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Halliburton Is in Talks to Buy Rival Baker Hughes

Halliburton is in talks to buy Baker Hughes, a potential acquisition that would unite two of the biggest oil field services providers in what would be one of the largest energy deals in years, Baker Hughes confirmed on Thursday.

It is not clear what price Halliburton is considering, but Baker Hughes ended trading on Wednesday with a market value of about $25 billion. Its shares surged 20 percent in late afternoon trading on Thursday once The Wall Street Journal reported on the negotiations.

After the market closed, Baker Hughes issued a news release confirming that it had engaged in preliminary discussions with Halliburton about a deal. “These discussions may or may not lead to any transaction,” it said. “Baker Hughes does not intend to comment further on market speculation or disclose any developments unless and until it otherwise deems further disclosure is appropriate or required.”

Both companies have been affected by a slump in crude oil prices this year, caused in part by a boom in domestic energy production that has flooded the market with oil and natural gas.

The drop has been a boon for American consumers, who are paying lower prices at the pump, but it has caused some hand-wringing in the energy industry. Investors fear that service providers like Baker Hughes and Halliburton may be forced to cut their prices, straining profitability. Shares of both companies have been falling since the summer, when crude oil prices peaked.

Energy analysts said a combined service company would probably not have the power to raise prices for drilling, cementing and hydraulic fracturing because of the great amount of competition around the world, especially with new service companies growing in places like China, South Korea and India.

The exception would be in areas requiring the highest levels of technology like the Arctic or the deepest offshore oil fields, where only the industry leader, Schlumberger, competes with Halliburton and Baker Hughes. Those areas may become less appealing for drilling anyway if oil prices continue to drop.

“They won’t have the market power to raise prices, especially now,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research, a consulting firm. Nevertheless, he said that a purchase of Baker Hughes by Halliburton would be a big deal, adding, “It’s something like the 500-pound gorilla swallowing the 300-pound gorilla.’’

Still, a merger could help Halliburton and Baker Hughes compete against Schlumberger, which is much bigger than either company. Schlumberger, which was founded in 1926 by two French brothers who invented a geological mapping technique that became the industry standard, employs 126,000 people and has offices in Paris, Houston, London and the Hague.

Halliburton, the No. 2 player, was a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the drilling technique that has propelled the United States energy boom. Founded in 1919, and with 80,000 employees, Halliburton is now a leading supplier of fracking equipment.

Baker Hughes, which has 60,000 employees, was formed in the 1987 merger of Baker International and Hughes Tool Company, two petroleum companies dating to the early 20th century. The founder of Hughes Tools, Howard R. Hughes Sr., had invented a rotary bit for drilling oil wells through rock. His company became the basis of the fortune of his famous son, the reclusive billionaire Howard R. Hughes Jr.

A spokeswoman for Halliburton declined to comment.

Michael J. de la Merced and William Alden
Deal Book
Published on:
November 14, 2014
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