Thursday, February 6, 2014

Low Chesapeake Production Growth Trumps Capital Spending Cuts – Maybe

Shares of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) were trading down handily after the company announced a 20% cut in capital spending for 2014. But the company still expects production overall to grow 2% to 4%.

The company under CEO Doug Lawler has been focusing on boosting output from its most profitable oil and natural gas assets as it continues to cuts costs such as the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas and Utica shale region of Ohio. Chesapeake is the bigger operator in that area.

Chesapeake expects to spend $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion on new wells and related facilities, down from roughly $7 billion in 2013. Net of 2013 asset sales, Chesapeake sees overall oil production growing 8% to 10%, with 44% to 49% output gains in natural gas liquids and 4% to 6% growth in natural gas.

It sees production costs falling 10% to $4.25 to $4.75 per barrel of oil equivalent while general and administrative costs will fall 25%.

Chesapeake’s operations have been hit by the winter’s cold temperatures, Lawler said on a conference call Thursday. Its average daily oil and natural-gas output in December was well below expectations because of “weather challenges,” he said. The problems have extended into January.

Chesapeake is the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States. It got into trouble during the 2008 financial crisis after then-CEO Aubrey McClendon expanded the company too fast and gas prices collapsed. The stock fell as much as 78%, and shareholders revolted against McClendon’s management style and extravagance. McClendon left the company in 2013.

Since McClendon left, Chesapeake has been pruning assets and cutting staff and costs to improve results. The company will report fourth-quarter results on February 26.

The news sounded good just looking at the raw data. Nonetheless, the shares were down $1.81, or 6.9%, to $24.40. The shares were up 63% in 2013 and are off nearly 10% this year. They’re still down 64% from their 2008 peak. Thursday’s reaction is one that looks to be an instance where investors think that companies have to spend more money to make more money.

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