Daily Energy Post Blog Articles

Thursday, 01/20/2022

In March 2020, the collapse of the OPEC-plus coalition, the initiation of COVID-19 lockdowns, and other factors pushed the U.S. E&P sector to the brink of insolvency. Crude oil prices had crashed to $20/bbl — one-third their level at the start of that fateful year — and producers had shifted to survival mode, slashing capex, cancelling infrastructure projects, and eyeing new, more dire worst-case scenarios. Who would have thought that only 22 months later E&Ps would be winning back investors and enjoying sky-high share prices? Of course, the recovery in commodity prices played a major role in this reversal. But another driver has been an unexpected wave of corporate consolidation that has allowed many E&Ps to boost their inventories of high-margin assets, accelerate free cash flow generation, and grow shareholder returns while slashing capital and corporate expenditures. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the forces behind — and the implications of — the most important surge of corporate upstream deals in two decades.

Thursday, 01/13/2022

Over the last decade and a half, oil and gas companies have taken investors on a wild roller coaster ride as their ambitious growth strategies and stock prices have been boosted, then badly battered, by volatile demand and commodity prices. With sentiment toward the old-school energy industry turning negative, producers and midstreamers shifted course to emphasize value over volume, prioritizing solid cash flow generation and substantial shareholder returns. Midstream giant Kinder Morgan has found it especially difficult to win back investor confidence despite its largely successful efforts to stabilize its balance sheet, internally fund growth, and gradually restore its dividend. But will that be enough to improve the company’s prospects? In today’s RBN blog, we draw on more highlights from our recent Spotlight report on KMI’s portfolio, performance, and near-term growth potential, with an emphasis on the opportunities ahead.

Sunday, 12/19/2021

It may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but the best way to describe the E&P sector’s recent round of quarterly earnings calls is a celebration of remarkable climate change. Buffeted and nearly swamped over the past few years by price volatility, investor revolt, regulatory restrictions, and a global pandemic, oil and gas producers finally have the opportunity to bask amid robust returns in an increasingly sunny economic environment. E&Ps are enjoying higher profits and massive free cash flow, raising their dividends, and looking forward to 2022 with renewed optimism. In today’s RBN blog, we outline the dramatic recovery of E&Ps since mid-2020, examine the surge in third-quarter results, and look ahead to the next round of earnings calls this winter.

Wednesday, 12/08/2021

Market sentiment toward oil and gas companies, particularly producers and midstreamers, has been increasingly negative since the oil price crash in late 2014, driven by a mix of shorter-term concerns like price volatility and corporate debt and longer-term worries like the environment and an impending energy transition. One company that has found it especially difficult to regain investor confidence is midstream giant Kinder Morgan Inc., whose late-2015 decision to slash its dividend got an ice-cold reception from shareholders and sent the company’s stock price sharply lower. Over the past six years, KMI has been largely successful in its efforts to stabilize its balance sheet, internally fund growth, and gradually restore its dividend, but its current share price remains close to its late-2015 low and barely one-third its early-2015 high. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report, which analyzes KMI’s current portfolio and performance and discusses in detail the company’s new strategic initiatives to restore investor confidence.

Wednesday, 10/20/2021

For many years, the exploration and production sector of the oil and gas business was notorious for its profligate ways. When energy prices were high and money was flowing in, many E&P companies would spend like Beyoncé. But the commodity price volatility of the past few years gave E&Ps a new-for-them financial discipline. Even when prices rebounded, they held down their capital spending, and focused on paying down debt and returning cash to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends. But there’s been a shift in all that lately, with a bigger share of the inflowing money now being used to build cash balances. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze recent cash flow allocation by the 38 E&Ps we monitor and examine what this new shift may mean.

Tuesday, 09/21/2021

Everyone knows the old saw, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Oil and gas producers have historically honored this sentiment by boosting their capital spending when commodity prices were high and cutting back when realizations dipped. Their investment peaked in 2014, when oil prices were hovering over $100 per barrel, plunged with the price crash in 2015-16, recovered with $70 oil in 2018, and crashed again in the ugly early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sun is out again in 2021, but E&Ps seem to have tossed out their old mantra in favor of fiscal discipline, setting and maintaining investment at historic lows despite solid oil prices and surging gas futures. In today’s RBN blog, we review mid-year changes to E&P capital budgets and their impact on oil and gas production.

Wednesday, 09/15/2021

Memories of disasters linger, and it’s likely that no one in the North American energy sector is likely to ever forget the second quarter of 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed demand and crude oil prices bottomed out, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) scrambled to shut in wells and slashed spending in the face of an unprecedented plunge in average realizations to less than $14 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe). Not everyone bought into apocalyptic visions of the industry’s future that were circulating widely, but few analysts expected the rapid return to the level of profitability reflected in the recently released second-quarter 2021 results of the 39 major E&Ps we monitor. Rising oil prices and continuing cost control propelled the earnings of the Oil-Weighted and Diversified peer group companies over the results from the last industry performance peak in the third quarter of 2018, when WTI was priced 10% higher. Although the results of Gas-Weighted producers lagged, soaring third-quarter natural gas prices suggest a catch-up in the second half of the year. In today’s blog, we analyze the second-quarter results of our universe of 39 producers and preview third-quarter results.

Sunday, 09/05/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Tuesday, 08/31/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Monday, 07/19/2021

The massive energy-industry dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced every upstream, midstream, and downstream player to consider what it all meant for them and what they could and should do to weather the storm. A common theme emerged: management needed to delay or even jettison their plans for growth and instead focus on efficiency by cutting costs, working to maximize the revenue from every molecule, and seeking out opportunities to streamline and optimize their operations. A prime example of this push for efficiency came last week with the announcement by Plains All American and Oryx Midstream that each will contribute assets to a new, Plains-operated crude oil pipeline joint venture in the heart of the Permian’s Delaware Basin. Today, we review the plan and its rationale.

Tuesday, 07/13/2021

Credit is the lifeblood for most individuals and corporations, especially capital-intensive entities like oil and gas producers. The credit score that so strongly impacts our ability to finance a house or car, get approved for an apartment, or qualify for our dream job, is not simply based on how much we own, but several other factors, including metrics that compare our debt load with our net worth and the assets being financed, and consider the percentage of our income needed to service that debt. For E&Ps, similar metrics involving the value of their oil and gas reserves and the relationship between their income and interest payments determine the size of their revolving credit facilities, their ability to access debt capital markets, and the cost of capital they pay. Today, we analyze COVID’s impact on the credit metrics of oil and gas producers and discuss the pace and scope of the ongoing recovery.

Tuesday, 07/06/2021

Financial pain, increasing regulatory scrutiny, and rising environmental mandates have been keenly felt across the entire energy industry in the past few years. When times are tough and companies are struggling to regain their footing, corporate mergers often increase in frequency. One recently announced merger between two large Canadian midstream providers, Pembina Pipeline and Inter Pipeline, has grabbed headlines and is also turning into a corporate dogfight with a prominent third party trying to scuttle the merger and take control of Inter Pipeline. Today, we examine the two companies and what the combined entity might look like and what it might mean for the energy industry in Canada.

Sunday, 06/13/2021

The return of $70/bbl WTI raises an important question: With a lot more cash flowing in, will public E&Ps maintain the financial discipline they’ve tried to live by since the crude oil price crashes of 2014-15 and, more recently, the spring of 2020? We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that many producers once prided themselves on the riverboat-gambling nature of their business but, after a major scare or two, came to adopt a far more conservative approach to investment based on their new 11th commandment: “Thou shalt live within cash flow.” Emerging from the pandemic, E&Ps’ 2021 capital investment announcements guided to maintenance-level outlays designed to maximize free cash flow for debt reduction and returning cash to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. Still, old habits die hard, right? So, when oil prices strengthened and cash flow soared in the first few months of 2021, we wondered if producers would give in to temptation to reap short-term benefits from their accelerating output. Today, we analyze the actual first quarter cash-flow allocation of the 39 E&P companies we monitor and compare it with the deployment of cash flow in 2019 and 2020.

Wednesday, 06/02/2021

Nearly 300 million COVID vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S., and normal life is returning to public places across America. Actual fans are replacing cardboard facsimiles in ballpark seats, corner pubs and corner offices are filling up, and family gatherings now feature hugs instead of half-inch squares on a Zoom screen. And another powerful antidote, in the form of higher oil prices, has spurred a significant revival in the fortunes of the pandemic-battered upstream oil and gas industry. The spring-of-2020 crude oil price crash hit the E&P sector like a tsunami, shattering capital and operating budgets, upending drilling plans, eviscerating equity valuations, and raising concerns about whether some companies could generate sufficient cash flow to keep the lights on. Remarkable belt-tightening allowed most producers to survive, and the swift rise of oil prices beginning last fall dispelled the COVID clouds.  But the recovery in profitability and cash flow generation was slow. Today, we review the dramatic surge in E&P profits and cash flows in the first quarter of 2021.

Sunday, 04/18/2021

As the U.S. starts to emerge from under the dark cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, one hopes that some valuable lessons have been learned as a result of the hardships and sacrifices so many have endured.  While the most profound impacts were on government, healthcare and other essential services, the sudden drop in hydrocarbon demand a year ago triggered severe financial hardships for the E&P sector and provoked unpleasant memories of previous energy industry crises in 2008 and 2014-16. Producers have historically put the brakes on capital spending when commodity prices fell, then stomped on the accelerator like a race car heading into a straightaway when prices rose. But recently unveiled 2021 budgets for many E&Ps suggest that, even with the rebound in prices, they are maintaining a conservative investment paradigm that highlights strengthening balance sheets and rewarding shareholders at the expense of rapid production growth. Today, we’ll analyze the 2021 capital spending plans of the 39 E&Ps we monitor and the likely impact on their crude oil and natural gas output.