The latest rumours out of the oil patch have investment bankers working for Total S.A. stepping up talks with shareholders in UTS Energy ahead of a deadline on the French company's takeover bid.
Total bankers from CIBC World Markets were quietly surveying mutual fund and hedge fund managers to find out what acceptable offer for UTS would be, according to portfolio managers who received calls just before the Easter weekend.
Total's $1.30-a-share bid for UTS expires on April 16 - the all cash offer is worth $617-million - after being extended in late March. UTS stock closed Thursday at $1.90 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, reflecting widespread expectations that Total will bump its bid. That's been the pattern in past takeovers involving the French company.
Portfolio managers talk bravely of needing a new offer in the $2.20-to-$2.50 range to win their support for this oil sands acquisition. The single largest shareholders is West Face Capital, a fund with a 10.1 per cent stake that has stridently opposed the Total bid.
As expected, CIBC World Market's bankers are staying poker-faced in these chats. Total isn't expected to show its hand until April 16.
However, the UTS acquisition has become increasingly complex since being launched, and traders warn that Total may choose to walk on April 16.
The complications reflect future ownership of the Fort Hills oil sands property. It's the major asset at UTS, which holds a 20 per cent stake.
Control of the Alberta property belongs Petro-Canada, which has a 60 per cent holding, while Teck Cominco owns the remaining 20 per cent. Petrocan has said in the past that it was comfortable with Total as a partner on Fort Hills, and that gave investors some degree of confidence when weighing the French company's bid.
Now Petrocan is in the midst of a friendly merger with Suncor, and no one is certain if Total and Suncor are comfortable as partners. If the French company has any doubts about a long-term relationship with Suncor, it has a perfect opportunity to exit, with honour, on April 16.
Suncor chief executive officer Rick George, who will run the combined companies if the Petrocan merger is approved, has said he wants to own and develop Fort Hills, but has not said anything about Total.