Noble Energy's (NYSE: NBL ) recent fourth quarter report fell short of analysts' expectations, but I don't think that investors should be worried about, as the company looks set to perform in the key areas of its business.
Production growth is vital for independent oil and gas producers, and Noble Energy expects to produce between 302,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) and 322,000 boe/d in 2014. The company will grow its production even if it hits the bottom line of its guidance. Noble Energy started the first quarter of 2013 with production of 245,000 boe/d and grew it to 293,000 boe/d in the fourth quarter. This trend looks like it's going to continue in the current year.
DJ Basin production will continue to grow
DJ Basin production achieved a record 100,000 boe/d in the fourth quarter despite the strategic acreage swap with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC ) in the Greater Wattenberg area. Anadarko's shares remain under pressure following the court decision that the company may have to pay up to $14.2 billion in damages related to the Tronox (NYSE: TROX ) spinoff. Anadarko stated that it strongly disagrees with the court's Memorandum of Opinion, and it has recorded a contingent liability of just $850 million.
As the DJ Basin continues to provide excellent results for Noble Energy, the company is going to dedicate as much as 70% of its capital budget for onshore U.S. operations, most of which will go to DJ Basin operations. While current natural gas prices remain relatively low, the focus on liquids-rich assets makes sense.
Natural gas provides opportunities
The recent spike in natural gas prices fueled some hopes for natural gas producers. Noble Energy operates in a 50-50 joint development agreement with CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX ) in approximately 700,000 gross acres of the Marcellus Shale area. Noble Energy operates the wet gas area while CONSOL operates the dry gas area. Noble Energy expects to invest approximately 20% of its 2014 capital investment program in the Marcellus Shale.
If natural gas prices can hold around the $5 mark, it would be great news for both Noble Energy and CONSOL. However, there are big doubts that this price level could be sustained as we head into the spring with its milder temperatures.
Natural gas brought roughly 25% of annual revenue for Noble Energy. The share of natural gas in the revenue mix could increase as Noble Energy continues to develop its Mediterranean assets. The company stated that it was in very active negotiations with several potential regional customers from countries like Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, and it expects to execute a number of sales agreements this year. In combination with sustained natural gas demand from Israel and Cyprus, this paints a favorable picture for Mediterranean operations.
Noble Energy's shares have corrected 20% since the highs seen in October. In my opinion, the recent earnings report provides several catalysts that may push the stock back to recent highs. Noble Energy continues to grow its production while maintaining a solid balance sheet with adequate debt level and a healthy cash position.
Mediterranean operations could provide significant upside, especially if the situation with natural gas prices improves. Noble Energy's reserves continued to grow and were up 19% to over 1.4 billion barrels at the end of 2013. The company currently trades at under 18 times its future earnings, which looks fairly conservative.
All in all, I think that Noble Energy is attractive at current levels.
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