Posts from Nick Cacchione

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.

Tuesday, 04/06/2021

Just one year ago, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the energy industry’s exploration and production (E&P) sector — already reeling from a steep decline in oil prices in late 2019 — into a memorably brutal spring that threatened its survival. Demand cratered, price realizations fell to the lowest point in a decade, and cash flows dried up. Sure enough, E&P results for the first half of 2020 were a train wreck, with the three-dozen companies we track reporting a whopping $45 billion in losses, including impairments. But the dark clouds hovering over the industry began to clear in the second half of the year as the combination of production cutbacks and recovering demand triggered rising prices.  With the massive price-related impairments largely in the rear-view mirror, year-end 2020 results revealed that most E&Ps had clawed their way back to near-profitability. Today, we review their latest numbers and preview what we expect will be a sunny 2021 for the industry.

Monday, 04/05/2021

U.S. presidential transitions often bring policy changes, but few have been as dramatic and swift as the shift in energy policy that came with President Biden’s inauguration in January. Among his first acts after being sworn in was the signing of an executive order that revoked the Presidential Permit for TC Energy’s long-planned Keystone XL crude oil pipeline. Among other impacts, the move put on ice more than one-third of the Canadian midstream giant’s C$37 billion capital spending program for the 2021-24 period and unraveled TC Energy’s plan to balance its natural-gas-weighted pipeline portfolio with more crude oil pipes. So, what’s next for the midstreamer now that KXL is a no-go? In today’s blog, we’ll discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on TC Energy which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and where it goes from here.

Sunday, 12/13/2020

Wafting through the late autumn air in November, along with the sharp scent of burning leaves and the cinnamon-tinged aroma of pumpkin pie, was a moderate whiff of optimism for the energy industry’s long-beleaguered exploration and production sector. Equity prices in general were buoyed by news on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and the prospects of imminent approval that could finally bring the pandemic under control and improve industry fundamentals. E&P stocks, which also benefited from a rebound in third-quarter earnings, recorded the largest monthly gain in history: a 32% rise in the S&P E&P Index. However, their share prices were still down 69% from the 2019 highs and 45% from end-of-last-year levels as oil and gas producers still face a long road to return to “normal.” Today, we analyze the third-quarter earnings of the 40 major E&P companies we track and review the major impacts on the sector since the onset of the pandemic.

Tuesday, 09/29/2020

Battered by seismic economic shocks from sudden demand destruction and plummeting prices in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) abandoned their carefully crafted 2020 strategic plans and financial guidance and shifted into emergency survival mode to protect their financial stability. First-quarter earnings calls sounded more like FEMA disaster briefings than standard financial reporting as the companies announced aggressive capital and operational cost-cutting measures. But few E&Ps detailed the timing and duration of the investment reductions and the degree to which they would impact oil and gas production for the remainder of the year. Now, with second-quarter calls behind us and the third quarter about to end, there’s a lot more clarity on the capital spending and production fronts. Today, we discuss the evolution of E&Ps’ 2020 spending plans and how the changes will affect production for the balance of the year.

Sunday, 09/20/2020

No one in North America’s energy sector is likely to forget the second quarter of 2020 anytime soon. In those months — April, May, and June — the demand-destruction effects of the COVID-19 pandemic took root; the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) bottomed out, even going negative for a day; and crude oil-focused drillers in particular shut in vast numbers of wells. In late July and August, when exploration and production companies (E&Ps) announced their results for that train wreck of a quarter, it came as no surprise that the write-downs and losses were generally immense and, in many cases, record-shattering. But WTI prices have rebounded somewhat the past couple of months, as has production, suggesting that while E&Ps third-quarter results will be far from stellar, they’ll at least show an improvement and hopefully set the stage for further gains going forward. Today, we break down second-quarter results by producer peer group and discuss the positive trends that portend improved results for the third quarter.

Thursday, 07/02/2020

Though crude oil prices have been rebounding lately, this spring’s price crash sent shockwaves through the U.S. midstream industry, which not too long ago had emerged from a decade of massive infrastructure investment in response to unprecedented upstream production growth. Just as midstreamers were looking forward to steady earnings growth, waves of huge capex cuts and well shut-ins by producers shattered forecasts and shifted strategic instincts toward survival instead of growth. Every company is different, of course, but a lot can be learned by examining a single firm in detail to see how it will fare in the current market environment, given its particular set of assets and arrangements. Take Targa Resources. An analysis of its performance provides insights into the outlook for integrated natural gas and NGL assets, especially in the Permian Basin, as well as the value of forming joint ventures. Today, we preview our Spotlight report on Targa.

Sunday, 06/28/2020

Chesapeake Energy’s announcement yesterday that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is only the latest sign of how much the seismic economic shocks from the pandemic-triggered demand destruction have roiled the U.S. E&P sector. With equity prices plummeting to historic lows, oil and gas producers have focused their efforts on shoring up their balance sheets and share prices, by tightening their belts going into 2020, reducing capital expenditures by an average 14% in order to boost free cash flow and increase shareholder returns. So, it’s no surprise that the industry has aggressively battened down the hatches operationally and financially, mothballing rigs, suspending completions, shutting-in producing wells, slashing dividends, and suspending share repurchase programs. First-quarter 2020 earnings releases and investor calls provided a clear picture of the dimensions of the cost-cutting by the 41 U.S. E&Ps we track. But continued uncertainty about the course and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pace of economic recovery, and the outlook for commodity prices have triggered reluctance on the part of oil and gas executives to issue production guidance for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. Today, we review the current capital expenditure reductions by U.S. E&Ps and piece together clues on their impact on oil and gas production.

Tuesday, 06/16/2020

March’s crude oil price crash hit the E&P sector like a tsunami, shattering capital and operating budgets, upending drilling plans, and eviscerating equity valuations. The initial responses by producers to the price collapse included a flood of capex reductions, corporate belt-tightening, and scattered production shut-ins. But first-quarter earnings reports issued in late April and early May provided the first detailed insight into the financial wreckage the crisis unleashed on U.S. E&Ps. It wasn’t pretty. The plunge in the WTI oil price to $20/bbl at the end of the first quarter triggered a combined $60 billion in impairments of oil and gas reserves across the 41 E&Ps we track, as well as a 16% decline in average revenue per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) from the pre-pandemic fourth quarter of 2019. More trouble may be ahead: the average oil price in the second quarter is on track for a 35% decline from the first quarter, which will dramatically impact the cash flows that allow companies to pay their staff, keep the lights on, and hold creditors at bay. Today, we analyze the first-quarter earnings results of our representative sample of U.S. producers and take a look forward to the potential effect of lower pricing on second-quarter earnings.

Monday, 06/08/2020

Though crude oil prices have been rebounding lately, this spring’s price crash sent shockwaves through the U.S. midstream industry, which had just emerged from a decade of massive infrastructure investment in response to unprecedented upstream production growth. Just as midstreamers were looking forward to steady earnings growth, waves of huge capex cuts and well shut-ins by producers shattered forecasts and shifted strategic instincts toward survival instead of growth. Every company is different, of course, but a lot can be learned by examining a single firm in detail to see how it will fare in the current market environment, given its particular set of assets and arrangements. Take Targa Resources. An analysis of its performance provides insights into the outlook for integrated natural gas and NGL assets, especially in the Permian Basin, as well as the value of forming joint ventures. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on Targa.

Sunday, 04/26/2020

COVID-related demand destruction and the oil price meltdown have engulfed energy markets and companies in a thick, pervasive shroud of doom and gloom. But investors and analysts have hit upon a potential bright spot for one segment of the industry: Gas-Weighted E&Ps that had been battered by the decade-long shift of upstream capital investment to crude-focused resource plays. The massive cutbacks in 2020 capital investment by oil producers triggered by the recent, dramatic decline in refinery demand for crude will reduce not only oil output, but associated gas production as well. That drop in supply raises the prospect of meaningful increases in natural gas prices in 2021 –– hence Wall Street’s new interest in Gas-Weighted producers, whose equity values have taken off in recent weeks after a big plunge earlier this year. There’s a lingering concern though, namely that LNG exports — a key driver of gas demand for U.S. producers — may be slowed by collapsing gas prices in key international markets. Today, we discuss what’s been going on. 

Tuesday, 04/07/2020

E&Ps have long been accustomed to negative investor sentiment and the depressed stock valuations that come with it. But who among them could have anticipated the first quarter’s devastating one-two punch of coronavirus-related energy demand destruction and the collapse of the OPEC+ supply-management effort that for more than three years had propped up crude oil prices? E&Ps responded by slashing their 2020 capital spending plans and touting how much of their 2020 production is hedged. But there’s no doubt about it, the E&P sector is in for particularly hard times, as evidenced by Whiting Petroleum’s Chapter 11 filing last week. A major impediment for Whiting and other already hobbled E&Ps is a cost structure that, for many, significantly exceeds the current price of oil. Today, we discuss what an examination of more than 30 E&Ps’ lifting, DD&A and other costs reveals about the companies’ ability to stay afloat in rough seas.

Thursday, 03/19/2020

You wouldn’t know it yet from outright crude oil production volumes, which stood at 13.1 MMb/d last week, but with crude oil prices in the cellar, the situation for U.S. E&P companies has rapidly gone from bad to worse. The double whammy of the coronavirus and the Saudi’s decision to flood oil markets with new production has cast a pall over the U.S. E&P sector, sending share prices plummeting. Producers had already taken a stripped-down approach to 2020 investment, with previous guidance reducing capital expenditures by 14% in order to boost free cash flow and hike shareholder returns. That was on top of the 7% decline in capex seen in 2019. But in the last 10 days, about half of the 42 E&P companies we track have announced further, substantial cuts in planned capex. And with West Texas Intermediate prompt crude oil futures settling at $25.22/bbl yesterday — well below breakeven for many producers — and still-lower prices a real possibility, more industry-wide reductions are looming as first-quarter earnings are announced in April. Today, we break down what the recent announcements mean for capex and production volumes.

Tuesday, 12/17/2019

There has always been an aura of excitement, adventure and risk surrounding the quest to unlock natural resources, from the California Gold Rush to the early days of Texas oil wildcatting. Today’s exploration and production leaders may be just as passionate as their predecessors, but the “riverboat gambler”-type days of reckless spending in pursuit of growth now seem like a distant memory. In the brutal aftermath of the oil price crash in late 2014, producers have been forced to follow their heads instead of their hearts, adopting a far more careful approach to investment that prioritizes portfolio rationalization over expansion, and cash flow above growth. E&P companies in 2019 slashed capital investment, and, according to early guidance, they will again in 2020. Underscoring this more conservative attitude is the release of the 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission price deck, which impacts the economics of booking oil and gas reserves. It showed the WTI oil price for SEC reporting purposes declined about $10/bbl, or 15%, to $55.69/bbl in 2019, while the Henry Hub SEC price declined by 17%, to $2.58/MMBtu. Today, we examine a representative group of U.S. E&Ps’ spending plans for 2020, which reflect the impacts of a lower-price environment.

Sunday, 11/24/2019

With oil and gas prices drifting lower and markets continuing to pummel exploration and production companies, shareholders and analysts approached the third-quarter 2019 earnings season with the sense of impending doom akin to awaiting the results of an IRS audit. There was a lot of talk that the Shale Revolution was fizzling out and that the industry was approaching yet another financial Armageddon, like the 2014-15 oil price crash crisis. But the results belied the worst fears: while lower commodity prices did reduce profits and cash flows, E&Ps as a group remained solidly profitable in the third quarter, with 40 of the 47 companies we track ending up in the black. The reductions in operating income and cash flows were generally in line with lower realizations from oil and gas sales, although lower commodity prices did trigger some write-downs of properties that could no longer be profitably developed. Once again, E&Ps held the line on costs, continuing the financial discipline that fueled the industry’s recovery after the mid-decade price crash. Although producers generally cut back expenditures in line with lower cash flows, increases in drilling efficiency allowed production to keep growing. Today, we examine the financial health of the 47 E&Ps we track in this analysis and the ways they are navigating the price downturn.