China oil deals flow where politics less involved

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Sinopec's $7.2 billion bid for oil explorer Addax Petroleum AXC.TO is a sign that China's energy giants find it easier to secure reserves in parts of the world where there are fewer hang-ups about Beijing owning local natural resources.

Africa and the Middle East, where Swiss-based Addax has its main assets, are more politically disposed to China than are developed nations such as the United States, where local politicians blocked CNOOC's CEO.N $18.5 billion bid for oil company Unocal in 2005, analysts say.

Earlier this month, Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto RIO.AXRIO.L rejected a $19.5 billion tie-up with China's state-owned Chinalco -- a deal that had triggered political and shareholder opposition.

“At the end of the day, they may wonder whether it’s a waste of time going after targets in the developed world,” said Macquarie analyst David Johnson.

“The chances of success are higher in Africa, South America and Kazakhstan than other parts of the world.”

Until now, political sensitivities in the West have limited China’s outbound investments in resources largely to deals executed on the back of loan-for-oil tie-ups.

In the past half-year, China has lent more than $45 billion to Russia, Brazil, Venezuela and Kazakhstan in exchange for long-term crude supplies.

State-owned Sinopec Group, Asia’s top oil refiner, knocked out rival Korea National Oil Co with an offer that is more than four times Addax’s stock price in November, and which is China’s biggest overseas takeover.

Addax AXC.L, based in Switzerland but operating in Africa and the Middle East, has been on the radar of Asia's acquisitive energy firms since February, when CNOOC 0883.HK and India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp ONGC.BO were also touted as potential suitors.

An engineer walks past piles of oil tanks at a PetroChina's oil refinery in Lanzhou, Gansu province, April 21, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

The Addax deal will give Sinopec a strong foothold in oil-rich West Africa and Iraqi Kurdistan and a steady supply of oil for its refining operations.

"The listed company is in desperate need of upstream oil assets to feed its downstream business," said Gordon Kwan, Hong Kong-based head of energy research at Mirae Asset Financial, referring to listed Sinopec Corp 0368.HK600028.SSSNP.N.

“Without that, it would be at the mercy of China’s fuel pricing policy.”


Sinopec’s bid was also helped by the fact that Addax’s CEO, Swiss citizen Jean Claude Gandur -- one of Europe’s richest men -- is also its major shareholder with about 38 percent of the company, and was eager to cash out.

“It’s not that often you have a major shareholder like this -- that’s the main reason why this one became available,” said a Hong Kong-based investment banker who has advised Chinese energy giants on outbound deals, but was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Other Chinese energy firms are eyeing overseas assets in Africa and the Middle East, though future deals might not be as simple as Addax, especially if multiple shareholders disagree about the sale of the target company, bankers say.

CNOOC, China's top offshore oil and gas producer, has hired Goldman Sachs GS.N to advise it on a bid for a stake in Africa-focused oil and gas firm Kosmos Energy, in a deal that may be worth about $3 billion.

Sinopec’s deal with Addax, if completed, should help meet the Chinese giant’s need for quality upstream assets to feed its refining business, analysts say. At least 60 percent of Addax’s shareholders must approve the deal.

Sinopec Group, parent of Sinopec Corp, may inject Addax’s upstream assets in Nigeria, Gabon and Cameroon, as well as the Taq Taq field in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, into its listed unit by the year-end, analysts said.

Sinopec Group lost about $16.7 billion in its refining businesses last year, as soaring crude oil prices in the first half-year and low state-capped fuel prices squeezed margins.

Editing by Ian Geoghegan