SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Billionaire U.S. investor Wilbur Ross is in talks with Chinese companies to form a joint venture to participate in a long-awaited shale gas auction in China late next month.
China, believed to hold the world’s largest reserve of shale gas, is offering 20 blocks in eight provinces with a total area of 20,002 square km. More than 100 Chinese companies, from utility firms to real estate developers, have shown interest.
Ross, one of the world’s best-known distressed-asset investors, travelled to Beijing this week to discuss the possibility of a joint venture between Chinese firms and some of his investments in the United States.
“Part of what I was in China about was talking about the possibility of joint ventures of some of our investments in the West and some of the Chinese companies,” Wilbur Ross, CEO of investment group WL Ross & Co, told Reuters at a conference in Singapore.
“I think we will have a joint venture partner. Bids are due (late) October and we hope to be organized by then.”
He declined to name the companies he was talking to.
Beijing is allowing foreign-funded joint ventures controlled by Chinese investors to participate in the shale gas tender, a move experts say is aimed at luring international firms with technology and operational expertise.
“The technology of horizontal drilling and fracturing is not that well developed yet in China,” Ross said.
“There have only been 63 wells drilled with that technology where as there have been over 1 million drills in the United States. So I think there will be quite a few joint ventures between Chinese companies and American companies that have the technology.”
He said investing in shale gas in China would be more expensive than the United States, but declined to say how much he was looking to spend.
Shale gas is trapped in rocks and requires a technology called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to unleash.
Since late 2009 China has been hunting for the unconventional resource but has little commercial production to date. A shale gas boom is turning the United States into a gas exporter.
Ross, whose company manages around $10 billion in assets, made a name for himself as a bankruptcy specialist, snapping up out-of-favor assets ranging from banks and textiles to steel and coal firms.
Once dubbed the “King of Bankruptcy” by Fortune magazine, Ross has recently turned to the troubled shipping sector, buying a majority stake in energy transportation firm Navigator Holdings NVIGF.PK last month and helping finance Diamond S Shipping’s purchase of 30 oil product tankers in 2011.
“We are very happy with our existing investments,” Ross said. “We would look for more investments probably mainly in liquids, rather than in containers and dry bulk.”
The shipping industry is struggling through a severe four-year downturn, driven by a ship supply glut, rock bottom freight rates, high bunker fuel prices and global economic turmoil.
Editing by Joseph Radford