Posts from Nick Cacchione

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.

Storm clouds may be gathering on the economic horizon as concerns about persistent inflation and looming recession roil markets and politics. But for oil and gas producers, the third quarter was the equivalent of a driver putting the top down under a flawless azure sky, dialing up the road tunes, and cruising without a care down an endless highway. Lower oil prices led to a dip in earnings and cash flow after a record-breaking second quarter, but cash still filled producers’ coffers at the second-highest rate in decades. In today’s RBN blog, we review the Q3 results of U.S. E&Ps and discuss what may lie ahead as those storm clouds move closer.

Champagne corks were popping in E&P boardrooms and executive suites over the past few weeks as they unveiled record-high second-quarter 2022 earnings and cash flows. The strong financial results in the near-idyllic quarter — pre-tax operating earnings and cash flows surged by 29% and 22%, respectively, from the already elevated Q1 2022 levels — were driven by soaring commodity prices and producers’ strict financial discipline. And the celebrations weren’t limited to E&P headquarters. Shareholders have also benefited as companies passed on the unprecedented largess to their investors. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze how U.S. oil and gas producers distributed their soaring free cash flows and discuss the underlying corporate strategies.

Out of the long, brutal struggles to create a British nation in the Medieval Ages arose the legend of Camelot, an idyllic kingdom that for a “brief shining moment” enabled its inhabitants to bask in peace and prosperity. In the second quarter of 2022, U.S. oil and gas producers that had, for the last two decades, been roiled with severe price volatility, recession, environmental pressures, investor hostility and a pandemic, finally found their Camelot. Rising oil prices and surging natural gas realizations drove per-unit revenues to a 15-year high, and nearly nine out of 10 of the incremental dollars fell straight to the bottom line as producers successfully wrangled inflation to keep costs under control. The result was E&P coffers overflowing with record earnings and cash flows. However, Camelot, in the words of the 1960 musical, was “a fleeting wisp of glory,” and clouds are emerging on the horizon for U.S. E&Ps in the third quarter. In today’s RBN blog, we catalog Q2 2022 results and preview the issues that could impact third-quarter earnings.

Just two years ago, the onset of the pandemic slashed the share prices of many oil and gas producers and the idea of parking cash in a U.S. E&P seemed to make as much sense as leaving your Porsche on a midtown street with the keys in it and the motor running. But times — and commodity prices — have changed, and hydrocarbon producers have transformed themselves into cash-flow-generating machines that attract the sagest investors. Want proof? Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway recently purchased another 10.4 million shares of Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) for over $500 million, bringing its stake in the company to a substantial 16.4%. In today's RBN blog, we detail how the major U.S. E&Ps are allocating their cash flow to keep investors happy.

The oil and gas industry has historically been roiled by global economic and political crises, from the oil embargo in 1973 to the Great Recession of 2008 to the onset of the global pandemic in early 2020.  However, amid the economic and political turmoil from the war in the Ukraine, rampant inflation and supply chain disruptions, E&P companies in recent weeks reported strong results for the first quarter of 2022, riding the wave of rising commodity prices as record volumes of cash flowed into corporate coffers. Producers successfully absorbed service cost increases and resisted calls to abandon their profits-focused fiscal discipline to generate Q1 2022 pre-tax operating earnings and cash flows that were up 25% and 12%, respectively, from the two-decade-high results recorded in the last quarter of 2021. In today’s RBN blog, we detail the industry’s outstanding results and preview its performance for the rest of the year.

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.

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.

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.

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.