With a market cap of just over $1 billion, Penn Virginia Corporation (NYSE: PVA) is ripe for a takeover in the mind of George Soros, who recently increased his stake in the company to 9.53%. Soros wants Penn Virginia to offer itself up for sale because of its strategic shift toward the Eagle Ford, which comes on the heels of several large acquisitions by bigger E&P players seeking exposure to the prolific play.
Why the Eagle Ford?
The Eagle Ford is now producing over 1 million barrels of crude oil per day, on par with the Bakken up in North Dakota. What makes the Eagle Ford really exciting is that Wood Mackenzie sees the shale play producing 2 million barrels of crude per day by 2020, which would be a 100% gain in just six years, off an already large production base.
Encana Corporation (OVV 0.12%) spent $3.1 billion snatching up 45,500 net acres in the Eagle Ford from Freeport-McMoRan. The newly acquired asset is a part of Encana's shift away from natural gas production and toward more oil weighted output. For $3.1 billion, Encana doubled its oil production by adding 53,000 boe/d (barrels of oil equivalent per day) to its production base while also gaining 400 potential drilling locations to keep boosting its oil output.
To put this into perspective, Penn Virginia owns 86,800 net acres in the Eagle Ford and produces roughly 15,000 boe/d from the play. While this is substantially smaller than 53,000 boe/d, keep in mind that Penn Virginia sees 1,500 possible drilling locations on its acreage. Add in that Penn Virginia just announced it was adding an additional rig to its fleet of six in the area and is forecasting 65%+ oil production growth this year from the Eagle Ford, and the growth runway of its position is substantially longer than Encana's recent purchase.
That could be very appealing to a bigger oil and gas company with the desire to grow oil output and the means to develop the acreage at a quicker pace. To make things even better for a bigger player looking for Eagle Ford exposure, Penn Virginia has been selling off its non-core assets, as has Encana.
Goodbye Selma and Bighorn
Encana Corp just announced it was going to sell its Bighorn gas assets for $1.9 billion, which includes 360,000 net acres and various midstream infrastructure in the area. This comes after Encana sold its Jonah Field gas assets for $1.8 billion a few months ago. Directing money away from natural gas and into oil should boost Encana's margins, generating larger streams of free cash flow that could be used to boost its 1.2% dividend yield or even better, buying up more Eagle Ford acreage.
For Penn Virginia, it sold off its Selma Chalk asset for $73 million not that long ago and is activity marketing its Granite Wash/Mid-Continent acreage. This would leave it with just the Eagle Ford and a small position in East Texas, making it practically a pure Eagle Ford play. This is why Soros thinks it should put itself up for sale, because the Eagle Ford is hot right now, and Penn Virginia would fetch a nice premium in a sale.
Trying to predict what will happen in an activist battle is hard to do, but Penn Virginia has positioned itself perfectly if it does want to be sold. Even if Penn Virginia doesn't want to be sold and is able to rebuff George Soros, it is actively pursuing a solid plan for strong oil production growth, a plan that would reward shareholders seeking growth. Either way, investors win.