Posts from Tom Biracree

Sunday, 07/03/2022

We’ve written a lot lately about how U.S. E&Ps, whipsawed over the last decade by extreme price volatility and negative investor sentiment, have adopted a new fiscal discipline that de-emphasizes production growth and prioritizes generation of free cash flow to reduce debt and reward shareholders. But what about midstreamers? They too have been buffeted in recent years by volatile commodity prices, eroding investor support, shifting upstream investment patterns, and finally, a global pandemic. Midstream companies face a different set of challenges than oil and gas producers in repairing their balance sheet and restoring investor confidence, however, mostly because midstream investment decisions are determined both by downstream market changes and by E&Ps’ development and production activity — including producers’ ever-increasing focus on the Permian at the expense of other basins. In the encore edition of today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from RBN and East Daley’s Spotlight Report on Western Midstream Partners and how the master limited partnership has been working to reduce its debt and make the most of its strong base in the Permian’s Delaware Basin.

Wednesday, 06/08/2022

We’ve written a lot lately about how U.S. E&Ps, whipsawed over the last decade by extreme price volatility and negative investor sentiment, have adopted a new fiscal discipline that de-emphasizes production growth and prioritizes generation of free cash flow to reduce debt and reward shareholders. But what about midstreamers? They too have been buffeted in recent years by volatile commodity prices, eroding investor support, shifting upstream investment patterns, and finally, a global pandemic. Midstream companies face a different set of challenges than oil and gas producers in repairing their balance sheet and restoring investor confidence, however, mostly because midstream investment decisions are determined both by downstream market changes and by E&Ps’ development and production activity — including producers’ ever-increasing focus on the Permian at the expense of other basins. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from RBN and East Daley’s Spotlight Report on Western Midstream Partners and how the master limited partnership has been working to reduce its debt and make the most of its strong base in the Permian’s Delaware Basin.

Sunday, 03/27/2022

There’s a lot of confusion out there — both in the media and the general public — about how producers in the U.S. oil and gas industry plan their operations for the months ahead and the degree to which they could ratchet up their production to help alleviate the current global supply shortfall and help bring down high prices. It’s not as simple or immediate as some might imagine. There are many reasons why E&Ps are either reluctant or unable to quickly increase their crude oil and natural gas production. Capital budgets are up in 2022 by an average of 23% over 2021. That increase seems substantial, but about two-thirds (15%) results from oilfield service inflation. And there are other headwinds as well. In today’s RBN blog, we drill down into the numbers with a look at producers’ capex and production guidance for 2022, the sharp decline in drilled-but-uncompleted wells, the impact of inflation and other factors that weigh on E&Ps today.

Thursday, 01/20/2022

In March 2020, the collapse of the OPEC-plus coalition, the initiation of COVID-19 lockdowns, and other factors pushed the U.S. E&P sector to the brink of insolvency. Crude oil prices had crashed to $20/bbl — one-third their level at the start of that fateful year — and producers had shifted to survival mode, slashing capex, cancelling infrastructure projects, and eyeing new, more dire worst-case scenarios. Who would have thought that only 22 months later E&Ps would be winning back investors and enjoying sky-high share prices? Of course, the recovery in commodity prices played a major role in this reversal. But another driver has been an unexpected wave of corporate consolidation that has allowed many E&Ps to boost their inventories of high-margin assets, accelerate free cash flow generation, and grow shareholder returns while slashing capital and corporate expenditures. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the forces behind — and the implications of — the most important surge of corporate upstream deals in two decades.

Thursday, 01/13/2022

Over the last decade and a half, oil and gas companies have taken investors on a wild roller coaster ride as their ambitious growth strategies and stock prices have been boosted, then badly battered, by volatile demand and commodity prices. With sentiment toward the old-school energy industry turning negative, producers and midstreamers shifted course to emphasize value over volume, prioritizing solid cash flow generation and substantial shareholder returns. Midstream giant Kinder Morgan has found it especially difficult to win back investor confidence despite its largely successful efforts to stabilize its balance sheet, internally fund growth, and gradually restore its dividend. But will that be enough to improve the company’s prospects? In today’s RBN blog, we draw on more highlights from our recent Spotlight report on KMI’s portfolio, performance, and near-term growth potential, with an emphasis on the opportunities ahead.

Sunday, 09/05/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Tuesday, 08/31/2021

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.

Monday, 07/19/2021

The massive energy-industry dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced every upstream, midstream, and downstream player to consider what it all meant for them and what they could and should do to weather the storm. A common theme emerged: management needed to delay or even jettison their plans for growth and instead focus on efficiency by cutting costs, working to maximize the revenue from every molecule, and seeking out opportunities to streamline and optimize their operations. A prime example of this push for efficiency came last week with the announcement by Plains All American and Oryx Midstream that each will contribute assets to a new, Plains-operated crude oil pipeline joint venture in the heart of the Permian’s Delaware Basin. Today, we review the plan and its rationale.

Thursday, 12/24/2020

To succeed over the long term in the music business, professional sports, or the midstream sector, you need to learn from your successes and failures, and — most important — continue adapting and evolving. For many North American midstreamers, a key to success has been a thoughtful combination of expansion and diversification, plus an affinity for financial discipline, especially when the broader energy industry is going through tough, uncertain times. A prime example of that strategy is Canadian midstreamer Pembina Pipeline Corp., which after C$14 billion in acquisitions over the last four years is instituting a more cautious approach to new investment that’s largely based on self-funding and a new, more rigorous return criteria for new projects. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report, which focuses on the risks and rewards of Pembina’s new strategy.

Sunday, 12/06/2020

To succeed over the long term in the music business, professional sports, or the midstream sector, you need to learn from your successes and failures, and — most important — continue adapting and evolving. For many North American midstreamers, a key to success has been a thoughtful combination of expansion and diversification, plus an affinity for financial discipline, especially when the broader energy industry is going through tough, uncertain times. A prime example of that strategy is Canadian midstreamer Pembina Pipeline Corp., which after C$14 billion in acquisitions over the last four years is instituting a more cautious approach to new investment that’s largely based on self-funding and a new, more rigorous return criteria for new projects. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report, which focuses on the risks and rewards of Pembina’s new strategy.

Monday, 11/30/2020

It’s no surprise that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year shut down upstream mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity, just as it did America’s corporate offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and schools. U.S. M&A deal flow slowed to a trickle in the first half of 2020 as companies’ valuations dropped along with bid prices and E&P executives struggled to realign expenditures with dwindling cash flows. But, as we’ve seen in the past, energy-commodity price crashes eventually spur a resurgence in M&A activity. The dam finally broke in late July, when Chevron announced a $13 billion takeover of Noble Energy, followed in short order by other, major corporate consolidations that brought the deal value total for the last five months to nearly $50 billion. This time was different in one important way, though: Instead of the strong preying on the weak, the strong merged with the strong in low-premium, all-stock transactions. Today, we analyze this new paradigm and delve into the details of the high-value deals.

Wednesday, 11/25/2020

The energy industry in North America is in crisis. COVID-19 remains a remarkably potent force, stifling a genuine rebound in demand for crude oil and refined products — and the broader U.S. economy. Oil prices have sagged south of $40/bbl, slowing drilling-and-completion activity to a crawl and imperiling the viability of many producers. The outlook for natural gas isn’t much better: anemic global demand for LNG is dragging down U.S. natural gas prices — and gas producers. The midstream sector isn’t immune to all this negativity. Lower production volumes mean lower flows on pipelines, less gas processing, less fractionation, and fewer export opportunities. But one major midstreamer, Enbridge Inc., made a prescient decision almost three years ago to significantly reduce its exposure to the vagaries of energy markets, and stands to emerge from the current hard times in good shape — assuming, that is, that it can clear the major regulatory challenges it still faces. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant, Enbridge, which plans to de-risk its business model.

In observance of today’s holiday, we’ve given our writers a break and are revisiting a recently published blog on our last Spotlight Report on Enbridge, Inc. If you didn’t read it then, this is your opportunity to see what you missed! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 09/15/2020

The energy industry in North America is in crisis. COVID-19 remains a remarkably potent force, stifling a genuine rebound in demand for crude oil and refined products — and the broader U.S. economy. Oil prices have sagged south of $40/bbl, slowing drilling-and-completion activity to a crawl and imperiling the viability of many producers. The outlook for natural gas isn’t much better: anemic global demand for LNG is dragging down U.S. natural gas prices — and gas producers. The midstream sector isn’t immune to all this negativity. Lower production volumes mean lower flows on pipelines, less gas processing, less fractionation, and fewer export opportunities. But one major midstreamer, Enbridge Inc., made a prescient decision almost three years ago to significantly reduce its exposure to the vagaries of energy markets, and stands to emerge from the current hard times in good shape –– assuming, that is, that it can clear the major regulatory challenges it still faces. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant, Enbridge, which plans to de-risk its business model.

Wednesday, 07/22/2020

On July 20, 2020, Chevron struck the first major energy sector deal since the onset of the pandemic, announcing a $13 billion agreement to acquire U.S. E&P Noble Energy. The transaction comes 15 months after the oil major bowed out of a bidding war with Occidental Petroleum to acquire Anadarko Petroleum, a landmark, $56 billion deal in which the winner may eventually end up as the loser after taking on massive debt. Oxy is just one example of how the sharp decline in oil demand and prices has ravaged producer cash flows and earnings, virtually freezing the M&A market. Despite widespread speculation that a resumption in deal activity would target the most distressed E&Ps, Chevron has broken the market wide open with a blockbuster deal for a premier E&P. The target this time, Noble Energy, has a portfolio very similar to that of Anadarko, and is being acquired at a small fraction of the cost. Today, we examine the strategies that drove this transaction, the impacts on buyer and seller, and the implications for the upstream M&A market going forward.

Sunday, 07/19/2020

With Broadway theaters shuttered and Hollywood studios on lockdown, one of the most compelling long-term American dramas is the ongoing saga of U.S. E&P Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). Act One was a compelling David-vs.-Goliath story as Oxy battled oil major Chevron in early 2019 to acquire Anadarko Petroleum and its prime Permian acreage. Among the most fascinating elements was the supporting cast, which featured business legend Warren Buffett, who contributed a critical $10 billion to push Oxy’s deal over the top, versus billionaire investor and corporate raider Carl Icahn, who led an unsuccessful struggle to stop what he called “the worst deal I’ve ever seen.” Oxy snagged Anadarko with a winning bid of $57 billion, the fourth-highest total for an oil and gas transaction and a 20% premium to Chevron’s offer, and predicted strong future production, dividend, and cash flow growth. But those optimistic projections have been upended in the ongoing Act Two, as plunging oil demand and prices from the COVID-19 pandemic have stymied planned asset sales and ravaged cash flows. Oxy has responded by reining in spending, revamping operations, refocusing divestment plans, and restructuring debt. But is it enough? Today, we analyze the company’s current strategies and financial maneuvering, as well as the near-term outlook, under a range of oil price scenarios.