The oil industry may be getting pinched by falling prices, but the next year could be a busy and lucrative time for private equity firms and restructuring specialists working in energy.
With crude prices nearly 60 percent off their highs, experts foresee a wave of corporate restructuring and acquisitions playing out over the next 12 to 18 months. Oilfield services companies are set to absorb smaller firms, while exploration and production companies could face a "death spiral" as their access to debt dwindles.
In December, Deutsche Bank analysts projected that U.S. shale producers "could be entering a zone of deep distress" once oil dipped below the $60 to $55 range.
"If prices were to stay sustainably below these levels for a few months/quarters, chances of a broad sector restructuring increase materially," they wrote.
U.S. crude first settled below $60 on Dec. 11 and fell below $55 the following week. U.S.-traded West Texas Intermediate was near $44 on Thursday, while internationally traded Brent crude was close to $49.