E&P Earnings Looking Excellent

Aside from the too little-too soon press release from Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) the other day, we've gotten our first glimpse at earnings in the oil patch. And they're engendering some real enthusiasm.

First we heard from Questar (NYSE: STR  ) , a Rockies and mid-continent-focused exploration-and-production specialist that's diversified across multiple lines of the energy business, a la Williams (NYSE: WMB  ) and Unit (NYSE: UNT  ) . As with Chevron, this release was just a tease in regard to third-quarter results, but things are looking strong so far. Questar expects to far exceed analysts' earnings estimates, and production is coming in at the high end of management's guided range.

Questar is in a pretty enviable position. It has a substantial leasehold alongside Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL  ) and Royal Dutch Shell in the Pinedale Anticline, a Wyoming play with some of the lowest production costs on the planet. The company still isn't immune from industry headwinds, and it's reining in the 2009 budget by roughly $1 billion. But the combination of low-cost production and various commodity price-agnostic businesses means that Questar can keep plugging away at its best natural-gas plays.

Encore Acquisition (NYSE: EAC  ) investors, meanwhile, are especially ecstatic today. The Bakken player blew away production guidance and received some heady prices for its oil and gas production.

The real focus of Encore's announcement, however, was the company's liquidity and forward-capital plan. I believe that this is where the company really caught people by surprise.

First of all, the company has hedged more than 95% of its oil production for next year. This kind of announcement would have made oil bulls cringe only a few months ago, but it's a prudent step, and the company will be able to fund its drilling program at any oil price exceeding $50. Not only that, but Encore also plans to acquire more acreage and repurchase shares.

All of these efforts are being funded out of internally generated cash flow, by the way. It's exceedingly rare to see something like that in the oil patch. If commodity prices cooperate, Encore may even generate excess cash, which it would direct toward paying down debt.

In short, both Questar and Encore appear to be in fine shape as they approach 2009.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a cooperative disclosure policy.


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