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Chesapeake's board shakeup and takeover talk

June 21, 2012: 12:41 PM ET

Speculation over Chesapeake Energy's (CHK) future is sparking chatter about potential suitors for all or part of the embattled natural gas company.

Consider a photo from game two of the NBA finals on June 14. We can't show you the actual photo since it's owned by ESPN, but sitting courtside at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City was none other than Fu Chengyu, the chairman of China's largest oil producer - Sinopec.

Not only is the arena named after Chesapeake Energy, but Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon owns a 19% stake in the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team. Even in the midst of Chesapeake's recent troubles, McClendon has still managed to take in a number of games.

Oklahoma City is a long way from Sinopec's corporate headquarters in Beijing. The picture is fueling speculation on the Street that Sinopec was in town to kick the tires of Chesapeake's business.

A Sinopec spokesperson confirmed that Fu attended the game, but wouldn't comment on takeover rumors. Chesapeake did not return calls for comment.

One oil and gas investment banker said it's unlikely that Sinopec would try to buy up all of Chesapeake, since it probably wouldn't make it past U.S. regulators. What's more likely, he said, is that Sinopec would buy one or several key assets from Chesapeake.

The natural gas company is facing a capital shortfall of nearly $10 billion so it's pretty desperate for buyers. Among the key assets for sale are the Permian Basin, an oil field in Texas and New Mexico, and the so-called Mississippi Lime, a field in Kansas and Oklahoma. The company recently announced $4 billion in other asset sales.

Meanwhile, Chesapeake announced a new lineup of directors Thursday after shareholders pushed the company to do so at its annual meeting on June 8. The company appointed a new chairman to take over for McClendon and four new independent directors.

The former CEO of Conoco-Philips (COP), Archie Dunham, is Chesapeake's new chairman, effectively giving  McClendon, who remains president and CEO, his first boss in a long time.

Chesapeake's board had come under fire after news reports revealed that McClendon took out more than $1 billion in personal loans backed by his stakes in the firm's wells.

Of the other four new  directors, Vincent Intrieri, was appointed by activist investor Carl Icahn, whose fund owns a 7.6% stake in the company. Chesapeake's largest shareholder Southeastern Asset Management with a 13.9% stake, appointed the other three directors: oil industry veteran Bob Alexander, former Saks (SKS) CEO R. Brad Martin, and Frederic Poses, the CEO of privately held carpet material maker Ascend Performance Materials.

Chesapeake's investors didn't cheer the corporate changes. The stock dropped nearly 2% Thursday. Chesapeake's shareholders have been on a wild ride over the past year, with the stock up 38% from its May 2012 lows, but down 41% from recent highs of September 2011.

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Maureen Farrell
Maureen Farrell
Staff writer, CNNMoney

Maureen Farrell is a staff writer at CNNMoney and covers Wall Street, banking, mergers and the stock and bond markets. Prior to joining CNNMoney, she covered venture capital and entrepreneurs for Forbes, and mergers and bankruptcy for Mergermarket and Debtwire, both divisions of the Financial Times.

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