Enbridge (NYSE:ENB) Inc shares tumbled nearly 7% to their lowest in more than four years on Wednesday, as some analysts questioned the financial impact of the Canadian pipeline operator’s surprise $14 billion bid to buy three utilities from Dominion Energy (NYSE:D) doubling its gas distribution business.
Acquiring East Ohio Gas, Questar Gas, and Public Service Co of North Carolina will solidify Enbridge’s position as North America’s leading gas utility by volume, with this unit contributing to just under a quarter of the company’s total business portfolio.
The agreement is considered a forward-looking investment in the enduring significance of natural gas within a regulated market, even amidst the broader transition toward a greener future, where energy companies and consumers are gradually phasing out fossil fuels.
Nonetheless, this agreement’s timing, scale, and potential consequences left certain analysts taken aback, especially with concerns about its impact on the company’s already heavily leveraged financial position. In response, Moody’s (NYSE:MCO) revised Enbridge’s outlook to negative late on Tuesday.
“I do think the market was caught a bit off guard, as this wasn’t on my bingo card,” Morningstar analyst Stephen Ellis said. “Management had a realistic approach towards allocating capital, so a smaller transaction (perhaps a deeper investment in Canadian LNG?) would have been more expected,” Ellis said.
Enbridge struck the deal just over a month after CEO Greg Ebel told analysts the company saw ‘tuck-in’ acquisition opportunities ‘across the board’.
In a note, Ellis described the acquisition a “defensive move” and said despite the size of the deal Enbridge left its 5% annual EBITDA growth expectation over the medium term unchanged, which suggests that the earnings contribution is “replacing weaker results on the liquids side of the business.”
By late morning, Enbridge shares were down 5.5% at C$45.50, while the benchmark Canadian share index was off 0.5%. Rival TC Energy (NYSE:TRP) was down 2.7%. Enbridge is selling new shares at a discount of 7.2% to its Tuesday close to part-fund the transaction.
“While Enbridge paid a reasonable price, high leverage and funding gap could act as overhang,” Wells Fargo analysts said in a note.
This transaction utilizes a portion of the company’s available near-term balance sheet capacity. Consequently, as stated in the note, the company will exercise even greater discretion in deploying its remaining investment capacity.
In July, rival TC Energy said it would focus on transporting natural gas, as it announced the split of the business into two listed companies, saying they would be more valuable apart.