Posts from Nick Cacchione

The cacophony of Black Friday promotions may make us all wonder if the “giving thanks” part of the fourth Thursday of November has been subsumed by rampant consumerism. But we suspect that E&P executives sat down to more traditional celebrations of gratitude as the upstream part of the oil and gas industry rebounded nicely in Q3 from five consecutive periods of declining profits and cash flows. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze Q3 2023 E&P earnings and cash flows and provide some perspective on the past and future profitability of U.S. oil and gas producers. 

Much like their upstream counterparts, midstream companies have shifted to fiscal conservatism over the past few years, focusing less on growth and capital investment and more on shareholder returns, acquisitions and debt reduction. But there are significant differences between the strategies of midstream companies set up as traditional corporations, or C-corps, and those established as master limited partnerships, or MLPs. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our short series on midstream company cash flow allocation with an analysis of their reinvestment rates vs. their shareholder payouts. 

Over the past four years, we’ve documented the strategic transformation of upstream oil and gas producers from growth at all costs to the fiscally conservative concentration on accumulating free cash flow to accelerate shareholder returns. Much like their upstream counterparts, midstream corporations and master limited partnerships (MLPs) have shifted to fiscal conservatism, focusing less on growth and capital investment and more on shareholder returns, acquisitions and debt reduction. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the cash flow allocation of a representative baker’s dozen of midstream companies as they compete for investor support. 

Rapidly rising prices for goods and services have plagued the economy since the onset of the pandemic — and led the Federal Reserve to ratchet up interest rates to help cool things off. Despite strong signs that overall inflation is receding, the negative impacts are far from over. Like every other sector, the U.S. E&P industry faced soaring costs as it struggled to restore production after widespread shut-ins in the spring of 2020. However, in recent Q2 2023 earnings calls E&P executives provided guidance that suggested that costs had not only plateaued but might actually decline in 2024 and beyond. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss updated 2023 capital spending guidance for U.S. oil and gas producers and their early outlook for 2024 investment.

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? The answer to that age-old question usually indicates whether a particular situation is a cause for optimism or pessimism. That question is particularly appropriate when trying to place in perspective the cyclical movement of the earnings and cash flows of U.S. exploration and production (E&P) companies, including returns that have steadily declined with commodity prices over the last year. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze Q2 2023 E&P earnings and cash flows and provide some perspective on the past and future profitability of U.S. oil and gas producers.

What a difference a year makes! The summer of 2022 was a golden age for U.S. E&Ps that embraced a dramatic shift in their business model from prioritizing growth to a focus on maximizing cash flows and emphasizing shareholder returns. Oil prices over $90/bbl and gas prices hovering about $7/MMBtu filled their coffers and funded lavish increases in share repurchases and dividends. But those golden days quickly faded as oil prices retreated and gas prices plunged 66% to just above $2/MMBtu. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how E&Ps are scrambling to sustain shareholder return programs in the face of shrinking cash flow.

One of the major shocks of the pandemic was walking into supermarkets to see vast stretches of bare shelves where, for decades, stacks of toilet paper, diapers, infant formula, cooking oil, and even white flour used to magically repopulate overnight. The fix turned out to be relatively easy: Get people back to work and work out the kinks in delivery networks. (Now our only concern is how expensive everything is!) Rebuilding inventories in the oil and gas industry, in contrast, is an ever-present concern, longer-term in nature and more complicated, involving a wide range of variables and uncertainties. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the challenges that exploration and production (E&P) companies face in their efforts to more efficiently and cost effectively replace their oil and gas reserves — and we highlight some early warnings signs of potential future inventory issues.

Unlike most of us, CEOs and other senior executives at U.S. oil and gas companies derive the lion’s share of their compensation not from salaries, but from bonus and incentive programs tied to performance targets set by their boards of directors. So it’s no surprise that the dramatic strategic shift implemented by U.S. E&Ps and integrated energy companies over the last decade has been steered by an equally dramatic change in their compensation incentives. In today’s RBN blog, we review how top executives at oil and gas companies are compensated and analyze the shift in the incentives they are motivated to meet.

We’re now in the midst of the summer vacation season, but a recent survey showed that just two out of five Americans are planning a trip that requires a flight and/or hotel stay — the fact is, inflation has whittled away at discretionary income. U.S. E&P companies are in a similar boat. After a brutal decade marked by intense commodity price volatility, oil and gas producers over the past couple of years have won back investors with a new fiscally conservative approach that prioritizes harvesting free cash flow to fund surging shareholder returns. But more recently, lower commodity prices and persistent inflation have significantly eroded the funds available for dividends and share repurchases. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze the increasingly difficult cash allocation decisions oil and gas producers made in Q1 2023 and are likely to face in future quarters.

U.S. E&P companies engineered a spectacular recovery from the near financial disaster brought on by the pandemic. They rode a rising tide of commodity prices to generate record profits and cash flows that peaked in mid-2022 when West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crested at $114/bbl in May and natural gas prices breached the $9/MMBtu mark in August. But sustaining that level of return has been an uphill battle against commodity prices that have fallen off significantly from their peak as well as persistent inflation that has burdened the entire economy. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze the impact of this battle on the Q1 2023 results of oil and gas producers and provide an outlook for Q2.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last year or so about U.S. E&Ps exerting financial discipline by moderating their investments in growth, paying down debt and returning substantial portions of their free cash flow to investors in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. So, worries in the broader economy that the banking crisis and the specter of a looming recession may restrict access to capital markets shouldn’t be a major concern for the 41 oil and gas producers we monitor, right? As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. The bad news is that the E&P sector still holds quite a bit of debt and that several of the companies we track added to their debt load in 2022. The good news is that total debt levels are down and that the net present value (NPV) of oil and gas reserves — a key factor in determining how much debt an E&P can handle — has soared, which may make it easier for them to borrow money if they need it.

The saying goes, “If you got it, flaunt it,” and the rise of social media has certainly accelerated the ostentatious display of sudden wealth by rock stars, rappers, tech billionaires, star athletes and others. While it might be unseemly for executives at oil and gas companies to indulge in bling from gold chains to $400,000 Maserati GranCabrios to half-billion-dollar mega-yachts, they weren’t shy about displaying their companies’ financial gains last year from surging commodity prices in the form of lavish shareholder returns that in some cases dwarf returns from the traditional dividend giants. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll detail the extraordinary 2022 returns allocated to oil and gas investors and discuss the warning signs that 2023 will be a leaner year.

Last August, we titled our review of Q2 2022 E&P financial results Camelot after rising oil prices and surging natural gas realizations drove revenues, profits and cash flows to levels that seemed like an unrealizable dream for producers that had teetered on the brink of financial instability just two years before. Recent year-end results revealed the strongest returns in the industry’s history, much of which were distributed to long-suffering shareholders. But dreams fade and prices retreat, and Q4 2022 results suggest a far less idyllic 2023. In today’s RBN blog, we review the record 2022 performance and more sobering Q4 results.

While soaring commodity prices have been the most important driver of record E&P cash flow generation over the past 12 months, shareholders have also benefited from a new, post-pandemic financial discipline that has lowered the industry’s reinvestment rate to an all-time low of 35%. However, the 2022 capital expenditures initially planned by the 42 U.S. producers we track were expected to rise a healthy 24% over 2021 levels and their spending plans for the just-finished year continued to increase as 2022 wore on. While only a handful of E&Ps have released their actual 2023 budgets, their most recent conference call comments suggest that the investment momentum will keep building in the new year. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze producers’ 2022 capital investment and the key indicators for 2023 growth.

One of life’s vicarious pleasures is indulging in some daydreaming about what we’d do with a substantial financial windfall, maybe from a lottery win, a bequest from a long-lost relative, or a five-horse parlay. Thanks to a dramatic surge in post-pandemic commodity prices, U.S. E&Ps are living out that dream as 2022 cash flow from operating activities (CFOA) is on track to quadruple from 2020 lows and more than double from pre-pandemic levels. In allocating those funds, producers face the same kinds of decisions we would all face: ramping up current spending, whittling away at debt, tucking cash away for a rainy day, or distributing funds to family and friends. Possibly influenced by the upcoming holiday season, oil and gas producers turned extremely generous in the third quarter as shareholder returns reached record levels. In today’s RBN blog, we detail the cash-flow allocations made by the 42 publicly owned E&Ps we follow and speculate on future trends.