First reactions to Exxon’s big play

Exxon’s $41bn deal to buy XTO energy is the big news of the day. I’m sure there will be much analysis forthcoming from every corner on this one, but here are my quick-hit thoughts from afar:
  1. Great timing by Exxon. Everyone is worried about a gas glut from shale and LNG this summer, and while the price isn’t exactly distressed, this is probably about the best moment to pick up a premium large asset like XTO. I continue to admire Exxon’s countercyclical investment strategy, which they execute perhaps better than any other company on earth.

  2. Great synergy between XTO’s capabilities in unconventional gas and Exxon’s global reach. Shale gas is still largely a North America story – see for example this WSJ article from tow weeks ago – and clearly has massive geological potential in many other parts of the world.

  3. Related to the first two – there may be substantial balance sheet synergies, in that there are attractively priced unconventional gas opportunities out there, but with low gas prices in the near future, XTO lacks the capital and cash flow to take full advantage of them. Exxon, of course, does.

  4. I think of Exxon as carrying an enormous cash hoard, so found it fascinating that they chose to do an all-stock deal. Then I looked and saw that they have burned through almost $25bn (net of income!) in the last 12 months, mostly on capex and stock buybacks. Once again… I am hard-pressed to find another company that plays the cycle better.

Update on #4: Cyrus Sanati makes the good point that Exxon did this deal with the treasury shares it bought back - much like it did for its transformative $80bn acquisition of Mobil a decade ago.

Update 2: An eagle-eyed analyst picks out an interesting condition:
Buried deeply in the 76 pages of legalese that is the Exxon Mobil-XTO $31 billion merger is a clause that basically says: If Congress regulates hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, Exxon gets to back out of the deal.
Exxon is ever conservative, and maybe more of the value is in the U.S. than I thought in #2.

The same analyst doesn't believe this is a concern in the short term, although more for feasibility than because the underlying science is settled:
“It is our understanding that the EPA is already investigating some reports of contamination. We believe congressional leaders will wait to act until more information is available from the EPA and it is unclear when EPA would be able to complete a study,” he says.
I wonder if/how the deal gets unwound if this regulation passes a few years down the road?

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