Woodside, BHP douse takeover talk

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Major Australian energy producer Woodside Petroleum Monday played down reports mining giant BHP Billiton was planning a US$50 billion takeover, saying it could not hide any serious proposals.

For its part BHP, the world's biggest miner, said it was not aware of the basis of the heightened speculation, adding that the market would be informed immediately of any developments.

Shares in Woodside jumped more than six percent early Monday after Britain's Sunday Times reported that BHP was in talks to buy Royal Dutch Shell's 24 percent stake in Woodside, with plans for a full US$50 billion takeover.

"There's so much speculation out there that you wouldn't expect me to say anything other than the following -- Woodside does not respond to market or media speculation on these type of things," Woodside chief Don Voelte said.

Australia's strict continuous disclosure laws meant "we can't hide this stuff", Voelte added.

"We can't not talk about it," he told reporters in Perth.

"I mean, a serious proposal that would ever come in on Woodside, we would have to take it immediately to the marketplace."

Woodside is considered a natural target for BHP as the world's biggest miner seeks to grow its oil and gas operations, according to analysts, with any deal having the added benefit of ensuring the assets remained in Australian hands.

In November Woodside admitted it could be of interest to BHP Billiton after Royal Dutch Shell sold off a US$3.3 billion stake.

At the time, Woodside chairman Michael Chaney said "it is possible" BHP would be interested, especially given it had "run the ruler" over Woodside in the past. "It is natural that they'd be doing so again," Chaney said.

The Australian Financial Review on Monday said BHP and Shell had been in detailed talks on a possible deal but indicated no decision was imminent.

It quoted Shell Australia country chairwoman Ann Pickard as telling reporters in Perth on Sunday there were "no commercial discussions" on the company's Woodside holding and she was "not in a hurry to do anything" with it.

Woodside is one of the world's leading producers of liquefied natural gas and is planning to expand and develop more LNG assets, including massive fields off Western Australia.

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said he would discourage a takeover of Woodside, saying the company "seems to be under siege".

"I just urge you -- hands off Woodside," he told a conference on Monday.

After surging early Monday, Woodside's shares dropped back in the afternoon to close up 1.9 percent at Aus$48.16. Shares in BHP Billiton closed 3.75 percent higher at Aus$49.55 in an overall rising market.

-- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this story --

© 2011 AFP

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