A New York hedge fund, also known as an aggressive activist investor, which just bought a huge stake in Apache, is urging the company to get out of the Kitimat LNG project.
Numerous media reports say that Jana Partners recently bought a one billion dollar stake in the Houston and Calgary based oil and natural gas producer.
Bloomberg reports that Jana is a $10 billion hedge-fund firm run by Barry Rosenstein “known for pushing corporate managements to make changes”
According to both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, Jana wants Apache to get out of LNG projects in both Canada and Australia and concentrate on the United States. Bloomberg says
Jana said it has “engaged in discussions with management” and urged Apache to sell its international businesses to focus on U.S. shale opportunities, exit its investment in liquefied natural gas, and be more forthcoming about how much oil and gas lie beneath its holdings in West Texas’s Permian basin, among other demands.
The Wall Street Journal says Jana believes that Apache should free up cash flow:
by exiting two major projects in Canada and Australia that aim to export natural gas, which will take years and billions of dollars to fully develop. If the company doesn’t take further steps to increase its value,
“Investors are unimpressed by [Apache]’s global diversification and have voted with their feet,” Jana wrote in a letter to investors on Monday that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Investors apparently consider the Kitimat project a drain on Apache’s capital, so far costing $2 billion in 2014. The hedge fund said the company had poor performance compared with rivals, several of which are pure-play companies that drill exclusively in U.S. shale formations such as the Permian Basin. Jana also wants Apache to consider selling itself.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Apache raised $10 billion from selling assets around the world. In both February and May Apache said it is looking for a buyer for some of its stake in Kitimat LNG.
In Australia,Bloomberg says Apache is in early discussions with potential buyers for its stake in the $27-billion Wheatstone LNG project in Western Australia, which like Kitimat LNG it operates in partnership with Chevron. First LNG deliveries from Wheatstone are expected in 2016.
Bloomberg quotes a Jana newsletter as saying that selling Wheatstone and its stake in Kitimat would free $3 billion to $4 billion cash to fund share buybacks and reduce future spending risks.
A Calgary-based spokesman for Apache told the Financial Post said joint marketing efforts for LNG by the company and Chevron on the project are progressing, but did not offer detail. It is well known that Kitimat LNG has had a problem finding customers for the project, due to the increasing volatility of the LNG marketplace.
The Shell-led LNG Canada project has customers in the partners, KoGas, Mitsubishi and PetroChina but is also under pressure due to growing costs.
Barron’s quoting a Deutschebank analyst says Apache stockholders will likely welcome Jana’s demands.
Apache management has been active over the past 12+ months managing the portfolio. Since the February 2014 analyst meeting where the baseline expectation was that the LNG business would be retained (selling down the 50% interest in Kitimat has been a consistent goal), there has been a change in Apache’s messaging on the topic. Recent investor presentations and press articles have suggested all or part of Wheatstone could be monetized (we remove LNG capex from our EV/DACF target multiple valuation as a result). From this perspective, Jana’s proposal is likely to reach more sympathetic ears at Apache (today relative to 6 months ago), in our view. The good news for current shareholders is that the substance of the activist proposal has likely already been substantially evaluated by management and a process to this end could already be underway, if not nearing completion.
According to the Hedge Fund Letters, Jana is a very aggressive investment company
Jana Partners’ core investment strategy is primarily based upon a value-oriented (interestingly towards both value and growth stocks) and event-driven investment methodology with the ever-present tagline being “ignore the crowd”. Mr. Rosenstein…is often an activist investor, using Jana Partner’s capital (sometimes combined with others’, most famously with Carl Icahn) infusion into a company to promote change against management directives that he perceives as detrimental to shareholders.
Wall Street Journal
Jana Partners Wants Changes at Apache: Activist Investor Wants Oil Producer to Exit Some Projects to Free Up Cash Flow
July 22, 2014, 10:28 A.M. ET
Apache: Not a ‘Hard Conversation’ With Jana, Deutsche Bank Says
Hedge fund Jana invests $1 billion in Apache Corp. Bloomberg
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Jana Partners call for Change’s in Apache’s Strategy