A billionaire Texas oilman and luxury hotel chain owner might be eyeing an acquisition of troubled Northern Oil and Gas, according to a stock analyst.
TRT Holdings and other firms affiliated with Bob Rowling have built up about a 19 percent stake in Northern Oil and Gas since early 2015. They control a big chunk of the company’s 8 percent unsecured debt, too.
Rowling made his fortune in oil, and TRT owns the Omni hotels, Gold’s Gym and Tana Exploration, an oil and gas company.
Wayzata-based Northern last Wednesday fired its CEO Michael Reger after federal securities regulators indicated they were pursuing an enforcement action against him. The case involves alleged manipulation of the stock of Dakota Plains, a separate company. Northern says it’s cooperating with the investigation.
Reger’s ouster dominated the news that day: The co-founder of Northern was pushed out without any severance — a rarity in CEO circles. But Northern noted in the same news release that it had hired an investment banker — Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. — and that its board was “evaluating strategic alternatives to increase shareholder value.”
Northern is dealing with historic oil patch woes, and when troubled companies say such things, a sale is usually an alternative.
Given TRT’s extensive holdings in Northern already, the firm would make a likely suitor, said Jason Wangler, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities in Houston.
“You would have to think that is one of the first steps [TRT] would look at: How much more of a stake do they want to take? They have a very vested interest in the company.”
And despite Northern’s troubles, “there is still value there,” Wangler said.
Dallas-based TRT didn’t return phone calls. Northern also didn’t return a call.
Northern invests in oil leases and drilling projects in North Dakota’s oil fields, and has been hammered by a two-year global oil glut. Its stock trades under $4, well below its 2011 oil boom peak of around $30.
The company lost $109 million during its second quarter due to asset impairments, but posted a $6.5 million profit when adjusted for one-time items.
On Aug. 9, Northern Oil’s board appointed Michael Frantz, a TRT vice president, as a director — TRT’s first apparent presence on the company’s board. Then the sequence of events that led to Reger’s termination occurred.
On Aug. 11, Reger notified Northern that he had received a notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission of a preliminary recommendation of an enforcement action against him. On Aug. 16, Northern announced Reger’s exit without severance.
A day later, Reger sued Northern in a Minnesota court for wrongful termination. He claims Northern told him he would be let go, but he would be provided with full severance benefits under his employment agreement for termination with cause. Then Northern switched gears on Aug. 15, Reger’s suit claims.
So could the change in tone be related to Frantz’s arrival at Northern? Wangler said he would doubt that. “TRT has been building a large stake in the company for a long time. And the SEC doesn’t forecast what it’s up to.”