Posts from Nick Cacchione

Friday, 04/22/2022

The 43 large U.S. E&Ps that we monitor posted record earnings in 2021 and tripled their cash flow — an extraordinary turnaround from a very tough 2020. But as big a story, at least for investors, is how those oil and gas producers are allocating their surging cash reserves. Their dramatic strategic transformation from growth at any cost to maximizing returns is expected to result in 2022 yields approaching 10% for some E&Ps, rates higher than the much broader S&P 500 sector and more than double the payouts of the oil majors, the former dividend kings. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the cash-flow allocation of the major E&P companies and explain what it means for investors.

Thursday, 04/07/2022

With soaring oil prices dominating recent headlines, it’s no surprise that profits and cash flows for the U.S. exploration-and-production (E&P) sector rebounded dramatically in 2021 from heavy, pandemic-induced losses in 2020. Rising crude oil and natural gas demand fueled a whopping $150 billion turnaround in results, as the 43 major publicly traded E&Ps we monitor recorded $86 billion in pre-tax income after incurring a net loss of $66 billion in 2020. Oh, and by the way, 2021 was the most profitable year in at least the last two decades for producers, which reported income two-thirds higher than the previous peak in 2014, when commodity prices were significantly higher. In today’s RBN blog, we compare producers’ 2021 performance with 2020 and 2014 and explain why results should be even stronger this year.

Sunday, 04/03/2022

The Biden administration’s March 31 announcement that it will release an average of 1 MMb/d of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months was an acknowledgement of sorts that U.S. E&Ps won’t be ramping up their production enough in the near term to bring down oil or gasoline prices. It seems like a good assumption because, while the 40-plus crude oil and natural gas producers we monitor have indicated they are planning a 23% increase in capital spending this year and an 8% increase in production, further examination reveals that those numbers are somewhat misleading — the real gains will be significantly smaller. In today’s RBN blog, we scrutinize producers’ spending plans and production outlooks by peer group and company-by-company.

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.

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.

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.

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.