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Oil Patch Activists Forced to Play Waiting Game

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Published: April 17th, 2020
It is unclear when commodity prices will recover, but when they do, activists will be sure to have fully sharpened blades and a list of demands for companies across the oil and gas production industry.

With a few exceptions, the expectation in 2020 for full-blown activism campaigns in the oil and gas industry is low.

U.S. shale M&A was at a near standstill even before the Covid-19 crisis, and buybacks are now in question as companies seek to preserve cash and consider applying for federal loans that may temporarily bar them from repurchasing stock.

With these two main activist levers seemingly off the table for the foreseeable future, campaigns, which are bound to be painted by companies as insensitive and opportunistic amid a pandemic that’s killed thousands and forced widespread layoffs, may largely be viewed as fruitless efforts.

  • Editor’s note: The original version of this article, including more details and analysis, was published on The Deal’s premium subscription website on April 13. For access, log in to TheDeal.com or use the form below to request a free trial.

But if commodity prices and sector stocks rebound in time for the 2021 season, insurgents may just experience unprecedented levels of success effecting change in the industry.

That’s the sentiment relayed by private equity investor and occasional activist Ben Dell of Kimmeridge Management Co., who agreed proxy season for 2020 is likely a wash given the recent commodity rout and Covid-19 pandemic.

“My guess is there won’t be a lot of campaigns full stop in 2020, largely because many will purely perceive it as opportunistic given the Covid pandemic,” Dell said in an interview with The Deal. “Also it’s understandably difficult to run these campaigns and get people’s attention in this environment.”

Dell’s Kimmeridge has run activism campaigns at several independent U.S. oil exploration and production companies in recent years, including a 2019 proxy fight at PDC Energy Inc. (PDCE), a company the firm sold $1.5 billion worth of assets to in August 2016, and Carrizo Oil & Gas Inc., which went on to sell to Callon Petroleum Co. (CPE) for some $730 million worth of stock well after Kimmeridge had exited its position in the target.

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