Talisman looks to Americas, Asia Pacific as two core operating areas

CALGARY – Talisman Energy Inc. is honing its focus in on the Americas and Asia Pacific as its two core operating areas and aims to shed up to $3 billion in assets over the next 18 months.

The rest of Talisman’s far-flung portfolio will be developed, divested or involved in joint-venture partnerships, new chief executive Hal Kvisle told investors Wednesday.

“We would like to move as quickly as possible to trim the company down and focus on the two core regions, but there are hurdles we need to get over with just about every asset before we can do some of the things that we want to do,” he said.

In September, Kvisle cut short his retirement from pipeline giant TransCanada Corp. to take the top job at Talisman, where he had been a board member.

Faced with investor impatience over the company’s lagging share price and disappointing production, Talisman has since set out a new strategy focused more on improving operations and cutting costs than on chasing high-risk global exploration and growing production.

The investor open house Wednesday was meant to provide more detail on how Talisman intends to reach those goals. One analyst called the event a “make it or break it” earlier this week, but Kvisle said he saw it more as part of a long process to win back investor confidence.

“We’ve had very clear signals from our investor base that they want to see greater capital discipline. They want to see greater geographic focus. They want to see Talisman be a much more competitive company. They don’t want to see us stretched so thin,” Kvisle said.

Talisman shares gained 11 cents to $12.65 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The company’s operations in the Americas include shale natural gas in Western Canada and the northeastern United States, oil in Texas and promising developments in Colombia.

But Talisman (TSX:TLM) will be paring down its shale position in B.C. and Alberta, with plans to actively market some or all its holdings in the Montney and northern Duvernay formations.

While Kvisle said he’d prefer to have a “clean exit” from those assets, he said Talisman would be open to any joint-venture arrangement that made sense.

The company expects its asset sales, targeted at between $2 billion and $3 billion over the next 12 to 18 months, to be about evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

The North Sea, where production rates have been fickle and operational issues have caused headaches, used to be considered a core area, but that will no longer be the case. Talisman also has peripheral properties in Algeria, Sierra Leone and the Iraqi semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Kvisle said Kurdistan is particularly promising, and the company will look to prove up its interests there in the near-term before exploring any sale or joint-venture options.

“Kurdistan is one of the most exciting oil structures that I’ve seen in my career. We’re very enthused about the next couple of wells that we’re drilling there,” he said.

Talisman has already said it will exit Peru and Poland.

There’s very little in Southeast Asia that Talisman would consider selling because “we like everything that we’ve got” in the region, Kvisle said.

The company has also reduced its capital budget to $3 billion this year, a 25 per cent reduction from 2012.

Talisman recently laid off 90 employees at its Calgary head office in an effort to streamline its Canadian operations amid low North American natural gas prices. However, it still has 1,500 employees in Canada including about 1,200 in Calgary.

Kvisle acknowledged that Talisman is often cited as a takeover target.

“If legitimate offers from credible players come forward, Talisman has to deal with them, consider them and there’s no restriction or negative reaction to that. This is just part of the business that we’re in,” he said.

He added that he’s often asked whether Talisman would consider a corporate split, spinning off its Asian business from the rest.

Asia is “the heart and soul of what we’ve been successful at in the last few years,” he said.

“There’s a lot of increased overhead as we establish two companies and there’s a lot of risk for shareholders, and as a shareholder I would not want to see Talisman split into two companies. I don’t think it’s a particularly creative solution to where we’re at.”