EXCO chief to buy company shares in $4B deal

AP News
Posted: Nov 01, 2010 4:50 PM
EXCO chief to buy company shares in $4B deal

The CEO of oil and gas producer EXCO Resources Inc. said Monday he plans to buy all the company's outstanding shares in a deal valued at more than $4 billion.

Douglas H. Miller is expected to take the company private, which would make it easier to shut down unprofitable natural gas projects and wait out the slump in prices. His offer of $20.50 per share represents a 38 percent premium over EXCO's closing price on Friday. Shares rose $4.47, or 30 percent, to $19.30 Monday.

EXCO, based in Dallas, develops onshore properties in North America and controls about 1 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. Like most petroleum companies in the U.S., EXCO has wrestled with low natural gas prices that have made some of its operations unprofitable.

Many of its wells only make financial sense with prices above $4 per 1,000 cubic feet, said Neal Dingmann, an analyst with Wunderlich Securities. Natural gas settled at $3.836 per 1,000 cubic feet Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

EXCO shares tumbled to a 52-week low of $13.25 in September, in part because of falling natural gas prices.

The low share price made it an easy acquisition target for Miller and other investors, analysts said. But Dingmann said he also suspects Miller will eventually idle a number of EXCO wells and slash capital spending _ something that would be tough to do as a publicly traded company.

"The prudent thing to do with natural gas prices where they are is to cut your activity," he said. "But the minute you cut production, the market is going to punish you" as investors sell their shares. "So the only way to do that is as a private company."

To pay for the acquisition, Miller said in a letter to the company's board of directors that he expects to use a "significant portion" of his 3 percent ownership in the company to raise money. Miller also expects contributions from the company's senior management, outside investment partners and loans.

Miller said in the letter that the company's daily operation wouldn't change if the deal goes through. He expects to remain the company's chief executive and the company's senior management should be unchanged.

The EXCO board plans to create a special committee of independent directors to consider Miller's offer.

Major shareholders including Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, Oaktree Capital Management and Ares Management are interested in the acquisition, Miller said in the letter. JP Morgan Securities LLC and Goldman, Sachs & Co. are financial advisers and Vinson & Elkins LLP has been hired as legal counsel for the transaction.