These 2 Independent Producers Could Be Buyout Targets

QEP Resources and Oasis Petroleum look undervalued and could be bought out by a larger peer.

Rupert Hargreaves
Rupert Hargreaves
Jul 23, 2014 at 12:54PM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

The $6 billion deal buyout of Kodiak Oil & Gas by Whiting Petroleum has got market makers talking, and many are now speculating as to where the next deal could take place.

The focus is mainly on North Dakota's Bakken shale formation. It's here where analysts believe that the next deal could take place. Investors are keeping an eye out for independent producers that could be attractive acquisition targets.

Hedge fund holdings
With this in mind, some market commentators have picked up on the fact that independent producers with a large portion of their stock held by hedge funds are more likely to become takeover targets.

Oasis Petroleum (NYSE:OAS) is one such candidate. The company has been picked out as Paulson & Co, the fund managed by John Paulson, owns around 10% of the company. Incidentally, Paulson & Co also owned around 10% of Kodiak.

Additionally, QEP Resources (NYSE:QEP) has attracted attention as activist hedge fund, Jana Partners is listed as having a big stake in the company. Jana owned around 9% of QEP's shares according to first quarter filings and could be pushing QEP to do a deal.

Regional play
Oasis Petroleum is a huge Bakken player. The company has around 500,000 net acres within the region and just under 3,600 gross drilling locations. Moreover, unlike Kodiak, which was a relatively high cost driller, Oasis has been drilling its wells for around $6 million compared to Kodiak Oil & Gas' $8.7 million per well cost.

Why is this the case? Well, prudently, Oasis owns an oilfield service company. Oasis Midstream Services is saving Oasis around $400,000 per well drilled. The midstream operator also provides other services, including the disposal of used water, a service which would usually ramp up well costs.

These low costs have allowed Oasis to pursue an aggressive growth strategy with output expected to hit 46,000 to 50,000 bbl/d for full year 2014, up 350% from production of 10,700 bbl/d recorded during 2011. After this growth Wall Street analysts are forecasting Oasis' earnings per share to jump a solid 28% on average this year to $3.11 followed by 25% growth next year to $3.90. These figures put the company on a 2015 forward P/E of 14.3.

Changing business
QEP Resources has also been singled out as a possible buyout target. QEP is another domestic energy company that's making a transition from gas to oil producer and as a result makes a great transformation play.

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Back during 2010, 89% of QEP's production was gas. However, by full-year 2013 gas production had dropped to 71% of total production, with 29% of production higher-margin oil and natural gas liquids.

What's more, by the end of this year, management is targeting a production profile of 31% oil and 69% gas and natural gas liquids production. This is a 49% compounded growth rate of oil production, or it will be by the end of this year. Oil production is expected to be 15,000 bbl/d by the end of 2014.

And for investors, or prospective buyers, this is where the value is to found. As QEP transitions from low-margin gas to high-margin oil, the company should unlock value. Indeed, according to QEP's own presentation on the matter, the company is still valued as if it were a natural gas producer.

Based on figures calculated back during June, QEP traded at an enterprise value to earnings before interest, taxes, amortization, and depreciation, or EV/EBITDA, multiple of 4.3x. In comparison, the company's energy sector peers traded at an EV/EBITDA figure of 5.5x.

Wall Street analysts are forecasting QEP's earnings per share to jump a solid 97% this year, to $1.75, followed by 38% growth next year to $2.41. These figures put the company at a 2015 forward P/E of 14.1.

Foolish summary
The buyout of Kodiak by Whiting has market makers speculating about further possible deals within the sector. QEP and Oasis are two possible targets.

Indeed, QEP's value is to be found in the company's rising oil production and low valuation in relation to the rest of the sector, while Oasis' value can be found in the company's midstream operations, huge Bakken acreage, and potential for production growth.

Still, I should state that as of yet, no deals are in the pipeline, and the possible buyout of QEP and Oasis is only speculation.