3 Cash Moves in 2013 That Set the Stage for the New Year

The seeds were planted in 2013; energy companies are committed to major shifts integral to the continued success, or recovery, of their enterprises. Now, investors simply must wait to reap the harvest.

Cash vs. non-core business? Cash wins
EQT Corporation's (NYSE: EQT  ) focus to harness the value of its 356,000 gross acres of the Marcellus shale play are proving fruitful. During the third quarter, EQT's Marcellus shale production sales were 74% higher than the third quarter of 2012, while its overall production sales volume soared 42% in the same period of time.

And just last week, state and federal regulators approved the transfer of EQT's natural gas distribution business, Equitable Gas Company, LLC, to Peoples Natural Gas. The deal is significant on three fronts. First, EQT shed a non-core business, cutting excess and becoming more efficient. Second, it is able to more fully focus on growing and investing in its key upstream and midstream operating business units. Last, the deal inked $720 million in cash for EQT, a game changer in a capital-intensive industry. As a result of EQT's cash position and streamlined business, expect more drilling in the profitable Appalachian region moving into 2014.

Precedent vs. potential? Growth wins
CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX  ) underwent a major change when it sold historic mines to Murray Energy Corporation for about $3.5 billion. Like EQT's recent sale, CONSOL's move is key for three reasons.

First, CONSOL is now able to more rapidly execute on its long-term strategy to expand in the natural gas sector. For example, on Tuesday CONSOL purchased about 90,000 acres of land in West Virginia, and it expects to drill by 2015. Second, CONSOL is in a much better financial position. In addition to clearing an astounding $2.4 billion of liabilities off of its balance sheet, CONSOL received $825 million in cash and an additional $184 million in fees. Plus, it is saving around $65 million in annual administrative costs. Last, CONSOL's assets now make it a more diversified company. It still operates coal mines in Pennsylvania that are geared toward the growing, global export market.

Therefore, CONSOL is well equipped, financially and strategically, to focus on its future—notably in natural gas production.

Excess vs. efficiency? Focus wins
Competitor Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) is also in a much better position looking into 2014.

Upon taking office earlier this year, Chesapeake's new CEO Doug Lawler wasted no time; his actions were swift. He ensured Chesapeake focused on its core business by selling over $4 billion in assets that he deemed excessive, and he led the charge in cutting over 10% of the firm's workforce.

The result is a revitalized, streamlined Chesapeake.

During the third quarter, for instance, Chesapeake reported an adjusted EBITDA of $1.325 billion, a 29% increase year over year while its operating cash flow was up 22% year over year. Combining these figures with the fact that Chesapeake spud 18.9% less gross wells and completed 21.7% less gross wells compared to its second quarter of 2013 is astounding.

A notable reason is because its daily production for the third quarter averaged approximately 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas equivalent (bcfe), only a 2% decline from the third quarter of 2012. Moving forward, Chesapeake no longer requires excessive debt financing; its cash flow from operations is capable from funding its budget. As a result, 2014 may hold exciting days for Chesapeake.

Final thoughts
By selling non-core businesses, refocusing (and thereby selling) its strategy, and cutting costs, EQT, CONSOL, and Chesapeake are all in good straights leading into the New Year. The firms' decisions, leading to a better strategic and financial standing, positions them for growth in 2014.

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