ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), the world's largest independent energy exploration and production company by production and proved reserves, completed the sale of its Algeria business unit to Indonesia's state-owned Pertamina for $1.75 billion, resulting in proceeds of $1.65 billion, the company announced last week.
Let's take a closer look at why ConocoPhillips is selling these assets and what impact asset sales will have on the company's growth prospects and dividend.
Asset disposition program
As part of the agreement, Pertamina will take over stakes in three Algerian onshore oilfields from ConocoPhillips Algeria, including a 65% interest in Menzel Lejmat North field, a 3.7% stake in the Ourhoud field, and a 16.9% stake in the EMK field. The fields were recently producing 11,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day net to Conoco.
Over the past three years or so, ConocoPhillips has embarked on a massive asset-sale program, opting to divest riskier international assets in order to concentrate on higher-growth shale opportunities in the U.S. It recently sold its 8.4% interest in Kazakhstan's Kashagan oil field to the nation's state oil company, KazMunayGas, for $5.4 billion and its Nigerian assets to Nigerian oil company Oando.
Including the most recent sale of its Algerian assets, the company has generated $12.4 billion in divestiture proceeds since 2012, which will be used for general corporate purposes and to fund its organic growth programs. Many of Conoco's peers are also divesting noncore assets in order to focus on higher-growth shale opportunities in the U.S.
For instance, Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) recently decided to sell assets in the Middle East to lower its geopolitical risk and focus on its North American oil and gas business, while Anadarko (NYSE:APC) sold its interest in an offshore Mozambique gas field in August to help fund its expansion into key onshore U.S. shale plays, such as Texas' Eagle Ford and Colorado's Wattenberg field.
Similarly, Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) parted ways with the vast majority of its international assets back in 2009 and 2010 to help fund its drilling programs in the Permian Basin and the Mississippi-Woodford trend, while Apache (NYSE:APA) sold a third of its Egyptian oil and gas assets to concentrate on higher-growth assets in Texas and Oklahoma, which will be the biggest drivers of the company's growth going forward.
Impact of Conoco's asset sales
With an improved balance sheet and a more streamlined portfolio as a result of these asset sales, Conoco can also focus more forcefully on its North American onshore assets, which include nearly 2 million net acres across the Eagle Ford, Permian Basin, and the Bakken. Importantly, these plays offer significantly better growth prospects and rates of return, and theyare expected to account for more than 60% of the company's production growth this year.
Over the next five years, Conoco expects to spend $15 billion developing its acreage in these plays, with the largest portion -- $8 billion -- earmarked for the Eagle Ford. As the company continues its full transition toward multi-well pad drilling in the Eagle Ford, it should be able to boost production from the play by more than 130,000 barrels per day by 2017, representing a 16% compound annual growth rate.
The company's success with its asset sales also bodes well for its ability to maintain its hefty 3.7% dividend yield, a major selling point for many investors and one of the company's top priorities. After raising its dividend by 4.5% to $0.69 per share in the second quarter, Conoco should have no problem sustaining those payments, so long as it can achieve its target of growing both production and margins at a CAGR of 3%-5% through 2017.
The bottom line
Though Warren Buffett recently reduced his stake in ConocoPhillips, I don't think you need to follow his lead. In my view, Conoco offers compelling growth prospects -- especially for a company of its size -- and a highly attractive and sustainable dividend yield that should continue to entice income-seeking investors. Furthermore, the company's production through 2017 will be increasingly liquids-rich, which should support growth in margins and cash flows.