U.S. natural gas companies have found a convenient new way to boost their profits - by drawing in overseas companies to help fund their development projects.
The maneuver was illustrated yesterday (Tuesday), when two large foreign companies bought big stakes in major U.S. shale projects.
French oil major Total S.A. (NYSE ADR: TOT) said it would invest $2.3 billion in Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s (NYSE: CHK) Utica Shale operation in eastern Ohio. Within hours, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (NYSE ADR: SNP), also known as Sinopec, announced a $2.2 billion deal to buy a 30% stake in five Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) shale projects.
The deals follow several last year that have helped U.S. companies raise the cash they need to accelerate drilling for shale gas, which is more expensive than drilling for conventional natural gas.
"We will be seeing more of this kind of joint venture activity, bringing in foreign companies with deep pockets to offset rising development expenses for shale projects, while still allowing the U.S. company to retain control," said Money Morning Global Energy Strategist and Editor of the Oil & Energy Investor Dr. Kent Moors.
But the Chesapeake-Total deal takes this idea one step further, allowing Total to actually lease land in the Utica shale gas deposits.
"This is going to usher in a new era in how we develop the vast unconventional reserves in this country," said Moors.
Actually owning some of the shale gas deposits adds directly to the foreign company's share value, while the acceleration of the project made possible by the cash infusion boosts the U.S. company's stock.
"Having an American producer control a mega domestic project, but deflecting large chunks of the expense to a foreign company, is an ideal solution," Moors said.