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The Times: Venture Production

31 August 2007

It has been one of the few disappointments among the Tempus Ten tips for 2007, but after a 25 per cent share price fall in the first three months of the year, Venture Production, the North Sea oil and gas explorer, has begun to claw its way back.

The announcement yesterday that it had raised £585 million of new debt, £350 million of it with Barclays Bank, should add to the momentum. At the start of the year, Venture was a seen as a potential takeover target, but now it is more of a predator. The new debt facility – coupled with a recent £200 million cash injection from the private equity groups 3i and ArcLight – means that Venture has about £1 billion at its disposal for acquisitions.

This could prove crucial in the coming weeks as bankers assert that the eagerly awaited round of consolidation in the North Sea is about to begin. At least 20 deals are on the table, including assets held by Shell, Amerada Hess and Newfield. Experts believe that Tullow Oil may consider offers for some of its North Sea infrastructure, given its success in Africa.

Venture bought Wham Energy, the British minnow, for £14 million last week and that was likely to be only a taster for other deals to come. Crucially, despite disappointing results from a number of appraisal wells this year, Venture also believes that it can double in size by 2009 through organic growth alone.

The shares closed up 2 per cent, or 15p at 727.5p, yesterday, still far below the 898p opening price in January but 15 per cent above the low point in March. With net asset value judged at about 814p a share, there is more upside. Buy.

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/article2358129.ece

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