Bidding War for Conoco?

LONDON -- France's TotalFina Elf would not comment on a report yesterday it may bid for U.S. rival Conoco Inc., but its U.S. ambitions are well known, and it may not be the only European oil company bent on wrecking the Phillips Petroleum Co.-Conoco merger agreed late last year.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper said TotalFina Elf was considering stealing Houston-based Conoco from Phillips. "We have no comment," a TotalFinaElf spokesman told Reuters.

But as long ago as November when the U.S. pairing decided to join the energy merger spree that has transformed the industry since 1998, leading shareholders told Reuters that both Totalfina and the Royal Dutch/Shell had been sizing up Conoco before Phillips made its move.

Either could still appeal to Conoco shareholders, who were offered no takeover premium in what some consider a marriage that benefits only Phillips.

The Sunday newspaper report said ChevronTexaco Corp., another U.S. group created by a merger last year, might also attempt to break up Conoco-Phillips.

One problem any counterbidder would face though is the hefty $550 million breakup fee that Phillips and Conoco have written into their marriage deal, aimed at creating the world's sixth-largest oil company.

Unocal is the only remaining North American opportunity on Conoco's scale, though analysts see the fit as less good for Totalfina Elf. At the smaller end of the spectrum, the French group was recently linked with a possible bid for Canada's Husky Energy Inc., the report said.
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