The U.S. energy company has held discussions with investment banks about appointing advisers to the sale and could offer the shares to institutional investors as early as this month, said the people. They cautioned that the precise timing would depend on market conditions and could change.
If ConocoPhillips does not complete the sale in June or early July, it would then likely wait until September when institutional investors will have returned from their summer vacations, they added.
The ConocoPhillips stake in Cenovus is worth $2.6 billion based on its current share price but it would likely be sold at a small discount, the sources said. It would still be one of the biggest Canadian equity share sales this year.
ConocoPhillips has been actively selling assets and cutting costs in the past two years in order to cull debt and boost its dividend. It sold $17 billion in assets in 2017.
When Cenovus acquired oil sands and natural gas assets from ConocoPhillips for $17 billion last year, it took 208 million shares of Cenovus, as well as $14.1 billion of cash.
The deal made ConocoPhillips the biggest investor in the Calgary, Alberta-based company, although the U.S. oil giant has said it would not be a long-term holder of Cenovus equity.
ConocoPhillips and Cenovus declined to comment. The sources declined to be identified as the information is not public.
Shares of Cenovus extended their losses, to fall as much as 8.8 percent after the Reuters report. They closed down 5.7 percent at $12.67 on Monday. The broader Canadian energy index was down 2.1 percent.
Cenovus shares have had a wild ride since the acquisition,declining as investors punished the stock over the deal, which was regarded as significantly stretching the Canadian company’s finances.
While still down 27 percent since the deal was announced,they have been bouncing back of late on the back of an oil price rebound. The stock is up 24 percent in the last three months.
At the time of the 2017 deal, ConocoPhillips valued its Cenovus stake at $9.41 per share based on Cenovus’ New York-listed stock. Since the May 17, 2017, transaction close,the share price has see-sawed above and below that value,although it has consistently traded higher since April 25.
While overnight trades tend to be discounted from current share price levels, in order to incentivize investors, Conoco would need Cenovus’ value to be at a point where it is making money even after the discount to make the sale worthwhile. If the same 2.9 percent reduction was applied from Shell’s overnight sale of Canadian Natural Resources shares, the Cenovus stock would need to be above $9.68 to generate a profit.
Conoco has also moved aggressively to get cash in other areas, including by seizing international assets controlled by Venezuelan state-controlled oil producer PDVSA.
Much of the fresh cash the company has raked in has gone back to shareholders, with the company’s dividend up about 8 percent in the first quarter to 28 cents and a plan to buy back$2 billion in shares this year.