Oil Giants Hunt Bargains in Oil Sands

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"If you are a major, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a huge position."

While no one seems to be looking, the oil sands landscape is poised to change once again as global oil majors take steps to stake out even bigger holdings.

But in contrast to the last wave of foreign takeovers, made at hefty premiums and sometimes for marginal properties, multinationals including Paris-based Total SA, London-based BP PLC and Irving, Tex.-based Exxon Mobil Corp. are hunting for top-drawer properties at today's cheap stock prices or taking advantage of the sector's downturn to bolster their presence.

As one investment banker put it: "If you are a major, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a huge position."

Why now? Oil majors remain financially healthy even in today's depressed oil-price environment; they've been in the business long enough to know that oil prices are cyclical and that the current downturn won't last; those that missed acquisition opportunities in the past see the current downturn as a re-entry point at low prices; they see access to new reserves globally as a challenge; they have refineries in the United States that need feedstock; there are plenty of buying opportunities that were not there when oil prices were high.

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