Why Energen Could See a Handy Buyout Premium, If It Wanted To

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Independent oil and gas exploration outfit Energen Corp. (NYSE: EGN) has seen its share of outside news lately. Its shares have been holding up better than many other oil and gas companies after news this summer that both Elliott Management and by Corvex Management are seeking a sale of the company. Elliott’s stake was between 4% to 5% and Corvex’s stake after options and recent purchases came to just over 10%.

The problem in thinking of this company solely as a buyout candidate is that Energen has already said it wants to remain independent. Another problem, and one which may work against its current wishes, is that Alabama law may make it hard to stay independent. It is also no secret that a premium north of $5 billion is far from being too large for many oil giants to shy away from. In a perfect world and on just raw numbers on paper, Energen could potentially fetch a handy premium for a buyout.

A new analyst upgrade from Tuesday has brought more focus on this Permian Basin darling. No single report should ever be used to evaluate the strength or weakness of a company in a merger scenario. That being said, this analyst call is focused far more on Energen’s upside as a standalone operator.

Imperial Capital initiated coverage with an Outperform rating and the firm assigned a $61 price target. That valuation would be some 23% higher than Energen’s $49.56 closing price on Monday. According to Imperial Capital, the company now has a robust growth profile in the Permian via its Delaware Basin and Midland assets from attractive purchase prices made in prior years. The report even called it a quiet overachiever with asset purchases and sales being well timed.

Energen’s focus in the Permian Basin makes it somewhat unusual in that many other oil and gas players are more spread around the country. There is still a troubled oil and gas sector as far as the main stocks are concerned, but this region has been quite active around deal-making and in drilling due to easier access and lower drilling costs.

The company had a value of just under $5 billion when news came out that two activists had a stake rather than just one, and the period after a strategic review ended with Energen said that staying independent was its future. It appeared at the time to be the current price of energy that led the company to its decision to stay independent. Alabama governance laws may allow Corvex to call a meeting and appoint directors, which it noted in its options purchasing filing with the SEC.

Other recent analyst calls show more interest in Energen as well. Brief data has been included, but some of the more aggressive price targets seem more than robust. Whether a buyer would pay those levels remains to be seen.

On August 8, Williams Capital said that Energen is one of its top picks and reaffirmed its Buy rating with a $76 target price. That valuation was based upon earnings analysis and its Gen3 completions.

On August 8, Evercore ISI maintained its In-Line rating with just a $52 price target. They noted that the Gen 3 drove a production beat, but they noted an elephant in the room. It noted that Energen is arguably one of the only significantly undercapitalized assets in the Permian and with the valuation gap relative to peers, and that upside is emerging particularly with the Delaware basin proving an increasingly attractive asset.

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On August 9, KLR Group raised its target by from $69 to $78, noting strong capex and productivity, Gen3, and operating expenses.

On August 11, CFRA (S&P) kept a Buy rating and a $59 price target. This reflected a 7X multiple of price to projected 2018 operating cash flow, slightly above its historical forward average. In addition, we see a net debt-to-capital ratio of just 18% (well below peers) and above-average reserve life.

Other more calm targets and upside calls were seen as well over the last couple of weeks. Energen shares were raised earlier in August to Neutral from Sell with a $46 price target at Seaport Global. Citigroup has a Neutral rating but its target was cut to $56 from $58, and Barclays maintained its Equal Weight rating but raised its own target to $57 from $54.

Energen shares were last seen up 1% at $50.06 on Tuesday shortly before the closing bell. It has a 52-week range of $46.16 to $64.44 and it has a consensus analyst target price of $63.09. Energen’s market cap is still about $4.9 billion.

This is now a battle ground stock, and not just for buyers and sellers. Not even the analysts covering this company agree on what it might be worth.