Loews Agrees to Sell HighMount as Gas Glory Eludes CEO Tisch

Aug 11, 2014 4:32 pm ET

(Updates shares in the second-to-last paragraph.)

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Loews Corp., the holding company run by New York’s Tisch family, agreed to sell HighMount Exploration & Production LLC after being caught off guard by a decline in natural gas prices.

EnerVest Ltd., a private-equity firm that invests in oil and gas production, will purchase HighMount, Ron Whitmire, a vice president for the Houston-based buyer, said in a phone interview. He declined to disclose the price. The deal is expected to be completed by the end of December, Loews said today in a statement that didn’t mention EnerVest or the price. Loews purchased HighMount in 2007 for about $4 billion.

“We have not been covered in glory when it comes to HighMount,” Loews Chief Executive Officer James Tisch said in a May 29 presentation. “But we want to pick ourselves up, we want to dust ourselves off and we want to move on.”

The divestiture helps narrow Loews’s focus to its luxury hotel operation and units such as insurer CNA Financial Corp. and Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., which provides rigs to companies exploring for oil. Loews hadn’t anticipated when it purchased HighMount that new technologies would boost supply and drive down gas prices.

Tisch’s company recorded a second-quarter impairment of $167 million tied to HighMount, according to the statement. That figure may be adjusted based on the final sale price and transaction costs.

Natural gas trades for about $4 per million British thermal units, less than a third of its 2008 peak. Loews began to weigh an exit from HighMount because of “sustained low natural gas prices and our view that they really won’t go up much higher from here,” Tisch said May 29.

Texas, Oklahoma

HighMount is led by Steve Hinchman, who formerly was an executive vice president at Marathon Oil Corp. Last year, he brought ex-Chesapeake Energy Corp. Vice President Steve Turk aboard as chief operating officer.

The company’s drilling rights span 1.1 million acres (445,000 hectares) of Texas and Oklahoma that include parts of the Wolfcamp and Woodford shale layers, according to the company’s website. In addition to its drilling leases, the business owns about 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) of gas and oil pipelines.

HighMount is a “perfect fit” for the EnerVest’s Fund XIII, because it has wells that are already producing, Whitmire said. The fund closed last year with $2 billion in capital commitments, according to EnerVest’s website.

Loews advanced 0.1 percent to $42.15 at 4:15 p.m. in New York. The company has declined 13 percent this year, compared with the 4.8 percent advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Barclays Plc and RBC Richardson Barr, a division of RBC Capital Markets, advised Loews on the deal.

--With assistance from Zachary Tracer in New York.