Permian producers led the U.S. exploration and production (E&P) sector’s remarkable recovery from the financial crisis that was spurred by the oil price crash in late 2014. Dramatically lower costs and higher well productivity led to strong margins even at $50/bbl oil and promised bountiful returns should oil prices move higher. It’s no surprise that investors flocked to the stocks of Permian-focused producers, driving equity valuations, as measured by enterprise value per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) of proved reserves, to multiples three or four times the industry average. Recently, however, there have been growing investor concerns that logistical constraints on shipping crude oil and gas out of the region could restrict cash flows, investment budgets and output growth, and on Friday, Baker Hughes reported that the Permian’s rig count was down (albeit by only four, to 476). Since May 15, stock prices of smaller pure-play Permian producers Concho Resources, Diamondback Energy, Parsley Energy, RSP Permian, and Laredo Petroleum have fallen 10-15%. One of the larger Permian producers has bucked the trend, though: Pioneer Natural Resources. Today, we explore the drivers of Pioneer’s current valuation and analyze the factors that could propel future growth.
Until the fall in crude oil prices over the past few days, U.S. oil and gas producers had been basking in the glow of the highest oil prices in years. Not surprisingly, in the first quarter of 2018 the 44 major U.S. exploration and production companies we track reported the highest quarterly profit and cash flow since the 2014-15 oil market crash brought many to the edge of a financial abyss. These producers put themselves into a position to benefit from the commodity price recovery by implementing dramatic strategic shifts and an operational transformation that emphasized operating efficiency, portfolio high-grading and financial discipline. Now, with oil prices softening somewhat, the prospects for continued profitability growth for the E&P sector as a whole are mixed. Today, we do a deep dive into the results and outlook for the companies in the Oil-Weighted, Diversified, and Gas-Weighted peer groups.
With oil prices higher than they’ve been in some time, it’s no surprise that the 44 major U.S. exploration and production companies we track reported — as a group — the highest quarterly profit and cash flow since 2014. Regaining a solid financial footing has been a long, painful struggle for crude oil and natural gas producers, who slipped into a river of red ink after the crude oil price collapse in late 2014 and 2015. After implementing a dramatic strategic and operational transformation, the industry returned to the black in 2017 despite a mid-year oil price dip, generally weak gas prices, and lingering write-downs from massive portfolio shifts. Now, strengthening oil prices and continued operational and financial discipline have lifted our E&Ps well above breakeven and suggest a higher trajectory for the remainder of the year. Today, we dive into first-quarter 2018 financial reporting by leading E&Ps to identify the drivers of a remarkable recovery.
It’s no surprise that the plunge in crude oil prices between mid-2014 and early 2016 was a five-alarm wake-up call for the 44 exploration and production companies we follow. To deal with the trauma of the crude price collapse — and generally soft natural gas prices to boot — the industry undertook a dramatic strategic and operational transformation that enabled it to climb out of a huge hole and return to profitability in 2017. Key factors driving this impressive turnaround included the high-grading of portfolios, intense capital discipline and a heightened focus on operational efficiencies. However, the trajectory of recovery has varied from company to company because of the pace of their portfolio transformations, their geographic focus and, most significantly, the commodity mix of their production. Today, we look at how specific E&Ps within our three peer groups — Oil-Weighted, Diversified, and Gas-Weighted — have been working their way back to black.
The plunge in crude oil prices that started in mid-2014 had a major and lasting impact on the 44 exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking, triggering a $188 billion swing in net results — from $57 billion in pre-tax operating profits in 2014 to $131 billion in losses in 2015. Defying predictions of widespread bankruptcies, the industry undertook a dramatic strategic and operational transformation that enabled it to emerge from the abyss and return to profitability — albeit just barely — in 2017. Key factors in the industry’s impressive turnaround include the high-grading of portfolios, intense capital discipline and a laser-like focus on operational efficiencies. Today, we dive into the 2017 financial reporting of these companies to identify how these changes have affected income statements and set up the industry for future profitability growth.
Four years ago this month, crude oil was selling for north of $100/bbl and natural gas prices were more than 50% higher than they are now. But while hydrocarbon prices sagged later in 2014 — and through 2015 and early 2016 — the declines didn’t deal a crippling blow to U.S. exploration and production companies. Instead, most of the upstream industry weathered the crisis remarkably well. Amidst that striking recovery, the 10 gas-focused E&Ps we’ve been tracking have engineered the strongest return to profitability. After $40 billion in pre-tax losses in 2015-16, they reported a collective $5.2 billion in pre-tax operating income in 2017, with all 10 producers in the black, as well as a 150% increase in cash flow over 2016, to $11.7 billion. However, gas prices have languished below $3.00/MMBtu since early February 2018 — their lowest level since mid-2016 — which means that the gas producers don’t have the tailwind that higher oil prices have been providing to their oil-focused and diversified competitors. Today, we conclude our blog series on E&Ps’ 2018 profitability outlook and cash flow allocation with a look at companies that focus on natural gas production.
Defying predictions of widespread bankruptcies and credit defaults, the U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we track returned to profitability in 2017 through a strategic transformation that featured the “high-grading” of portfolios, impressive capital discipline and an intense focus on operational efficiencies. However, the road to recovery has been longer and more challenging for some companies, particularly a few of the E&Ps in our Diversified Peer Group, whose output and reserves are more balanced between oil and gas. Their portfolio realignments have been the biggest among our three peer groups — collectively they have shed $36 billion in assets and 3.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in proved reserves over the last three years. Today, we continue our review of how rebounding oil prices are affecting E&P cash flow, this time focusing on producers with a rough balance of oil and natural gas assets.
Despite widespread predictions that the oil and gas exploration and production sector would drown in an ocean of red ink after the crude oil price crash that started a little over three years ago, E&P companies finally returned to profitability in 2017. Better yet, with oil prices exceeding $60/bbl, margins are expected to increase in 2018, giving the 44 major E&Ps we track $24.5 billion in incremental cash flow. It’s no surprise that the 17 companies in our Oil-Weighted Peer Group are the prime beneficiaries of the higher crude price, garnering $13.6 billion, or 55%, of the incremental cash flow. Today, we continue our review of how rebounding oil prices are affecting E&P cash flow, this time zeroing in on oil-focused producers.
How a company or industry handles adversity is a valuable test of its mettle. But assessing long-term sustainability requires a second test: handling prosperity. Recently released 2017 results of U.S. exploration and production (E&P) companies confirm that the industry not only defied predictions of widespread bankruptcies and credit defaults after the oil price plunge in late 2014, but learned to generate profits in a $50/bbl crude oil price world. And the E&Ps’ 2018 guidance, issued as oil prices appear to have stabilized above $60/bbl, indicate that the industry is sticking with the new financial discipline that drove its recovery, a remarkable departure from the financial profligacy in the emergence from down cycles over the previous three decades. Today, we examine how 44 large U.S. E&Ps are responding to a rebounding oil sector.
While the recently enacted federal tax cuts have been widely viewed as a boon to corporate America, including businesses in the energy sector, a new report by our friends at East Daley Capital finds a major drawback in the law for midstream companies. By slashing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% — and by allowing partnerships and “pass-through” entities to take a 20% deduction on their income pre-tax — the new law will increase the return on equity that midstreamers earn on their crude oil, NGL and natural gas pipelines. That may well lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to re-set its formula rates for at least some gas pipelines, and also is likely to heighten regulatory scrutiny of the rates charged by the owners of oil and NGL pipelines. Today, we continue our review of East Daley’s new “Dirty Little Secrets” report with a look at the tax law, the higher pipeline ROEs resulting from the tax cuts, and the midstream companies that may be affected most.
The recent rise in crude oil prices to levels not seen since late 2014 certainly has captured everyone’s attention, and generally boosted the financial prospects for U.S. producers and midstreamers alike. But while it’s often said that a rising tide lifts all boats, the fact is that accurately assessing the relative value of — and prospects for — specific midstream energy companies requires a deep, detailed analysis. Where are their assets located? How do they complement each other? Do their contractual obligations help or hinder? Sure, things may be looking up in the midstream sector in a big-picture sense, but that hardly makes every midstream company a winner. Today, we review highlights from a new East Daley Capital report that shines a bright light on 28 U.S. midstream companies.
The U.S. exploration and production (E&P) sector roared out of the starting gate in 2017 with a new optimism that fueled a more than 40% surge in capital investment. First-quarter results were strong, but an ebb in oil prices and some operational headwinds significantly lowered results in subsequent quarters. When final 2017 results are tallied in the next few weeks, the industry is on track to record its first profitable year since 2013 after posting more than $160 billion in losses in the 2014-16 period. The critical question is whether E&Ps are regaining the momentum that could drive a steady increase in profitability in 2018. Today, we analyze the clues contained in third-quarter 2017 results.
EnLink Midstream Partners LP, seeking to offset declining natural gas production in the Barnett Shale — where the master limited partnership (MLP) has extensive midstream holdings — has been implementing a strategic plan focused on acquisitions and expansions in the burgeoning STACK play in central Oklahoma and in the Permian’s Midland and Delaware basins in West Texas. The level of investment the plan requires has prevented increases in the MLP’s distributions to unit holders for nine consecutive quarters, which in turn has left EnLink’s share price languishing at about half of its 2014 high. The MLP has reported promising signs of growth in Oklahoma and the Permian as well as increased utilization of its southern Louisiana infrastructure, which it says could lead to a higher distribution to unit holders in 2018. Today, we preview our Spotlight Report on EnLink, which provides a detailed analysis of the company’s business segments to determine if its strategic plan will indeed generate real growth over the next four years.
As a volatile 2017 nears the finish line, the big question for U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) is whether they will throttle back their capital expenditures in 2018, cruise on at the same pace or step on the accelerator. We won’t have all the answers for a couple of months, but early guidance issued along with third-quarter 2017 earnings results indicates a solid 14% increase in investment by seven oil-weighted and diversified producers. The big story among this handful of announcements is a 22% gain in planned 2018 capex by giant ConocoPhillips, which had been slashing investment since 2014. The company’s $2 billion capex boost includes doubling spending on its North American unconventional portfolio. Preliminary guidance for the natural gas producers, on the other hand, tells a different and less interesting story. Six companies, two-thirds of the nine gas-weighted E&Ps we’ve been tracking, indicate their 2018 investment will be relatively flat with the preceding year. So today, we focus on the 2018 plans of the oil producers and take an in-depth look at the ConocoPhillips budgeting process and the company’s noteworthy investment increase.
At times in the past, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) have been viewed as the riverboat gamblers of U.S. commerce. Given the right market signals, producers have been known to go “all in,” tapping credit markets in the equivalent of pawning grandma’s jewelry to win big by filling an inside straight. And, of course, they’ve sometimes paid the bitter price when commodity markets dealt the inevitable bad hand. So, the obvious question when prices and cash flows dipped earlier this year after producers raised capital investment by an average 40% is whether this is déjà vu all over again. Is the industry once again piling on too much debt? Today, we look at the debt levels of the 43 U.S. E&Ps we’ve been tracking.