January 29, 2013 / 7:27 AM / in 5 years

INTERVIEW-Indonesia's Medco eyes Gulf blocks, plantation unit listing

* In talks to buy oil and gas blocks in Gulf, North Africa

* Libya block to start production at 50,000 bpd in 2014

* Aims to list plantation unit in 2 years

JAKARTA, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The parent of Indonesia’s biggest private oil firm, PT Medco Energi, is in talks to buy oil and gas blocks in the Middle East and North Africa and aims to list its palm oil unit, a top executive said on Tuesday.

Hilmi Panigoro, chairman of Medco Energi and chief executive of congolomerate Medco Group, said opportunities for oil and gas acquisitions were currently available overseas, mainly in Algeria, Tunisia, Oman, Libya and Yemen.

But he declined to give details as the talks were still underway.

“To many people, the Arab region is frightening ... but we have been in places many people were afraid to enter,” Panigoro told Reuters in his 55th floor office overlooking the financial district of the Indonesian capital.

“That’s why we got a very lucrative block in Libya.”

Medco’s Libya oil and gas block, Area 47, awarded by the government in 2005, is expected to start production by the end of 2014 with an initial output of 50,000 barrels per day (bpd), he said.

The new Libyan government has been very supportive of the project, and its officials held meetings with Medco in Jakarta in the past several weeks to help the company wrap up the project, Panigoro added.

Medco Energi recently bought a stake in an oil and gas block in Yemen as it tries to boost its overseas output of oil and gas in the absence of a prospective asset for sale in Indonesia.

Former OPEC member Indonesia has struggled to attract new investment to halt a long-term decline in oil output.

PALM OIL LISTING

In a move to spur future growth outside the energy sector, Medco has been expanding its business in palm oil and rubber plantations to tap growing demand faced by the world’s biggest palm oil exporter.

Plantation unit Medco Agro now has 20,700 hectares of planted area for palm oil in Kalimantan and another 15,000 hectares in Sumatra.

The company is also developing a 170,000-hectare wood chip and wood pallet business in Merauke jointly with LG International, a unit of Korea’s LG Corp.

“Within the next two years we plan to launch the IPO for the plantation unit,” said Panigoro, who was trained as a geologist before joining Medco Group, which was founded by his older brother Arifin Panigoro.

The group has sold a 33 percent stake in a small bank, PT Bank Himpunan Saudara 1906, to Woori Bank, a unit of South Korea’s Woori Financial Holdings, in June 2012, but the deal still awaits central bank approval.

The group also plans to further cut its majority stake in the bank to at least 20 percent, to comply with a new ownership rule instituted by the central bank.

“We know that it will not stop there because the ruling requires family to own no more than 20 percent,” Panigoro said, indicating that the group planned to sell more of its shares in Bank Saudara to Woori.

Shares of the firm are down more than 4 percent this year, underperforming a rise of 2.7 percent in the benchmark index . It will be the stock’s third straight year of losses, after giving up nearly a third of its value last year. (Reporting by Fathiya Dahrul and Janeman Latul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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