Posts from Nick Cacchione

Thursday, 05/10/2018

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.

Thursday, 05/03/2018

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.

Wednesday, 04/18/2018

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.

Thursday, 04/12/2018

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.

Thursday, 04/05/2018

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.

Tuesday, 03/27/2018

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.

Thursday, 01/25/2018

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.

Wednesday, 12/20/2017

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.

Monday, 12/04/2017

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.

Tuesday, 11/07/2017

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.

Monday, 10/23/2017

Despite some hints that U.S. exploration and production companies are slowing some of their drilling in high profile shale basins — including last week’s decline of 15 operating rigs in the Baker Hughes count, our analysis of 43 representative E&Ps suggests that more than half expect their upstream capital spending in 2017 to exceed cash flow — a definite sign of optimism — and one fifth of the E&Ps will outspend cash flow by more than 50%. Is this a case of rose-colored glasses? Blind faith? Or have E&Ps’ post-price-crash efforts to high-grade their portfolios and improve their operational efficiency given them well-deserved confidence that if they don’t “back down” on capex things will turn out well?  Today, we analyze the cash flow versus the capex of 43 U.S. E&Ps and discuss what it all means.

Tuesday, 10/10/2017

The 13 diversified exploration and production companies we’ve been tracking would have posted second-quarter 2017 pre-tax operating profits of more than $4.8 billion — $1.1 billion more than their profits in the first quarter — if ConocoPhillips, the largest of the 13, hadn’t taken a $6.3 billion write-down in the value of the company’s crude oil and natural gas assets and registered a nearly $2.8 billion second-quarter loss as a result. With an outlier radically skewing the group’s numbers, it’s best to put our baker’s dozen diversified E&Ps into two baskets — one for the 12 that didn’t take any significant impairments and the other for the lone E&P that took a huge one — and analyze each basket separately. Which is what we do in today’s blog.

Tuesday, 09/26/2017

The 43 U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking racked up $160 billion in losses in 2015-16, but they turned things around in the first quarter of 2017, posting profits of $9.1 billion, or $9.12 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe), during that three-month period. At first glance, the second quarter might seem like a return to tough times; profits by the group fell more than 80%, to only $1.7 billion, or $1.71/boe. However, when $6.3 billion in impairments by ConocoPhillips ­­­­— most of them tied to $16 billion asset sales and a write-down of the Australia Pacific LNG project — are excluded, second-quarter profits by our universe of Oil-Weighted, Diversified and Gas-Weighted E&Ps totaled $8.0 billion, or $8.02/boe, a decline of only 11.6% from the first three months of 2017. Today, we begin a review of E&P performance and profitability with a big-picture look at key elements of their income statements.

Monday, 09/11/2017

Even with a double-digit percentage decline in crude oil prices since their initial capital spending budgets for 2017 were set, the 13 diversified U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking are trimming their spending plans for the year by only $300 million, largely keeping in place $19 billion in drilling and completion investment. The Diversified Peer Group’s apparent confidence flies in the face of eroding investor sentiment as the median enterprise value per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) of reserves has declined 23% since year-end 2016 to $13.72/boe. Today, we review the changes in the outlook for the Diversified Peer Group’s upstream capital spending plans and update their expectations for 2017 oil and natural gas production.

Tuesday, 08/22/2017

Despite a 12% decline in crude oil prices from their December 2016 highs, the 43 top U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking are largely maintaining their aggressive 2017 drilling and completion capital spending plans, announcing a mere $1.0 billion — or 1.5% — decline in total investment since the plans were unveiled. The industry’s apparent confidence in the long-term profitability of its aggressive development of the major U.S. resource plays is in sharp contrast with eroding investor sentiment that has driven Standard & Poor’s (S&P) E&P Index 29% lower than its late-2016 peak. The companies that announced modest investment reductions — about one-third of our universe of 43 E&Ps — cited cost savings from increased drilling efficiency and divestments as well as the lower short-term price outlook as reasons for the cuts. Today we review the changes in the overall outlook for 2017 upstream capital spending and oil and natural gas production, and take a quick peek into our three peer groups: those that focus on oil, those that focus on gas, and diversified E&Ps.