PARIS (Reuters) - French oil and gas explorer Maurel & Prom (>> MAUREL ET PROM) is considering a second listing in London to move closer to oil and gas investors, its chief executive told Reuters, risking the ire of politicians anxious to bolster Paris as a financial centre.
Maurel & Prom's comments follow a decision earlier this year by bigger French competitor Total (>> TOTAL) to move part of its treasury and investor relations teams to London.
"It's true that our listing in Paris is a handicap, because we're the only player of our size in the upstream here," Chief Executive Jean-Francois Henin said, referring to exploration and production activities.
Being listed in London would offer the mid-sized group more visibility with Anglo-American oil and gas investors, and analysts covering the sector, who are increasingly based in London, he said in an interview at the group's headquarters in central Paris.
"It could be Paris-London and, why not ?, London-Paris," Henin added.
The London stock market has been the epicentre for global commodity players, with energy and mining companies from South America, Africa and Asia listing their shares there.
Brokerage Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co said in a research note a London listing would be a positive factor. "It would increase the group's investor base and understanding on this cheap stock versus its London-listed peers," it said.
Maurel & Prom's UK-listed peers include Cairn Energy (>> Cairn Energy PLC) and services group Wood Group (>> John Wood Group PLC), as well as Ophir (>> Ophir Energy Plc), a slightly larger Africa-focused company which is working with BG (>> BG Group plc) in Tanzania.
Maurel & Prom shares trade at 1.95 times its book value, compared with a ratio of 2.88 for Ophir and 2.18 for Wood Group, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Maurel & Prom, created 200 years ago as a trading company between Bordeaux and the French colonies, has regularly been the subject of takeover talk, with its CEO confirming earlier this year he had been in contact with possible buyers.
Henin, who owns 24 percent of the company and will turn 70 next year - the group's age limit for an executive mandate - declined to comment on speculation the group had received offers from Indonesian, Indian or Chinese companies, or Shell <RDSa.L>.
He said, however, that a large acquisition, a merger, or a big oil and gas discovery needing capital would be a good opportunity for the group to add a London listing.
"When we talk about marriage, it's a bit with a dual objective: to grow and to have access to another stock exchange where the market is deeper," Henin said.
In a first step, the company could open its order book to London investors through the NYSE Euronext platform as early as 2014, following Nigerian subsidiary Seplat's planned listing in London and Nigeria next month, Henin said.
"We looked at the possibility of a simple dual listing," the CEO added. "Once Seplat is settled, we will ask ourselves the question again."
Henin said he was not considering moving the group's headquarters to London, however, saying France's tax regime was not less attractive than Britain's.
"For the company, as a holding, there is no advantage whatsoever to going to London," Henin said. "The tax and legal frameworks are very favourable here. The French Treasury has organised that over the last 40 years, it's been very well done."
Henin also confirmed the group's 2013 output target for Gabon, Maurel & Prom's main production area, of 27,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed), saying "we should be a little above that".
For 2014, Henin said he expected to reach production of 35,000 boed in Gabon. This would lead to bottlenecks in the Total pipeline to Cape Lopez which could be resolved using a neighbouring Shell pipeline, the CEO said.
Henin also said the company had been recognised as an oil operator by the Iraqi government, which would help Maurel & Prom bid for permits from Baghdad.
Tough terms and slim margins on Iraq's service fee contracts are drawbacks to investment in southern Iraq and many oil & gas firms prefer to strike deals with autonomous Kurdistan, which the central government rejects as illegal.
"We chose mainland Iraq rather than Kurdistan," Henin said. "We would draw on our experience in Nigeria. As a foreigner, we accept to be in a minority role, to finance everything and have high tax levels, but we would have access to very important oil reserves."
It is also starting 3D surveys offshore Namibia, where Henin sees huge potential. Brazil's HRT (>> HRT Participacoes em Petroleo SA) had its third dry well in Namibia this month but said the areas explored could still hold potentially productive discoveries.
"All factors are there to show there could be a real beast somewhere in our zone," Henin said.
Elsewhere in the region, Maurel & Prom is also an investor in the Mtwara liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Tanzania, financed by a $1.2 billion Chinese loan, where offshore discoveries have heralded a gas boom.
Shares in Maurel & Prom, which has a market value of almost $2 billion, were down 3 percent at 11.98 euros by 1523 GMT, when the Stoxx Europe 600 oil and gas sector index <.SXEP> was down nearly 0.8 percent.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Callus in London; Editing by Mark Potter, Greg Mahlich)
By Michel Rose