October 20, 2017 / 12:21 PM / a year ago

Exclusive: Vitol set to acquire Noble Group's oil liquids business - sources

SINGAPORE/LONDON (Reuters) - Vitol Group, the world’s largest oil trader, is nearing a deal to buy Noble Group’s (NOBG.SI) global oil liquids business, which analysts had valued at about $1 billion, three people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO - A Noble Group sign is pictured at a meet-the-investors event in Singapore August 17, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Once Asia’s biggest commodities trading house, Noble is slashing jobs and selling assets as it slims drastically to cut debt after a crisis-wracked two years.

The Singapore-listed company is focusing on its core Asian coal trading business. In July it agreed to sell its North American gas and power business to Mercuria.

Hong Kong-based Noble flagged earlier this month that it expects to sell its capital-intensive oil liquids business by the end of December, pushing back the timeline by a few months.

One of the sources said an announcement of Vitol’s deal with Noble could come as early as Monday.

Noble was plunged into crisis in February 2015 when Iceberg Research accused it of overstating its assets by billions of dollars - allegations that Noble rejected. That pain was exacerbated by a commodities downturn at the time.

The upheaval has also led to rating agency downgrades, fund raising and management changes, while Noble’s market value has plummeted to less than $400 million from $6 billion in February 2015. Its stock is down about 80 percent this year.

Noble reported a net loss of $1.75 billion for April-June, citing a tough market.

Shares in the company were halted earlier on Friday, pending the “announcement of a major transaction”, Noble said.

The sources declined to be identified because Vitol’s purchase of the Noble unit has not been made public. Details of the transaction were unavailable.

Vitol and an external spokeswoman for Noble declined to comment.

Noble is a big player in the global physical oil market, trading crude and refined products. But its operations shrank this year due to higher prices and liquidity constraints.

The company has blending and wholesale capabilities in North America and the Caribbean, alongside long-term storage leases globally.

Noble has also said North American lenders to the company have extended the deadline for a $2 billion credit facility by three months to Jan. 15.

Reporting by Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE and Dmitry Zhdannikov in LONDON; Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee in HONG KONG; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Dale Hudson

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