cash
and bank facilities.
"This investment marks an important step in the execution of
our regional strategy and offers considerable synergy with our
developments in Australia and the broader Pacific region," Puma
Chief Executive Pierre Eladari said in a statement.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Miral Fahmy)