By Michael Erman
(Reuters) - Devon Energy Corp (DVN) will buy oil-producing assets in Texas for $6 billion and plans to sell or otherwise monetize some of its natural gas-heavy holdings, in a response to criticism about its lack of exposure to higher-margin crude.
The Oklahoma City-based company said it will buy privately held GeoSouthern Energy Corp's core assets in the Eagle Ford shale region of south Texas for $6 billion in cash, as it seeks to revive investor interest in its shares.
The company's Chief Executive John Richels said Devon was looking to monetize its conventional natural gas assets in Canada and other non-core assets in the U.S.
"The new Devon is a significant North American oil producer capable of delivering high rates of growth in high-margin oil production while generating free cash flow," Richels said on a conference call with investors.
The stock was up 1.9 percent at $63.96 in late morning trading.
Devon Energy said Wednesday the assets it was buying currently produce 53,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day over 82,000 net acres.
That's expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 25 percent over the next several years, reaching peak production of about 140,000 BOE per day, the company said. The GeoSouthern assets hold estimated risked recoverable resources of 400 million barrels of oil equivalent, most of which is proved reserves, it said.
Private equity firm The Blackstone Group (BX), an investor in GeoSouthern, will sell its stake through the Devon deal, raking in about $1.54 billion, Blackstone said.
Devon has been working for years to transform itself. In 2009, the company started selling international and offshore assets to focus on its North American operations.
That strategy left the company with a big exposure to lower-priced natural gas and natural gas liquids, causing the company's shares to underperform over the past two years.
Richels said that after exiting the non-core assets, Devon would focus on five key areas - the Eagle Ford shale, the Permian basin, Canadian heavy oil, the Barnett Shale, and the Anadarko basin - as well as two other emerging oil plays.
Through the asset monetization program, the company hopes to exit assets holding around 30 percent of Devon's natural gas, 12 percent of its natural gas liquids and 8 percent of its oil.
Through the GeoSouthern deal, Richels said the company was buying light-oil rich acreage in the best part of the Eagle Ford formation at a discount to the stock market valuation of similar assets.
"The deal makes them more of an oil company and grows their production right away. A lot of people still have the idea that they are too much of a gas company and this deal will change that right away," said Mike Breard, an analyst at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas.
Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were financial advisors to Devon in the GeoSouthern deal. Jefferies & Co advised GeoSouthern.
Last month, Devon agreed to combine most of its U.S. pipeline and processing businesses with those owned by Crosstex Energy Inc (XTXI.O) and Crosstex Energy LP (XTEX.O) and form a new infrastructure company.
(Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Bernadette Baum)