Chrysaor to take over Premier Oil, creating UK North Sea's biggest producer

LONDON (Reuters) - Private equity-backed Chrysaor has agreed a reverse takeover of Premier Oil PMO.L, the firms said on Tuesday, creating the British North Sea's largest oil and gas producer at a time the sector is facing a sharp decline in demand.

FILE PHOTO: Drilling rigs are parked up in the Cromarty Firth near Invergordon, Scotland, Britain January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne/File Photo

The deal, which will see Premier’s creditors paid $1.23 billion in cash, will fold one of the world’s oldest independent producers into a private equity-backed group in which Premier shareholders will receive an expected 5.45% stake.

Chrysaor’s largest shareholder, Harbour Energy, is expected to own just over 39% of the merged company, which will stay listed on the London Stock Exchange.

The combined group, which will have a new name, will be run by Harbour Chief Executive Linda Cook, while Chrysaor CEO Phil Kirk will be head of its European business. Current Premier CEO Tony Durrant will not have a role.

Premier Oil shares were up about 5% at 15.93 pence by 1405 GMT, but are still down more than 84% in the year to date. Benchmark Brent crude oil LCOc1 prices have fallen as low as $16 a barrel this year as the coronavirus sapped global demand.

Premier, which traces its history back to the 1930s, underwent debt restructuring in 2017 after the last oil price collapse. It currently has net debt of $1.9 billion, and before the announcement had a market capitalisation of $182 million.

The deal still needs approval by regulators and Premier’s creditors and shareholders. “The Board intends to recommend unanimously this transaction to shareholders,” Premier chairman Roy Franklin said.

Creditors, who the companies’ spokesmen said will get between 70 and 80 cents on each dollar owed, will also receive shares in the new group, though overall, Premier stakeholders will hold not more than 23%.

Chrysaor, backed by private equity firms Harbour and EIG, has become a major North Sea producer by buying up British fields from Royal Dutch Shell RDSA.L and ConocoPhillips COP.N, spending about $5.7 billion since 2017.

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Kirk said while the group had not yet paid out its owners any “meaningful” amount, the plan was to start paying dividends with the merged group.

“Our investors of course would be happy to have a dividend some day,” future CEO Cook told a conference call.

“But I think they’re also more interested in making sure we have a sustainable, vibrant portfolio with a lot of... growth so that any dividend that we decide to pay in the future is going to be sustainable.”

Chrysaor produces just under 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). Combined with Premier's output of around 70,000 boe/d, it would become be the biggest oil and gas producer in the British North Sea, topping BP BP.L and Shell.

Premier also brings to the table a 25% stake in Mexico’s Zama shallow water offshore project, plus production in east Asia.

It will withdraw from a planned purchase of some BP fields, Premier’s Durrant said. The new firm will also be able to use tax allowances from past losses Premier has accrued.

“We estimate (Premier) shareholders gain a low premium merger with upside from materially reduced balance sheet risk and tax synergies,” Jefferies analysts said in a note.

A prospectus on the proposed reverse takeover is expected towards the end of the year, Kirk and Durrant told Reuters.

Chrysaor has hired banks BMO, Barclays, Premier RBC and Jefferies to work on the deal, while Premier’s biggest creditor ARCM has been working with Moelis, and other creditors with Lazard.

Graphic: British North Sea producers link:

Graphic: Premier Oil at a glance link:

Additional reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Jan Harvey