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Forbes/AFX News Limited: Shell CEO calls merger talk with BP, Total ‘speculation’

LONDON (AFX) – Royal Dutch Shell PLC repeatedly evaded persistent merger rumours involving the Anglo-Dutch oil giant and some of the world’s supermajors like BP PLC and France’s Total SA.

During press conferences held in London today, chief executive Jeroen van der Veer took the safe side and always replied ‘no comment’ whenever the issue was raised.

He dismissed it as pure ‘speculation’, thus not meriting any response from the group.

Shell has been the subject of a string of takeover rumours following the oil reserves scandal two years ago.

An accounting error forced it to cut overall reserves by over a fifth, infuriating investors. A far-reaching revamp followed, eventually leading to the historic union of Shell Trading & Transport PLC and Royal Dutch Petroleum Co NV, marking the end of the group’s century-old dual corporate structure.

Shell became vulnerable to takeovers as its share price plummetted, with BP and Total consistently seen as the likely predators.

The rumour emerged again as oil prices soared to new heights, driven mainly by strong demand in China and India and tension in the Middle East.

The boom stepped up the consolidation in the cash-rich industry, which mainly uses acquisitions as a quick fix to grow production and reserves.

The retirement of BP chief executive John Browne also fueled the talk, with some people suspecting the highly respected CEO could be trying to work out an alliance with one of its fiercest rivals before he leaves in 2008.

Browne, after all, was partly behind the the mega-mergers in the 1990s, bringing together BP, Amoco and Arco.

Analysts are one in saying that combining Shell with either BP and Total could create obvious synergies.

However, they are reluctant to believe that a deal of such scale could even happen, mainly because of the strict anti-trust regulations in the US and Europe.

Shell’s complicated governance structure will also make it hard for a third party to launch, or even consider, a takeover, said sector followers.

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