Onshore independent Penn Virginia Corp.'s (PVA) shares continued to strengthen on Friday, four days after noted investor George Soros disclosed his firm now controls close to 9.18% of the company.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission Form 13-D filing Tuesday, Soros Fund Management LLC (SFM) said it had purchased more than six million shares in the exploration and production (E&P) company. George Soros is chairman and Robert Soros is president of SFM, the principal investment manager to Quantum Partners LP and WAFO LLC. The stock purchase "represented an attractive investment opportunity" and "at current market prices is undervalued," according to the filing.
Soros representatives have from time to time discussed with PVA management "business, assets, prospects, and strategic alternatives and direction," the filing said. PVA has, in fact, "been very well managed, and in fact that the financial incentives for its management team should be enhanced."
However, strategic alternatives could be viewed "as a means to enhance or maximize shareholder value," which SFM intends to continue to discuss and may seek "conversations" with the board and other shareholders.
PVA shares closed last Monday at $13.61. On Tuesday, when the Soros news was disclosed, the stock jumped almost 16% to end at $15.73/share with trading volume nearly four times the norm. PVA closed Friday at $16.32.
The independent, whose operational headquarters are in Houston, focuses most of its E&P capital today in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, but it also has leaseholds in the Midcontinent, Mississippi and the Appalachian Basin. Corporate headquarters are in Radnor, PA.
At the end of 2013, proved natural gas and oil reserves were estimated at 136.3 million boe, 45% were weighted to oil, 39% to natural gas and 16% to liquids. Forty percent of the proved reserves are developed, with more than half, 75.6 million boe, in the Eagle Ford, which also holds a total of 190 million boe of internally estimated proved, probable and possible reserves.
In mid February PVA had around 80,000 net acres (118,000 gross) in Gonzales and Lavaca counties in Texas, with an inventory of 1,300-plus well locations and more than 1,100 drilling locations (see Shale Daily, April 4, 2013). PVA also is working 7,500 net acres in Washita County, OK, where the liquids-rich Granite Wash formation is being tested with a partner. Another 22,500 net acres are held in various plays in the Anadarko Basin.
Dry natural gas E&P has been deferred until prices are stable. In fact, PVA unloaded its natural gas midstream system in the Eagle Ford late last year to reduce debt and fund more investments in the South Texas formation (see Shale Daily, Dec. 16, 2013). Waiting for gas development are 33,400 net acres that extend from East Texas into the Haynesville Shale, and in Mississippi, where 28,200 net acres are held in the Selma Chalk. All of the 21,700 net acres in the Marcellus Shale are dry gas-weighted; proved reserves were about 100,000 boe at year's end.
Regarding the latest activist purchase, Wells Fargo Securities LLC's analysts asked, "is any E&P safe? Languishing share performance is always bait for shareholder activism, but we would have thought the 47% year-to-date outperformance would keep activists at bay..."
PVA's share price today is about where it was in the spring of 2011, but with energy stocks underperforming the S&P 500 index for three years in a row and by 2% year-to-date, "perhaps the space is gaining attention from activists seeking to squeeze incremental value out of energy assets," said the Wells Fargo analysts. "At this point we don't think it's a trend that warrants concern..."
In fact, it's not the first time that analysts have suggested that PVA explore strategic options, noted Motley Fool's Matt DiLallo. Analysts and investors, he said, "see the company's very promising oil-rich assets in the Eagle Ford Shale as a tempting target for a larger competitor."
However, by marketing other pieces of the portfolio, PVA might be stronger, he said. "It would provide the company with cash to reinvest in the Eagle Ford or pay down debt. Further, it would transition the company into a pure-play on the Eagle Ford, though given that more than 90% of its capital is already spent on that one play, it's basically an Eagle Ford pure-play already."
All said, unless PVA were to receive an overwhelming buyout offer, "I doubt it would sell out at this point. It has an Eagle Ford Shale-focused growth plan in place already that could fuel tremendous future value creation for investors...I think there's still some tempting upside from here for investors interested in following George Soros."