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Is the Argentina Asset Sale Good for Apache?

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Apache (NYSE: APA  ) recently said that it is exiting its operations in Argentina, marking the company's latest asset sale following a string of divestments last year. While the transaction is sure to affect Apache's near-term production, it should pay off in the long run. Let's take a closer look.

Apache offloads Argentina assets
On Wednesday, Apache announced an agreement to sell all of its operations in Argentina to state-owned YPF (NYSE: YPF  ) for $800 million in cash, plus the assumption of $52 million of bank debt as of June 30, 2013. Apache received a $50 million deposit on the transaction, which is expected to be completed within the next 30 days, subject to customary post-closing adjustments.

The assets up for sale include stakes in more than 25 Argentinian oil and gas fields, including the massive Vaca Muerta shale field. In addition to local players, Vaca Muerta's resource potential -- estimated at 661 billion barrels of oil and 1,181 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- has attracted the likes of Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) , which inked an agreement with YPF last year to jointly develop the field.

The sale of these assets, which represented reserves of approximately 540 billion cubic feet of natural gas equivalent and were producing an average 256 million cubic feet of gas equivalent per day last year, will certainly have a noticeable impact on Apache's near-term production. But when looked at through the lens of the company's portfolio rebalancing strategy, I think the sale is almost certainly a net positive.

Why YPF sale is good for Apache
First, the sale is consistent with Apache's strategy of focusing on assets that offer more predictable and profitable long-term growth, such as its growth core assets in Texas's Permian Basin and Oklahoma's Greater Anadarko Basin, while divesting riskier international assets.

When questioned regarding the company's motives behind the sale to YPF, Apache's Chairman and CEO Steve Farris said: "[Argentina] was 3% or 4% of our reserves, 3% or 4% of our production. ... [I]f you think about the opportunities that we have in North American onshore and you think about bringing that money forward ... it made all the sense in the world."

As Farris notes, Apache has better opportunities in onshore North American resource plays than it does in Argentina. Moreover, the Vaca Muerta assets are likely much better suited for a company like YPF than Apache, especially considering current uncertainties surrounding foreign investment in Argentina, including repatriation of profits, domestic price controls, and the more recent issue of inflation.

Asset sales driving strong results
Over the past year, Apache has brought in almost $8 billion in proceeds from asset sales and monetizations, including the sale of its Gulf of Mexico shelf assets to private equity firm Riverstone Holdings for $3.75 billion in July, the sale of its Canadian assets to Ember Resources for $214 million in August, the sale of a third of its Egyptian oil and gas assets to China's Sinopec (NYSE: SHI  ) in late August, and finally, the most recent sale of its Argentinian assets to YPF.

Not only have asset sale proceeds allowed the company to pay down debt, bolster its balance sheet, and return cash to shareholders, but they have also allowed it focus more intensely on higher-margin, liquids-rich opportunities in the U.S. -- namely Texas' Permian Basin and Oklahoma's Greater Anadarko Basin -- that are generating much stronger returns for the company.

The bottom line
Once you look past some of Apache's near-term challenges, it becomes quite clear that the company's portfolio rebalancing strategy -- highlighted by its most recent sale to YPF -- will drive stronger growth in the years ahead as its Permian and Anadarko Basin assets account for a much larger share of production, earnings and cash flow. Further, with more than 60,000 remaining drilling locations across both plays, development is still in the very early stages, giving Apache a huge runway for future growth.

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Arjun Sreekumar

Arjun is a value-oriented investor focusing primarily on the oil and gas sector, with an emphasis on E&Ps and integrated majors. He also occasionally writes about the US housing market and China’s economy.

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