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商业 - 能源

拆分风潮乍起,石油巨头末路

Cyrus Sanati 2011年08月08日

康菲石油公司一分为二,诸如英国石油和埃克森美孚等石油巨头中或将掀起拆分潮,彻底改写能源行业的格局。

    上月,康菲石油公司(ConocoPhillips)宣布公司将拆分成两家独立的上市公司,着实让华尔街震惊,也让人们开始质疑大型石油公司存在的理由。如果康菲石油公司分离开采及生产部门与冶炼和营销部门的举动能带来公司市值的增加,其他公司,如英国石油(BP)和埃克森美孚石油公司(ExxonMobil)等可能很快将迫于股东压力而纷纷效仿,继而彻底改写能源行业的格局。

    到目前为止,人们普遍认为“大”才是石油公司制胜的法宝。这个理念在90年代末达到了鼎盛时期,市场上也因此出现了“特大型”石油公司。在美国,康纳和石油(Conoco)牵手菲利普斯石油(Phillips),雪佛兰石油(Chevron)与德士古(Texaco)合并,埃克森石油(Exxon)与美孚石油(Mobil)联姻。在欧洲,英国石油将美国石油公司阿莫科(Amoco)和大西洋里奇菲尔德(Arco)揽入怀中,法国道达尔石油(Total)收购了比利时石油财务公司(Petrofina)和本国的埃尔夫-阿奎坦公司(Elf Aquitaine)。只有皇家荷兰壳牌石油(Royal Dutch Shell)没有受合并潮影响。

    合并的原因很明确——原油价格崩盘。上世纪90年代后期,原油贸易价格一度降至10美元一桶。背后的原因很多,既有环境因素,例如98年的亚洲金融危机,也有结构性因素,例如西方国家的经济增长与原油消费的脱钩。除此之外,可供开采的商业油田的数量逐年减少,而且由于产油国要求从石油开采中分得更多的利益,因此现有油田管理费也是越来越少。

    大多数合并都是成功的,因为这些大公司都藉此建立了有效的商业模型并精简了运营。“大”意味着公司在与石油服务承包商打交道时定价权也就越大,在与外国政府协商时的优势也就越大。然而规模扩大所带来的优势仅惠及各个独立的业务部门:合并提高了冶炼部门的效率,但原因并不在于公司开采和生产部门的壮大,反之亦然。

    这是因为开采部门与冶炼部门的业务没有太多的关联。与普遍认识相反的是,大型石油公司近来几乎没有石油定价权。定价权掌握在拥有丰富石油储备的国家和制定石油市场交易规则的华尔街银行和对冲基金的手中。所以,尽管埃克森美孚能够开采出石油,但却不能保证公司的冶炼部门将原油冶炼成汽油或燃料油后就能赚钱。

单一业务公司的复兴

    希望在石油及天然气行业大展拳脚的投资者们注意到了这一厉害关系。随着投资者将资金注入小型、单一业务公司(专注于单一行业),大型石油公司的股票交易就开始折价。事实上,据花旗投资研究分析公司(Citi Investment Research and Analysis)最近的一项调查显示,自从2000年出现合并潮以来,与小型单一业务竞争对手相比,大型石油公司的股票平均折价一直保持在11%-12%。

    这种折价对于大型公司来说就是几十亿美元市值的损失。拿美国马拉松石油公司(Marathon Oil)来说,这个小型整合石油及天然气公司1月份宣布,公司将一分为二——一家从事开采和生产,另一家专注于冶炼和销售,这与康菲公司的拆分如出一辙。宣布之日的前一天,马拉松公司的市值约为289亿美元。如今,这两家独立的公司,马拉松石油公司(Marathon Oil Corporation)和马拉松原油公司(Marathon Petroleum Corporation)的联合市值为374亿美元,较拆分前增长了30%,这也意味着拆分释放了85亿美元的潜在市值。

    根据拆分决定宣布前日公司的市值计算,如果拆分能为康菲公司带来30%的增长率,那么将有可观的330亿美元的额外市值入账。但是与马拉松公司截然相反,自从拆分决定宣布后,康菲公司的股价一直在下跌——再加上公司的收益乏善可陈,股价反而下跌了3%。

    当然,在宣布拆分决定时,马拉松与康菲公司的交易领域截然不同。与其他整合石油公司相比,马拉松(MRO)折价20%,而康菲与其同行交易的水平持平。似乎市场根据马拉松公司同行的情况对马拉松进行了重新估价,然后为公司提供了额外10%的市值用于弥补整合公司与单一业务公司之间的平均折价差额。如果这一理论再次验证,康菲公司也将拿到10%的增长率,这样公司的市值将增加180亿美元——也算是体面。

    现有的石油巨头——埃克森美孚(XOM),道达尔,雪佛兰(CVX),壳牌(RDSA)以及英国石油(BP)——以及规模略逊一筹的整合石油公司,例如阿美拉达赫斯公司(Hess),必将会密切关注康菲石油(COP)的拆分举动。分析人士已经开始拨弄算盘。大多数认为英国石油拆分的时机已经成熟。去年墨西哥湾所发生的大面积漏油事故使英国石油元气大伤,这位原油巨头目前的股价仅为其净资产值的零头。德意志银行(Deutsche Bank)预计如果英国石油公司剥离其冶炼及营销部门,交易水平与同业公司看齐,公司将拿下150亿——200亿的额外市值。

    但是德意志银行的分析师们称,鉴于公司可能还需花费十亿美元来为去年的原油泄漏善后,因此这种重大战略拆分对于公司来说无异于“蛮干”。消化原油泄漏的影响还需几年的时间,在此期间,英国石油公司也将继续保持其完整性。然而,英国石油已开始采取措施,在不拆分公司的情况下通过出售其最大的炼油厂来压缩其冶炼业务,并藉此赔付泄漏所造成的损失。

    英国石油并不是唯一一家出售炼油厂的公司。例如,壳牌(Shell)在过去的12年中通过变卖资产剥离了40%的炼油业务。因此壳牌的拆分在收益上可能无法与康菲石油相提并论。

    再者,就算拆分可能会带来几十亿美元的额外市值,对于向来保守的石油公司来说,这种大刀阔斧的拆分谈何容易。以埃克森美孚石油公司为例,如果拆分能带来10%的市值增长,那么股东们将新进账430亿美元,相当于突尼斯一年的GDP。但是埃克森美孚是大型石油公司保守派的典型代表,拆分对于该公司来说无异于天方夜谭。

    “虽然埃克森美孚会是拆分增值的最佳候选人,但是该公司这样做的可能性几乎为零。该公司的管理层深信沿用至今的整合经营模式将在未来继续发挥作用。”美国投行Oppenheimer公司能源分析师费德•哥特说。

    然而埃克森美孚也不能无视股东的压力。好在康菲的拆分预计要到明年第一季度才能完成,埃克森美孚仍然有时间实现股价的上扬。

    如果康菲的成功一旦为股东们所接受,相信拆分大型石油公司将成为来年春天年会当中颇为应景的提议。所以明年这个时候,大型石油公司可能会重蹈洛克菲勒标准石油公司(Standard Oil)这一往日巨头的覆辙——迫于市场而不是政府的压力,被迫分崩离析。

    The announcement last month that ConocoPhillips plans to break up into two separately traded companies took Wall Street by surprise, raising uncomfortable questions as to Big Oil's raison d'etre. If COP proves that it can indeed unlock value from separating its exploration and production unit from its refining and marketing units, then other companies, namely BP and ExxonMobil, could soon find themselves under pressure from their shareholders to follow suit, forever changing the energy landscape.

    Up until now, it was widely accepted that being bigger was the key to being a better oil company. That view was taken to its logical extreme in the late 1990s when the "Super Major" oil company was born. In the United States, Conoco merged with Phillips, Chevron merged with Texaco and Exxon merged with Mobil. In Europe, BP snapped up U.S. oil companies Amoco and Arco while France's Total acquired Belgium's Petrofina and fellow French oil company Elf Aquitaine. Only Royal Dutch Shell avoided the merger mania.

    The reason for the mergers was clear -- oil prices had collapsed. In the late 1990s, oil traded down as low as $10 a barrel due to a myriad of events -- some situational, like the Asian economic crisis of 1998, and some structural, like the decreasing link between oil consumption and economic growth in Western nations. In addition, the number of oil fields that were open to commercial development had diminished, while royalties from existing fields were on the wane as oil-producing countries demanded a larger piece of the revenue pie.

    The mergers were seen as a success for most of the majors as they were able to rationalize their business models and streamline operations. Being bigger gave them more pricing power when dealing with oil service contractors and greater leverage when negotiating with foreign governments. But the benefits of being bigger seemed confined to separate business units: While a refining unit got more efficient through the merger, it wasn't because the company had a strong exploration and production unit, and vice versa.

    That's because the exploration side and the refining side of the oil business have little to do with one another. Contrary to popular belief, Big Oil has almost no control over the price of oil these days. That power squarely rests with oil-rich nations that hold most of the world's oil reserves and the Wall Street banks and hedge funds that speculate and make markets in the oil trading game. So even though ExxonMobil pumps oil, it can't guarantee that its refining unit will be able to profitably process a barrel into gasoline or heating oil.

Pure-play revival

    Investors who wanted exposure to the oil and gas sector noticed this disconnect. As they put more money in the smaller, pure-play companies that focused on one industry vertical, Big Oil began to trade at a discount. In fact, since the merger mania of 2000, Big Oil has traded at an average discount of between 11% and 12% compared to their smaller pure play competitors, according to a recent study by Citi Investment Research and Analysis.

    That discount translates into billions of dollars in lost value in companies this big. Take the case of Marathon Oil. The small integrated oil and gas firm announced in January that it was splitting up into two companies – one that concentrated on exploration and production and one that concentrated on refining and marketing, similar to the COP split. The day before the announcement, Marathon had a market value of around $28.9 billion. Today, the two independent companies, Marathon Oil Corporation and Marathon Petroleum Corporation, have a combined market value that is 30% higher at $37.4 billion, which means the split potentially unlocked $8.5 billion in value.

    If COP were to ultimately gain 30% in its split, it would add a whopping $33 billion in value, based on its market valuation on the day before the deal was announced. But unlike with Marathon, COP has seen its share price fall since its announcement -- down around 3% on lackluster earnings.

    Of course, Marathon and COP were trading at different places when they announced their decisions to split up, with Marathon (MRO) trading at around a 20% discount to other integrated oil companies, while COP was trading more or less on par with its peers. It seems like the market revalued Marathon to trade in line with its peers and then credited it an additional 10% in value to make up for the average discount between integrated oil companies and pure-play companies. If that logic holds and COP pops 10%, it could still stand to unlock $18 billion in value – not too shabby.

    The remaining oil majors -- ExxonMobil (XOM), Total, Chevron (CVX), Shell (RDSA) and BP (BP) -- as well has the smaller integrated oil companies, like Hess, will undoubtedly be watching COP (COP) intently as it begins its dismemberment. Analysts have already started to fiddle with the numbers. Most have pointed at BP as being ripe for a break up. The oil major currently trades at a fraction of its net asset value, thanks mostly to the black eye it took from the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Deutsche Bank estimates that if BP were to spin off its refining and marketing unit, it could unlock $15 to $20 billion in value if it were to trade in line with its peers.

    But the analysts at Deutsche Bank say it's "foolhardy" to believe that the company would make any major strategic split given the billions of dollars in potential losses it still faces in connection to last year's oil spill. It could take years for that mess to be sorted out, keeping BP together by force. Then again, BP is already taking steps to reduce its refining presence without a split by selling off some of its largest refineries to help pay for damages in connection with the spill.

    BP is not alone in selling off its refineries. For example, Shell has cut 40% of its refining capacity in the last 12 years through asset sales. A split in Shell's case therefore might not yield the same value as it would for COP.

    Furthermore, oil companies are conservative, so convincing them to make a radical split, even if it could potentially unlock billions of dollars in value, won't be easy. Take ExxonMobil. Just a 10% increase in value through a split would be worth $43 billion to shareholders, which is equivalent to the GDP of Tunisia. But ExxonMobil is known as the most conservative member of Big Oil, making any split hard to imagine.

    "Although ExxonMobil would the ideal candidate since a split could unlock the most value, it is the least likely to do so, as management is convinced that the integrated model will serve it in the future as it has in the past," says Fadel Gheit, the energy analyst at Oppenheimer.

    But even ExxonMobil isn't immune to shareholder pressure. COP is slated to complete its split in the first quarter of next year, giving the company's shares some time to turn to the upside.

    If the ConocoPhillips story is a success for shareholders, there will be calls to break up Big Oil just in time for the annual meetings in the spring. So by this time next year, it is possible that Big Oil will go the way of Rockefeller's once gargantuan Standard Oil -- with the markets, not the government, forcing a break up this time.

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