ExxonMobil Is in No Hurry to Spend Its $32.7 Billion Cash War Chest

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The oil giant plans to patiently wait for the right acquisition opportunity to arise.

ExxonMobil (XOM 0.03%) is swimming in cash these days. During the first quarter, the oil giant generated $16.3 billion in cash. Even after spending billions on capital projects and sending billions more back to shareholders via dividends and repurchases, Exxon’s cash balance ballooned by another $3 billion to $32.7 billion.

That enormous cash war chest has many wondering if Exxon plans to make a big acquisition. While the company is open to making a deal, — and there have been plenty of rumors in recent months — it was clear from management’s comments on the first-quarter earnings call that Exxon plans to be patient. Here’s a look at the rumor mill and what Exxon’s management said about the potential for making a deal.

The rumor mill

There has been a lot of speculation that ExxonMobil has set its sights on making a meaningful acquisition. Last fall, several media outlets reported that Exxon had held preliminary talks to acquire Denbury Resources (DEN 0.89%). The deal would have been for more than $5 billion, given Denbury’s market cap at the time. While Denbury Resources produces oil, the main draw would have been its carbon dioxide business. Denbury is a leader in using the greenhouse gas to produce oil through enhanced oil recovery. Because It could have bolstered ExxonMobil’s carbon capture and sequestration platform, which it believes could be a needle-mover in the future

Meanwhile, last month news hit that Exxon held preliminary talks to acquire Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD -0.52%). That would have been a megadeal for Exxon, given Pioneer’s nearly $50 billion market cap at the time. The main draw of a potential deal for Pioneer is its leading position in the Permian Basin. 

In addition to Pioneer, Exxon reportedly has had merger discussions with at least one other company. While the identity of Exxon’s other potential target remains unknown, it’s likely a large-scale producer in the Permian Basin. 

Addressing the speculation

An analyst on Exxon’s first-quarter call asked its management team for their thoughts on M&A, specifically whether the company needed to bolster its position in the Permian Basin. CEO Darren Woods addressed the topic. He stated: 

We’re always looking for an opportunity for an acquisition and one that grows value and it’s got to be value-accretive. It’s got to be one where what ExxonMobil brings to the table actually increases what either company would do independent of one another. And so, that’s kind of, I’d say, the underlying approach.

Woods then pointed out that Exxon’s main focus isn’t on growing the volume of oil and gas it produces. Instead, it’s “in the market to find value.” Woods stated, “We’re willing to kind of let volumes do what they will do in the search for making sure that anything that we bring into the portfolio is accretive and is a unique value contribution for the shareholders.”

Technology is a big part of Exxon’s value proposition in the Permian Basin. Woods noted that the company’s success in developing proprietary technology helps improve resource recovery and the cost of developing that resource. Its technological expertise opens up deals because it can extract more value from the resources by leveraging its technology.

The CEO noted that the company has a really good anchor business in the Permian Basin. Woods also stated:

We’re working real hard on opening up the value proposition of our current acreage with technology, that will open up, potentially, opportunities for acquisitions. But that’s down the road. That’s work that we’ve got to demonstrate to ourselves.

In other words, while the company is interested in doing a deal to bolster its position in the Permian Basin, it’s not in a rush. It wants to continue to prove its unique technologically driven value proposition. As it does, it will be in a better position to fully leverage that position to get the most value out of a future acquisition when the right opportunity comes its way.

No hurry to make a deal

ExxonMobil has a massive and growing cash balance. That money isn’t burning a hole in its pocket. While the oil giant is interested in making an acquisition, especially in the Permian Basin, it’s more focused on growing value instead of volume. It believes the best way to do that is to continue improving its technology to extract more value from a future deal when the right opportunity arises.

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