CNOOC Extends China’s South America Reach

BP’s $7 billion sale at the end of last month of its 60% stake Pan American Energy to its partner Bridas which owns the other 40%, means CNOOC ends up with 50% of the oil and gas company that operates mainly in Argentina — and China takes another large step in the acquisition of energy interests in the region.

Since March, when CNOOC, China’s third-largest oil company, bought into Bridas for $3.1 billion, Bridas has been a 50-50 joint venture between the state-owned company and the Argentine owners of Bridas Corp., the well-connected Bulgheroni family who run a vertically integrated energy group that is the second-largest oil and gas producer in the country and have business connections to Central Asia.

BP may have been a forced seller, given its need to fill a war chest for any  obligations arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; CNOOC either got a fine price this time or overpaid for its stake last March.

In the short term, CNOOC’s investment, which represents China’s second largest overseas M&A deal of the year, may give it access to the local market but long term the focus will be on exports. The question is how that will fit with the Argentine government’s policy to favor the domestic market over exports.

Update: State Grid, the world’s largest power utility, is buying seven Brazilian power distributors in a $1 billion deal. It has also won a 30-year concession to operate the power distribution system in densely populated southeastern Brazil — further evidence that Chinese companies see good business in the growth prospects of South America’s largest economies.

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