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.
Posts from Nick Cacchione
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.