SeaDrill AGM Cash Call Could Lead to Acquisitions

OSLO, Nov 30, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Oslo-listed drilling firm SeaDrill ASA's (SDRL.OS) shareholders will vote Friday on the company's proposed NOK40 billion ($6.5 billion) share issuance - a move analysts said likely will lead to an acquisition by the company.

The company wouldn't comment on speculation surrounding the potential for acquisitions with the additional cash, but it acknowledged that it is looking at a range of options.

"They've said for a long time that they want to be a consolidator in the industry, (so) if it makes sense for shareholders, they will buy something," a Norwegian equity analyst said.

Jon Olav Osthus, SeaDrill's director of contracts, said: "We are looking into all kinds of projects on a continuous basis. Whatever is feasible (strategically) we are considering."

The company has requested approval for the share issuance at Friday's annual meeting, and it has the potential to raise a further NOK40 billion in debt financing, said equity analyst Morten Nystrom of Kaupthing ASA.

"They could acquire all the big drilling firms except (U.S.-based) Transocean Inc. (RIG)," Nystrom said. Analysts and market participants have cited Noble Corp., Diamond Offshore (DO), Ensco International (ESV) and Aker Drilling (AKD.OS) as possible acquisitions or tie-up partners for SeaDrill.

Analysts said that SeaDrill is keen to make an acquisition because its pricing compared with peers is expensive in terms of a range of multiples.

"Acquiring another company would be good for shareholders," Nystrom said. "To put it another way, it would be solid to consolidate in a market that previously had just five or six players and now has very many companies," Nystrom said. That naturally leads to consolidation, he added.

The high price of oil has attracted an influx of new entrants to both the upstream and downstream segments of the oil and gas industry.

Speculation over SeaDrill's acquisitions - and action - is nothing new. Earlier this year, it bought more than 50% of maritime firm Smedvig ASA, but it also states on its Web site that it will "pursue further organic growth opportunities" in both conventional waters as well as in deep water areas.

The timing of another deal is unclear. "It they decide to do a deal, they are very, very quick," Kaupthing's Nystrom said. It depends on how much they're willing to pay and on the owners of the company they want to acquire."

The Norwegian-based analyst agreed. "It could be tomorrow if they agree on the right price. ...(But) it could also be in two years."

SeaDrill's Osthus said it was impossible to say when the firm might make its move. "If anything should happen, we don't know anything about the timing," he said.

The company said it expects to announce later Friday whether the move had won shareholder approval.

The Bermuda-based company provides drilling-well and maintenance services to the offshore oil and gas industry. It has an offshore drilling fleet including five jackup rigs and two semisub rigs and has 12 additional units under construction.

SeaDrill shares closed up NOK1, or 1%. at NOK101.75 Thursday.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.