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Antitrust officials hold off on Baker Hughes-Halliburton decision

December 17, 2015
News

Oil-field services companies Halliburton Co. and Baker Hughes Inc. will have to wait a while longer to learn whether U.S. antitrust enforcers will allow their proposed merger.

The companies said the Justice Department wouldn’t make a decision on Tuesday, as contemplated by a previous timing agreement between the two sides.

The Justice Department doesn’t believe the companies have offered sufficient remedies to address government antitrust concerns but will consider further proposals, Halliburton and Baker Hughes said in a joint statement.

The companies said there was “no guarantee” that an agreement could be reached. They also said they have agreed to extend the time period for the closing of the transaction to April 30, 2016.

Halliburton has sought to address antitrust concerns by selling businesses that have generated some $5.2 billion in annual revenue. On Tuesday the companies said they significantly enhanced their offer of asset sales recently in an effort to address the Justice Department’s concerns. That offer was “more than sufficient,” the companies said.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Justice Department, after a yearlong investigation, has antitrust concerns about the deal and is questioning whether divestitures, or asset sales, can replace competition that would be lost because of the merger. The Journal also reported that the companies were considering whether to offer to shed more assets.

Despite the previous timing agreement, the Justice Department didn’t face significant pressure to act on the deal by Tuesday because the companies are simultaneously facing antitrust issues in other international jurisdictions and aren’t in a position to close their transaction with those regulatory reviews pending.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

While analysts widely expect Halliburton to do whatever it takes to see the deal through, shares of the two companies have at times traded at prices that indicate investors have their doubts.

Even before Tuesday’s announcement, the deal had virtually no prospects of closing this year—a fact Halliburton’s interim chief financial officer, Christian Garcia, acknowledged last week. Officials in Brazil and Australia have voiced public concerns about the transaction and are continuing to review it. The European Commission is expected to decide in January whether to open an in-depth probe.

Halliburton and Baker Hughes announced their deal in November 2014. The companies drill wells and extract oil and gas for energy companies and are the second and third largest firms in the industry, trailing only Schlumberger Ltd.

The companies said their deal would help them cut costs and combine complementary areas of expertise, creating a stronger global company in the midst of a historic downturn in the price of oil, which has sharply curtailed demand for their work. They also argued that competition would remain strong, with declining oil prices forcing companies to cut prices.

By Brent Kendall and Alison Sider

Source: Wall Street Journal

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