Goldman Sachs is considering breaking up the $2bn (£1.3bn) sale of the Swedish oil group owned by the Saudi billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi.
It is understood that most potential bidders, possibly including the UK pair BP and Shell, for Svenska Petroleum Exploration's assets are not interested in the whole group, due to its broad geographic spread. The company has offshore production and exploration fields in five west African countries, the Norwegian North Sea and Latvia.
An industry source said that bidders, which include private-equity players keen on cashing in on the growing African oil and gas market, had expressed interest in individual countries and regions.
This is thought to be causing Goldman and Mr Amoudi to rethink, as they are likely to garner a higher overall price tag by selling the group off in chunks. The African assets could go in one lump, or they could also easily be divided by the countries, which include the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Angola.
A leading African oil player said: "The [west African] fields might make an interesting package for private equity as they could buy them out and build them into a big company."
It is possible oil giant Royal Dutch Shell could be interested in these fields, as it is looking to grow in the continent. However, a source close to the company said a decision on a bid would not be dependent on whether Shell fails in its bid for London-listed Cove Energy, which it is eyeing up to bulk up its presence in east Africa.
Last week, Shell's £1.12bn offer for Cove, which holds an 8.5 per cent stake in massive natural gas field off the coast of Mozambique, was trumped by Thailand's PTT. Shell is considering whether it should make a counter-offer, though there are other options in east Africa, which is considered the world's hottest oil and gas exploration area.
The source close to Shell warned that "pride" was at stake and that Shell was unlikely to accept defeat, suggesting that Cove could eventually go for a hugely generous price.
Ethiopia-born Mr Amoudi will hope the interest in east Africa, which includes a stake in a field discovered by Italy's Eni, could spark further interest in the Svenska auction.
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