Energy firms salute Canada-first oil sands – by Nathan Vanderkippe and Andy Hoffman (Globe and Mail – December 8, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY and VANCOUVER — Ottawa’s new takeover rules, which enshrine the government’s desire to keep other states from controlling a resource that has made Canada a magnet for foreign money, have been met with approval by Canadian energy executives, many of whom feared a harsher policy that would severely constrain investment.

The rules all but forbid further takeovers of Canadian oil sands companies by state-controlled enterprises. But they still give substantial room for foreign capital to come in, leaving the door wide open to minority investments and joint venture partnerships.

Across the great expanse of Canada’s resources sector – from Bay Street to companies extracting oil near Fort McMurray, to mines spread across the Canadian Shield – the new rules were met with praise.

The government announced the guidelines as it gave its blessing to two controversial deals – CNOOC Ltd.’s $15.1-billion (U.S.) takeover of Nexen Inc. and the $6-billion (Canadian) purchase by Malaysia’s Petronas of Progress Energy Resources Corp.

Though markets had broadly expected the deals to be approved – an expectation that frayed briefly amid volatile trading Friday afternoon that created a momentary plunge in both Nexen and Progress shares – investors had persistent fears that Ottawa would establish a punitive policy.

“They could have just said no,” said Ari Levy a vice-president at TD Asset Management who oversees several energy and resource funds. Instead, he said, “ there are opportunities to still do transactions.” In the oil sands, in particular, “these are massive projects and the risk almost cries out to be shared on a lot of them….I think they got it right.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is “putting forward an olive branch to China and saying: we want to improve relations, we want to let this happen. But going forward we are going to be tougher so these SOEs are not driven by pure government policy,” said Steve Letwin, CEO of gold mining co. Iamgold Corp.

At the same time, Mr. Letwin said, it sends a signal to the United States that Canada is interested in opening up its energy market to investors beyond North America. “It is a pretty strong signal to Obama and his crew [not to] take us for granted.”

The decision also removes uncertainty that has been stalling progress on other deals. At one major U.S. investment bank, senior executives have delayed trips to Canada in anticipation of the Nexen decision, judging that their time would be better spent once there was clarity from the government.

The government’s explicit statement that it still welcomes minority investments from state-owned firms is good news for companies like Athabasca Oil Corp., which has spent months attempting to complete a minority interest deal with Kuwait’s state-owned oil corporation. Others, too, have pursued similar strategies, and the new rules may trigger the announcement of new transactions. Encana Corp., for example, is widely believed to be pursuing another joint venture with a foreign acquirer.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: