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Driven by the ongoing trough in oil prices, Chevron (CVX), Equinor (EQNR) and Eni (E) made announcements on spending cuts.
As the world fights a pandemic, top energy companies will have to reassess their payout strategies, either by slowing down share buybacks or reintroducing non-cash dividends.
One thing we could say about the analysts on Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) - they aren't optimistic, having just made...
(Bloomberg) -- The American shale industry shocked the world with its rebound after the 2014-2016 bust, setting records for output that pushed the U.S. to the top spot among oil-producing countries. A handful of experts is saying that will happen again.The comeback trail would be steep and long. The spread of coronavirus is crushing demand while Saudi Arabia and Russia are creating a glut. Everybody agrees U.S. production will take a bigger hit than last time, when it dipped before soaring. As many as 70% of the 6,000 shale drillers may go bankrupt, and one-third of shale-patch workers are expected to lose their jobs. Wall Street, which financed the last boom, has cut off the cash spigot.But some experts are saying the future, however far off, will be better. They’re looking past the dire forecasts and vertical chart lines and cautioning against despair. They’re echoing a widespread view that’s mostly unspoken during the market meltdown: Yes, America can shock the world again. The boom-and-bust cycle will shift, and shale is in a position, with its infrastructure, its ability to ramp-up quickly and its plentiful reserves, to rise from the ashes stronger than ever.When the dust settles in the Permian Basin and other American shale fields, the survivors will be leaner and more tech savvy, according to Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian and vice chairman of IHS Markit Ltd. That means lower production costs and a greater ability to respond to the next price rebound with the last thing Moscow and Riyadh want -- another boom.“Companies go bankrupt, but rocks don’t go bankrupt,” Yergin said in an interview. “When this all shakes out, there will be other people to develop shale.”Noah Barrett also believes the growth engine of U.S. crude production will be humbled, but won’t flicker out. That’s because shale has extensive infrastructure that isn’t going anywhere.“The resource is still there, the pipeline capacity, the processing capacity,” said Barrett, a Denver-based energy analyst at Janus Henderson Investors. “Those are still there.”Even if predictions are correct, that overall American oil output will slide to 8 million or 9 million barrels a day, down about one-third from the current 13 million, the U.S. would still count among the world’s very top producers, Barrett said.Bloomberg Intelligence is forecasting a more-modest production falloff of about 1.5 million barrels a day.The weakest companies “will go into stronger hands,” said Vincent G. Piazza, BI’s senior oil analyst. “The industry is going to be in a lot better shape than in 2014-2016. The balance sheet is in a lot better shape. I wouldn’t underestimate the ability of this industry to re-create itself.”Fereidun Fesharaki is a shale believer, too. The chairman of global energy consultant FGE said he also expects the price squeeze to force explorers to become more efficient and cost-competitive.Still, any rays of optimism must penetrate a very dense, dark cloud. In the market cataclysm that’s still unfolding, crude and fuel prices around the world have sunk to levels not seen in nearly two decades.As if by evil magic, the Covid-19 outbreak has chased tens of millions of people from streets, stores, factories and travel hubs, suddenly degrading demand for gasoline, jet fuel and diesel across the world’s largest economies.Veteran crude analyst Roger Diwan expects global consumption to plunge by more than 14 million barrels a day -- the biggest demand shock since the birth of the oil age. The pipeline that hauls 60% of the East Coast’s gasoline supply from the Gulf Coast is cutting capacity by one-fifth. In Chicago, wholesale gasoline tumbled to 15 cents a gallon, the lowest since at least 1992.The virus-driven calamity has been compounded by the disintegration earlier this month of the Russia-Saudi cooperation pact that capped global crude supplies. Because of the rapidly expanding worldwide glut of crude, a barrel of oil in some parts of Texas recently fetched about $16. In Canada, oil traded for less than $10.The price plunge instantly made thousands of prospective shale sites money-losing propositions. Companies have been in such a hurry to cut losses that some have paid early-termination penalties on rigs and other gear to halt work before contracts are up.Slashing SpendingEven Chevron Corp. is retrenching. The California giant, widely recognized as holding some of the richest acreage in the Permian, said Tuesday it was slashing spending by $4 billion and halting share buybacks to conserve cash.In the final three months of 2019, nine explorers and six service companies filed for bankruptcy, according to Haynes and Boone LLC. That represented $13.5 billion in debt. This year’s churn is just getting started. Mizuho Securities analyst Paul Sankey expects as many as 70% of the 6,000 or so shale drillers to go bankrupt before the cycle turns.But private-equity firms that swooped in to buy ailing explorers and tempting assets during the last bust won’t be able to unfurl a safety net this time. The buy-and-flip model that underpinned their foray into shale has disappeared, forcing those firms to become oilfield operators, which in turn means tapping their own credit facilities, said Ian Rainbolt, vice president of finance at Warwick Energy Group, the biggest owner of non-operated U.S. shale assets.Only about one-third of the Permian and other U.S. fields count as sweet spots that can harvest oil profitably at $30 a barrel, he said. West Texas Intermediate traded at $21.42 on Friday.“Private equity’s going to be out of the game,” Rainbolt said. “It’s a very, very tough fund-raising market.”In the meantime, service providers -- the hired hands of the oil industry who do everything from stack steel pipes to frack wells -- will experience extreme pressure, along with the explorers who are demanding price cuts, said Stacey Morris, director of research at Alerian, an indexing and research company. Pipeline owners are somewhat insulated because oil and natural gas still need to be shipped to refiners and export terminals, she said.Shale Threshold“The market is going to be out of balance for quite some time,” Morris said.Yergin, the confidante of oil ministers and chief executives, sees the threshold for reinvigorating shale between $50 and $60 a barrel. U.S. crude was trading above the $50 level as recently as Feb. 26.“At $50, we’ll start to see a recovery and a step up in investment, so long as people feel safe about the price floor beneath them,” he said.It’s funny that Yergin should put it that way. A big part of shale’s resilience lies in its unique geology. Unlike the so-called conventional fields in Saudi Arabia and Russia, North American shale is rock so dense that it doesn’t degrade or collapse on itself if oil production is interrupted. In other parts of the world, disrupting output can do irreversible damage.That’s why the bulk of Chevron’s $4 billion spending cut will take place in the Permian, CEO Mike Wirth said Tuesday. It’s a rare field where production can be turned off almost instantly without adverse long-term impacts.With shale, “the assets don’t go away because you haven’t destroyed the field,” said Ken Medlock, senior director of Rice University’s Center for Energy Studies. “We’ll see a thinning of the herd but the assets will still be there.”(Adds Bloomberg Intelligence analyst’s comment in 10th paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Diamondback Energy, Apache and Occidental
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Under the watchful eye of Beijing’s energy hawks, China’s oil and gas majors have splurged for more than a decade, first on deals abroad and then drilling at home. Yet with crude prices at less than half where they were at the start of the year and demand battered by a coronavirus epidemic, they’re preparing to cut back.Cnooc Ltd. signaled Wednesday it might reduce its 2020 capital expenditure budget, which was set at as much as $13 billion, the highest since 2014. PetroChina Ltd., the country’s largest oil producer with a market value of $117 billion, suggested Thursday that it would do the same. Given the delicate politics involved, it’s a welcome hint of rational frugality.Energy security has always been a top concern for China’s leadership. Overseas deals peaked at $28 billion in 2012, the year Cnooc bid for Canada’s Nexen. Local production growth has been less exuberant, and China has been importing ever more. As trade tensions with Washington rose in 2018, President Xi Jinping urged the country’s state-owned titans to drill. That set off a frenzy from deepwater fields in the South China Sea to shale gas in Sichuan, where China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec, has led. Performing national service is fine when oil is at $60 a barrel, even if the improvements are unimpressive compared to the capital spent. It’s a different matter when West Texas Intermediate is just coming off an 18-year low of less than $20. That’s a price at which no one can make money — not even Cnooc, with an all-in production cost of less than $30 per barrel of oil equivalent. Cnooc’s adventures in U.S. onshore and Canadian oil sands look terrible; its buccaneering domestic ventures are little better.Overseas, oil majors from Chevron Corp. to Saudi Aramco are cutting spending to preserve capital. Dividends are precarious. Logic dictates that China’s producers, even with healthier balance sheets, will follow the same pattern. The question is whether they can put financial logic ahead of political necessity. So far, the message is cautious: Cnooc executives pointed out that 2020 spending targets were drawn up when oil was at $65, so adjustments would be made. It gave no specifics. PetroChina, meanwhile, didn’t disclose precise targets for the year. That’s no accident, given a volatile market. After a string of personnel changes, there are new bosses across the industry. Political priorities haven’t been set in stone, given the delay in the annual National People’s Congress meeting. Still, the official message has been clear: Life is returning to normal after a devastating shutdown. Announcing a drastic spending cut, or anything that might hint at job losses or a weak economy, simply isn’t on the cards. PetroChina employed 476,000 at the end of 2018.That doesn’t mean that there won’t be mild cuts followed by steeper ones later in the year, a pattern seen before.How steep? Unlike during the last price crunch, in 2014 and 2015, the forward curve suggests prices will remain low, with little prospect for a quick solution to the Russia-Saudi spat that has worsened a global supply glut. Demand, meanwhile, is in the doldrums. China’s economy, and therefore its own appetite for oil and gas, is recovering only slowly, and the rest of the world is ailing as more lockdowns, factory closures and travel restrictions are imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Analysts at UBS Group AG forecast Cnooc’s capex could come down 25% over the next two years, a cut that could be far deeper if oil averages closer to $30 this year. Overall, they project Chinese state-owned oil producers could cut spending by over a third, dragging production down 8% to 9%. Exploration budgets may be trimmed, though domestic production — where job preservation remains key — will mostly be spared. That leaves refining and other downstream activities, plus projects abroad, to bear the brunt. Low energy prices aren’t all bad for China, which imports more than 70% of the crude it consumes. Even liberalization of the domestic gas market becomes easier when prices are low enough for consumers to cope with change, Michal Meidan of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies points out. Cheaper oil could eventually stimulate demand. For now, a little less drilling all round. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Clara Ferreira Marques is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities and environmental, social and governance issues. Previously, she was an associate editor for Reuters Breakingviews, and editor and correspondent for Reuters in Singapore, India, the U.K., Italy and Russia.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- High inventories of oil and low prices are forcing Venezuela to consider shutting wells, adding a dire context for Nicolas Maduro’s handling of an economy already under stress from the coronavirus crisis.Overall production plummeted to 464,000 barrels of oil a day last week, according to two people with access to the data who asked not to be named because the information is private. That’s down about 38% from February. Meanwhile, inventories of about 30.9 million barrels are sitting with no buyers on the coasts of Venezuela, Togo, Singapore, Malaysia, India and China.That’s forcing Maduro’s government to consider shutting wells, one person said. It’s a decision that would come as ventures that make up more than half of Venezuela’s output have dwindled over the past weeks.According to four people with knowledge of these operations, state-controlled Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. and Chevron Corp.’s Petropiar was at 50,000 barrels a day last week, down from 120,000 in January while Rosneft PJSC’s main venture, Petromonagas, dropped to 20,000 barrels a day last week, a quarter of their January production.Expatriates and local employees at international oil companies including Chevron and Repsol SA were sent home in compliance with Maduro’s nationwide quarantine measures on March 12, according to two of the people.Chevron declined to comment, while representatives for PDVSA, Rosneft and Repsol didn’t respond to requests for comment.There are about 91 cases of the virus in Venezuela. Caracas and cities nationwide are in a lockdown and the only transportation allowed is for food, health, security and government business. Flights to Europe, Colombia and other destinations have been canceled.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The world's biggest oil and gas firms should break an industry taboo and consider cutting dividends, rather than taking on any more debt to maintain payouts as they weather the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, investors say. The top five so-called oil majors have avoided reducing dividends for years to keep investors sweet and added a combined $25 billion to debt levels in 2019 to maintain capital spending, while giving back billions to shareholders. The strategy was designed to maintain the appeal of oil company stocks as investors came under increased pressure from climate activists to ditch the shares and help the world move faster towards meeting carbon emissions targets.
Crude oil prices have crashed by 60% since January as Saudi Arabia and Russia pump full bore to grab share in a dwindling market, and gasoline and jet fuel use has slumped. The reset is being felt across the industry, as Chevron was joined on Tuesday in reducing expenses by oilfield service leaders Halliburton and Schlumberger , independent refiner Phillips 66 , and Canada's Suncor . "This is as unprecedented an oil price environment as I can recall seeing,” Chevron Chief Executive Michael Wirth said in an interview.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The critical element when ripping off a Band-Aid is speed. Chevron Corp.’s cut to its spending budget and suspension of buybacks, announced Tuesday morning, hurts of course. Looked at another way, though, it merely acknowledges the injuries inflicted already. It also leaves a certain large rival whose name rhymes with MexxonObil looking like a laggard again, so that probably helps.No Western oil company’s economics balance at $25-ish a barrel. The market knows this; hence, energy stocks currently vie with the similarly challenged Materials sector for the title of smallest in the S&P 500. Under such circumstances, and with oil demand having dropped into a chasm of pestilence, the prudent thing is to abandon even minimal growth and conserve as much cash as possible without wrecking the business or one’s relationship with investors altogether. Chevron is cutting its capex budget by 20% and, having bought back $1.75 billion of stock in the first quarter, suspending repurchases until further notice.Cutting guidance isn’t pleasant, but given the drop in the stock already, there’s no need to disburse more cash: Even without the buyback, Chevron yields more today on pure dividend than it did on its analyst day. There’s little point funneling more cash to investors if they aren’t valuing it. A similar situation exists for ConocoPhillips, which trimmed capex and cut, but didn’t suspend, its buyback program last week. That leaves one mega-cap U.S. oil and gas producer that is yet to adjust course.Exxon Mobil Corp. had the unfortunate timing of defending its counter-cyclical spending splurge the day before OPEC+ broke up in acrimony and sealed the oil market’s fate. The company has since indicated it is evaluating potentially big cuts to spending, having suffered a credit-rating downgrade from Standard & Poor’s in the meantime. But details are yet to come, and Chevron’s move leaves Exxon looking flat-footed.Exxon now yields more purely on its dividend, but that indicates higher stress. Forecasts for 2020 are in flux to say the least. Still, using Ebitda as a proxy for cash from operations, current consensus figures imply Chevron needing to borrow a little to cover capex and payouts and Conoco covering from cash flow. Both have strong balance sheets. Exxon, on the other hand, has been borrowing or selling assets to cover dividends for a while. And consensus forecasts indicate cash flow won’t cover capex, let alone the roughly $15 billion dividend payout.Despite Tuesday morning’s bounce in oil prices, the market still faces the prospect of storage potentially being maxed out within a couple of months or so — which would precipitate a further crash. It is, therefore, perhaps too early to speculate on which oil stocks offer relative safety and gains on the other side of this crisis. Yet Chevron’s and Conoco’s yields, post spending cuts, look relatively robust. Chevron's stock is up 17% as of writing this. Exxon’s yield may be higher, but the Band-Aid hasn’t come off yet.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Chevron Corp. became the latest major oil company to take an ax to its budget after halting its $5 billion-a-year share buyback and halving spending in the Permian Basin, which means a large decrease in projected output from America’s biggest shale region.The California-based oil giant said Tuesday it’s lowering projected 2020 capital spending by 20%, or $4 billion. The Permian will account for the largest single element of that reduction, translating into 125,000 fewer barrels of oil equivalent per day than previously forecast, a quantity equal to about 2.5% of the basin’s total current production.“The largest single piece is in the Permian Basin, which we’ve indicated is a flexible portion of our portfolio,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The strength of Chevron’s business is the ability to flex our capital if there were market signals indicating that was the right thing to do.”European rivals Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA this week also cut their buybacks until further notice as the oil majors scramble to save money wherever they can to protect their massive dividends, which have become central to their investment case in a world that’s exploring alternatives to fossil fuels. Wirth said Chevon’s payout is his “top priority” and emphasized that it hasn’t been cut since the Great Depression.The global energy industry is slashing spending in the face of the major demand shock caused by the coronavirus and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Chevron’s response was bigger than expected, which is “positive” for sentiment toward the stock, Biraj Borkhataria, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients.There was no mention in Chevron’s statement of any reductions at Tengiz, its over-budget megaproject in Kazakhstan. Wirth had previously indicated that Chevron’s Permian oil is among the profitable parts of its portfolio, meaning the cuts announced Tuesday may reduce its overall returns on capital employed, a key metric for the industry.Exxon Mobil Corp., the biggest Western oil major, had no buyback even before this month’s collapse in oil prices and has yet to announce its response to the crisis. At $77 a barrel, it needs the highest crude price among all the majors to fund its capital spending and dividend from cash flow, according to RBC Capital Markets.Chevron was up 15% at $62.32 at 9:41 a.m. in New York amid broad gains for the stock market.Chevron’s overall production this year is now seen as roughly flat relative to 2019.(Updates share price in eighth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.