This Just In: Upgrades and Downgrades

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At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." Today, we'll show you whether those bigwigs actually know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS to track the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and worst.

SandRidge gets drilled
Man, Wall Street really isn't happy with SandRidge Energy (UNKNOWN: SD.DL  ) this week. Yesterday, SandRidge picked up its third downgrade of the week, as KeyBanc Capital Markets joined Citigroup and Canaccord Genuity in criticizing the company for costing too much and earning too little.

The downgrades began on Dec. 17, with Canaccord first downgrading the stock to sell, then following up with a later note blasting SandRidge's sale of its Permian Basin assets for $2.6 billion, a number Canaccord characterized as "not sufficiently value accretive to change our $4 per share target price."

Citi soon chimed in with a downgrade to neutral, and KeyBanc piled on with an analogous downgrade to hold. As KeyBanc sees it, SandRidge is trading superior Permian assets for cash that it will use to develop "inferior" assets in its Mississippian oil play. Worse, KeyBanc notes that trading the one for the other exposes SandRidge's financials to "dilution to nearly every metric, including CFPS, NAV, EBITDAX multiples, and R/P ratios."

Incidentally, Canaccord made similar objections in its note. Canaccord acknowledged that selling the Permian assets will give SandRidge enough cash to "execute the company's business plan through late '15." Problem is, the sale reduces SandRidge's cash flows (because it no longer owns the assets), while simultaneously leaving the company still spending more cash than it takes in, and at a rate of "~$1.2 billion per annum from '14-'17E."

Trouble all over
This is a key point with SandRidge, by the way. While technically "profitable" as GAAP accounts for such things, the hard truth of the matter is that SandRidge hasn't generated a single red cent of real free cash flow from its business... ever. To the contrary, over the decade for which financials are available, this company has burned through well over $5 billion in negative free cash flow. Indeed, over the last year alone SandRidge went $1.3 billion into the red on a FCF-basis. Canaccord's projections of another four years of capital spending exceeding cash income by "~$1.2 billion" suggest there's little reason to hope SandRidge will change its ways in the near future.

And that's the real problem with SandRidge -- and honestly, with a lot of these land-acquisitive, cash-poor oil companies in general. Whether it's Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) you're talking about, or Kodiak Oil & Gas (UNKNOWN: KOG.DL  ) , or InterOil (NYSE: IOC  ) -- whether the company in question is burning $12 billion a year (Chesapeake), or $1.3 billion, or a measly $194 million (Kodiak and InterOil, respectively), the fact remains that all these companies are currently in the business of burning cash in order to obtain fuel for other people to burn.

Foolish takeaway
To me, this has always seemed a foolhardy endeavor (and I'm not capitalizing the "f," either). That's why, if you feel you absolutely, positively have to put an oil company in your portfolio, I'd urge you to at least minimize the risk. Avoid the serial cash-burners, and value-destroyers, and put your money in a more stable business model like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) instead.

With $20.8 billion in positive free cash flow generated over the past 12 months, Exxon's not a stock I'd want to own, personally, because it's nowhere near as powerful a profit generator as its reported "GAAP" profit of $44.3 billion suggests. But at least it's generating some cash to go on. At least it's going out of business a bit more slowly than the rest.

There's something to be said for at least knowing you've invested in the lesser of many evils. Not a lot, but something.

SandRidge is halfway through its ambitious three-year plan to profitability... does its future still look bright? If you are unsure about this emerging oil and gas junior, and are looking to find out more about its strengths and weaknesses, you should view this brand new premium report detailing SandRidge's game plan and what to expect from the company going forward. To get started -- click here!

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 22, 2012, at 12:05 AM, mrconnors0531 wrote:

    Here's the deal Tom Ward probably knows what the Permian will produce because he's drilled enough wells to make a judgement and no one wants to purchase gas properties because they can't see beyond the $3 price and the over production issues. But he has 10% of his shareholders screaming that he has debt to answer to. So he makes the only logical decision to be made, sell the Permian for a good price while oil is above $80. Because if Eagleford and Ballken start churning out oil to more than demand at present, what would a decent but known property by me be worth at $60 dollar barrel oil. And $6 gas two years from now is what he and every tapped well owner was waiting for comes true. How about you Citi guys and hedge fund guys let him do what he's good at and you aren't, Run a large independant energy company.

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