Firm borrows to buy Thailand asset

KUALA LUMPUR - Sona Petroleum Bhd, a Malaysian company with no assets or track record, will take a $140-million loan to part fund the planned purchase of a stake in two Thai oil and gas blocks owned by London's Salamander Energy Plc.

The so-called blank-check company, which raised 550 million ringgit ($172 million) from its initial public offering last July, agreed to buy 40% of the UK oil explorer's assets in the Gulf of Thailand for $280 million, according to a June 5 stock exchange filing. The deal with Salamander is expected to be signed before June 26, Hadian Hashim, Sona's managing director said in an interview in Kuala Lumpur today.

"The assets are income-generating with good upside potential," Hadian said. "The entry also provides low risk." BNP Paribas SA will provide the loan facility, Hadian said.

Sona's planned purchase, its first since listing, marks a significant step in it becoming a successful independent upstream oil and gas company, energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd said in a June 9 report.

The Kuala Lumpur-based company is paying $250 million for one stake, which contains a producing oil field, and $30 million for an exploration licence. Sona won't need any additional funds for further development because the cash flow from the Bualuang producing field is sufficient to cover capital expenditure, Hadian said.

The Bualuang oil field has been operating since 2008 and production is expected to average between 11,000 and 14,000 barrels of oil per day this year, according to information published on Salamander's website. The concession may produce well into the next decade with total recoverable reserves of 75 million barrels a day, the data show.

Sona's shares fell 1% to 51.5 sen as of the midday trading break in Kuala Lumpur, bringing its market capitalisation to 727 million ringgit. The stock has risen 15.7% this year, outperforming the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index, which has gained 0.5%.

Syndicated loans in Malaysia total $8 billion this year compared with $5.6 billion the same period of 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. SapuraKencana Petroleum Bhd is 2014's biggest borrower, having signed a $4.985-billion facility due 2021 in March.

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