Finance/Companies news briefs, May 19

Woodside Energy Ltd. ... Santos Offshore Pty. Ltd. ... Shell Co. of Australia ... Petrobras � Ranger Oil Ltd. � Petrobank Energy Resources Ltd. � Canadian 88 Energy Corp. � The American Energy Group Ltd. � Northern Lights Energy Ltd.

Woodside Energy Ltd. and Santos Offshore Pty. Ltd., both of Australia, report they succeeded in their joint bid to acquire the interests of Shell Co. of Australia in the Kipper gas field retention license (Vic/RL2) in the Bass Strait. The firms' offer of $53.5 (Aus.) was not preempted by the other joint venture partners, announced Jeff Schneider, Woodside's director of Australian gas. Woodside's share of the total is $42.6 million (Aus.). Shell owned a 34.54% interest in the Kipper JV; the deal will give Woodside a 30% interest and Santos 20%. "We...will now continue to work with the other partners to bring the resources to market as quickly as possible," said Schneider. "The acquisition is consistent with Woodside's long-term strategy to enter the eastern Australia gas market to bring greater diversity and security of gas supply to Victoria and to provide greater choice for gas customers."

Petroleo Brasiliero SA posted $1.26 billion in profits in first quarter 2000, up from a loss of $831 million in first quarter 1999, the company announced. Last year's loss was mostly due to the sharp devaluation of the real in January. Petrobras's results before interests, taxes, amortization, and depreciation were $2.03 billion, against $426 million in last year's first quarter. In the first quarter of this year, the company produced an average of 1.19 million b/d of crude oil and natural gas liquids, a 6% increase vs. first quarter 1999. In March, Petrobras posted two production records: a daily average of 1.23 million b/d and 1.263 million bbl on Mar. 17. Natural gas production grew 7% vs. first quarter 1999, reaching 208,000 boe.

Ranger Oil Ltd., Calgary, has asked a US District Court judge in Manhattan to overturn a hostile takeover bid by Calgary junior Petrobank Energy Resources Ltd. During a preliminary hearing, Ranger accused Petrobank executives John Wright and Bruce Chernoff of insider trading and disclosure violations in the $1.6 billion (Can.) takeover bid. Petrobank lawyers denied the allegations and said actions taken were within securities laws. The Petrobank offer expires June 5. Judge Sidney Stein said, even if insider trading is proven, his decision within the next 10 days may be influenced by whether he believes the information was essentially passed within the principals of one company or supplied to outsiders with the ability to benefit. Ranger, with production of 80,000 b/d, filed suit in New York because it has numerous US shareholders. The Alberta Securities Commission is also investigating.

Canadian 88 Energy Corp., Calgary, has cut its reserves estimates by 25%, reducing value by more than $150 million (Can.), analysts estimate. CEO Joseph Pritchett III said the reserve revision is mainly due to lower-than-expected economic production from the company�s Waterton discovery in the Alberta Foothills region. Canadian 88 said proven reserves declined to 536 bcf of natural gas, down from 754 bcf booked a year earlier. Pritchett replaced Greg Noval as CEO in March and was installed as president by Duke Energy Corp., Charlotte, NC, which bought a 19% interest in the company. Noval, a controversial figure in the Calgary oil industry for his aggressive management style, remains on the board and owns 10% of Canadian 88 stock. Canadian 88 reported a loss of $6.5 million for 1999, compared with a $1.8 million profit in 1998. Pritchett said the loss was mainly due to a gas hedging contract, which is expected to affect profits in 2000, as well. He said the company will focus on programs to enhance production from existing assets, rather than high-risk exploration.

The American Energy Group Ltd., Houston, entered into an agreement to sell its Texas oil and gas leases, all equipment, and 100% of the common stock of its operating subsidiary, American Energy Operating Co., to Northern Lights Energy Ltd. for $4 million. Net proceeds of the sale will be used to help satisfy terms of a concession agreement between Pakistan and American Energy subsidiary Hycarbex-American Energy Inc. The agreement is subject to shareholder approval, and due diligence and is expected to close prior to June 30.

TotalFinaElf SA has advised worker representatives of job cuts in France. Two months after its official birth, the oil group is starting to implement the job cuts it had announced following Total SA's merger with Elf Aquitaine. In a first stage, there will be 1,313 job cuts in Total Refining Distribution, TotalFinaElf, Elf Antar France, Elf Exploration & Production, Elf Lube Oils, and Elf Trading France. As 193 new jobs will be created, the total cuts will be 1,120; they will be carried out on a voluntary basis and mainly through early retirement, except for refinery personnel, which are still under negotiation. A social plan will ensure that the individual consequences will be "as limited as possible," said management. These cuts are the result of the synergies drawn from the merger. All told, the group has announced 4,000 job cuts worldwide, of which 2,000 are in France.

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