BUSINESS

Talisman Energy posts operating loss, plans to sell Norway assets

07/31/2013 05:29 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - Talisman Energy's offshore operations in Norway are up for sale, the oil and gas company said Wednesday as it posted an operating loss that missed analyst expectations.

CEO Hal Kvisle said the Norway assets, which aren't part of Talisman's core business, take up a "disproportionate" share of spending and are better off in someone else's hands.

A formal sale process is underway and interest in the Norway assets has been strong so far, he told analysts on a conference call.

Kvisle said he expects "a relatively short process to get into advanced negotiations with the preferred buyer" and that a deal should be announced some time later this year.

"But then there will be an extended period to get that kind of a transaction closed, just from a regulatory perspective and the complexities of selling a whole operating entity in a jurisdiction other than our home jurisdiction. These things take time."

Part of the Norway sale will include Talisman's interest in the offshore Yme field, where the company recently reached a settlement with contractor SBM Offshore to dismantle and scrap a faulty production platform.

Though the Yme project has been a costly headache for Talisman, it remains "a big part of our asset value in Norway," said Kvisle in an interview.

"There's over $1 billion invested in it now and significant further investment to come and it will generate a positive rate of return for whoever owns it at the time when it comes on stream" three or four years from now, he added.

Elsewhere in the Scandinavian country, Talisman operates the Blane, Gyda, Varg and Rev fields, with interests ranging from 18 to 70 per cent.

A sale process is also underway for Talisman's 12 per cent interest in the OCENSA pipeline in Colombia, a country where the company intends to keep producing oil.

As well, Talisman would like to pare down its shale natural gas position in B.C. and Alberta, potentially by partnering up with other firms to develop its Montney and North Duvernay lands.

And it could also sell its natural gas transportation and processing infrastructure in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, provided the deal would allow it to keep shipping its gas at a reasonable price.

Talisman has been approached to sell similar assets around Edson, Alta., but Kvisle said the company intends to hang onto those, as they bolster its competitive position in the region.

Earlier Wednesday, Talisman posted a $27 million loss from operations, or three cents per share, in the quarter — down from a year earlier profit of $71 million or seven cents per share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had recently lowered their estimates for Talisman to less than a cent per share of adjusted earnings.

The Calgary-based company's net income — which include one-time items, such as hedging gains and losses — was $97 million in the second quarter, or nine cents per share, compared with $196 million, or 19 cents per share a year earlier.

Investors have been eager to see a turnaround at Talisman since Kvisle became CEO in September 2012. The former TransCanada (TSX:TRP) boss took the top job after the abrupt departure of John Manzoni.

"There is no three, six or nine month quick fix at Talisman. What we have to do is what I think our team is doing very well in North America, in Colombia and in Asia Pacific," said Kvisle.

"Our current share price reflects the value of the assets we have that generate cash flow today. What we don't get more recognition for is that enormous undeveloped asset base and we've just got to build confidence in the investing market around that."

Higher-risk exploration areas, such as Peru and Poland, have also been chucked from Talisman's portfolio in favour of stable, predictable production.

However, it's hanging onto its interest in a potentially huge oilfield in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan for now, with an eye to finding a joint-venture partner down the road.

Kvisle recently returned from Kurdistan and was impressed with how well things were going, despite tough operating conditions.

Talisman would like to keep operating the Kurdistan field, but bring in partners to help share the financial burden. Ideally, Kvisle said Talisman would like the hang on to a 30 or 40 per cent interest.

"If one makes an oil discovery in eastern Alberta, your preference would of course to own 100 per cent of it, because they're relatively small and the risk is relatively low," he said.

"In the case of a very big discovery; that would appear to be the case in Kurdistan. It's probably beyond our means to fund the development of the thing entirely, so the sooner we bring in partners, the better for us from a risk management perspective."

The company says production in the quarter averaged 361,000 barrels of oil equivalent, down from 435,000 barrels in the corresponding quarter of 2012.

While performance in Asia Pacific and the Americas was strong, the North Sea continued to be problematic, causing the company to scale down its full-year production targets from that region by 9,000 barrels per day.

Company wide, Talisman expects its 2013 production to come in at the low end of its targeted 375,000 to 395,000 barrel per day range.

Talisman shares were down 30 cents to $11.64 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, a drop of 2.5 per cent.