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BHP Seen Approaching an M&A `Sweet Spot' in Hunt for Deals

BHP Billiton Ltd. is snapping up oil-exploration prospects from the U.S. to Australia and flagged this week that it’s seeking to make more similar investments. There’s speculation it’ll also target deals for operating wells and mines.

With signs the commodity rout may be bottoming, conventional petroleum and copper assets are probably of most interest to the world’s biggest miner, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. and Fat Prophets. BHP Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie said in August the company would look at the possibility of acquisitions, though wouldn’t overpay and would only consider the best assets.

Mining companies with strong balance sheets, including BHP, which sold about $6.5 billion of hybrid securities last week, should scrap their dividend policies to help seize on cheap high-quality assets, according to Jefferies Group LLC analysts. The average premium on pending and completed deals worth at least $500 million in the mining and oil and gas sectors has fallen to 30 percent this year from 47 percent in 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Timing It’

“From a margin and valuation perspective, this looks like the bottom of the cycle,” Bernstein analyst Paul Gait said by phone from London. “In terms of asset valuations, if you are timing it and thinking around M&A, then this sort of feels like the sweet...