By DOMINIC CHOPPING and KATARINA GUSTAFSSON
Statoil on Wednesday said it has agreed to sell its stake in transportation fuels retailer Statoil Fuel & Retail to Canada's Alimentation Couche-Tard as the Norwegian oil and gas major increases its focus on its exploration and production operations.
Statoil joins a long string of oil majors offloading their retail holdings and leaving a challenging market where profits are pressured by high crude oil prices.
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. - the largest independent convenience store operator in North America - has placed a bid for the fuel retailer in a $2.8 billion deal as it makes a push into European markets.
The offer values the total share capital of Statoil Fuel & Retail at 15.9 billion Norwegian kroner and will give the Canadian company around 2,300 fuel stations across Scandinavia, Poland, the Baltics and Russia.
Alimentation Couche-Tard already has about 5,800 stores, of which around 4,200 also sell transport fuel.
Statoil will sell its 54% stake in the fuel retailer for NOK8.6 billion ($1.5 billion). The Canadian company will buy the remaining shares at NOK53, a 53% premium to the shares' Tuesday closing price.
Depending on how the parties decide to finance the deal, it might have an impact on the Norwegian krone, said Erica Blomgren, SEB's head of FX strategy Norway.
"The figure is big enough," she said, adding that the EUR-NOK moved down a little shortly after the announcement, but the currency pair then moved back as market participants await more information on the deal.
Statoil chief financial officer Torgrim Reitan said the price is attractive and "the offer, which is recommended by the board and management of Statoil Fuel & Retail, provides a good outcome for all parties."
Danske Bank analyst Endre Storlokken said the sale makes sense, but it isn't that big of a deal from Statoil's perspective. "Operationally for Statoil, this has not that great an importance," he said. "But it's positive that this happens; it frees up capital."
Investec raised its Statoil price target on the news to NOK153 from NOK148, saying the logic of the deal is strong.
"Alimentation Couche-Tard is a strong industrial buyer and the price is attractive, we believe," the bank said.
Statoil established Statoil Fuel & Retail as a separate company listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in 2010. The fuel retailer posted a net profit of NOK1.08 billion for the full year 2011, down from NOK1.59 billion a year earlier.
Statoil Fuel & Retail said its first-quarter earnings will be announced on April 25 and it expects to report adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, of NOK650 million for the period January to March.
The parties expect to complete the transaction - which is subject to acceptance from above 90% of the shares and votes in Statoil Fuel & Retail - during the second quarter of 2012.
Dow Jones Newswires