Occidental seeks buyers for stake in MidEast ops

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Occidental Petroleum Corp is looking to sell a minority stake in its Middle East operations, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday, as part of a broader plan to split up the company.

Chief Executive Steve Chazen has spoken openly since April about a potential deal for its Middle East and North Africa assets, which run across countries from Libya to Iraq to Yemen. Analysts briefed by the company have said its California operations could be spun out eventually.

Chazen has started talking to sovereign wealth funds and other potential investors about possible investments in the Middle East unit, the sources said. One of the sources said the company could sell 30 percent to 40 percent of the business.

Analysts have valued the Middle East business at $15 billion to $20 billion, meaning a stake sale could bring in $4.5 billion to $8 billion depending on its size.

Occidental is the second-largest oil producer offshore Qatar. Its other holdings in the Middle East include a 24.5 percent stake in the Dolphin Gas Project in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and assets in Bahrain and Oman.

The sources said Occidental has reached out to some of its current partners in the Middle East in its search for buyers. Its partners there include Mubadala and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

The departure in May of former Chief Executive Ray Irani gave way to a more aggressive push to find investors for the Middle East businesses, which had long been more favored by Lebanon-born Irani.

Bloomberg previously reported that Occidental was talking to potential investors for a sale of a 40 percent stake in the unit. A spokeswoman for Occidental did not respond to a request for comment.

Shares of the Los Angeles-based company fell 1.7 percent to $89.49 on Friday. The stock is up about $10 per share since the company began discussing a potential break-up in April.

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