With a high debt load, it is understandable that Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) is cutting back on spending and spinning off some of its assets. Unfortunately, the combination doesn't necessarily portend well for a separated subsidiary that depends on the previous parent for a substantial portion of its revenue.
Chesapeake Energy spent the last several years struggling with a superior asset base of leading acreage positions in most of the primary shale areas. The company's stock continues to struggle due to expenses and the high debt load that is now causing it to cut capital spending at a time of low natural gas inventories.
A few weeks back, the company submitted documents to spin off the oilfield services division in order to reduce corporate debt by $1 billion and allow the independent firm to better attract non-Chesapeake clients. The division primarily operates a land-based drilling fleet and hydraulic fracturing fleets that might compare favorably to combination of Helmerich & Payne (NYSE:HP) and C&J Energy Services (NYSE:CJES). While those two companies are trading at 52-week highs, one shouldn't expect similar peak pricing for the spinoff.
Seventy Seven Energy
Though the company had intentions of either taking the old Chesapeake Oilfield Services division public or selling it outright to fill capital holes, the only remaining option appears to be a spinoff of the assets to existing shareholders. It's hard to blame the market considering that the division was originally created as the oilfield services arm for Chesapeake, and that particular customer is currently reducing its spending by up to 20% this year. In essence, the company is unintentionally weakening the business prior to unloading it on the market.
Chesapeake has chosen to rename the oilfield services subsidiary Seventy Seven Energy, and it will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol SSE. In a somewhat surprising revelation, the division generated revenue of $2.2 billion in 2013, up from $1.9 billion in 2012. Somehow revenue has actually grown nearly 70% from 2011 levels in a difficult climate for domestic drillers. Not surprisingly in a tough pricing market, the revenue gains were obtained at the expense of margins with adjusted EBITDA dropping from $439.2 million in 2012 to only $368.6 million last year.
Seventy Seven Energy operates a land-based drilling rig fleet consisting of 85 rigs, but the company only counts 20 as Tier 1 rigs with 1,300 horsepower or greater. According to the below table, the company has 79 rigs under contract with 51 contracted to Chesapeake Energy.
With the land-based drilling fleet of Helmerich & Payne obtaining a market valuation of over 3x revenue, Seventy Seven Energy hopes to unlock a similar value in the future. The hydraulic fracturing fleet of C&J Energy Services only trades at slightly over 1x revenue and provides a more attractive known asset than what Seventy Seven Energy provides in the near future.
At this point, it's difficult to place a valuation on this division or suggest that investors look into buying it. As always with any asset, price matters; that will be key to review after the spinoff.
The issue is that removing this asset isn't going to create value for Chesapeake. While other oilfield services firms like Helmerich & Payne and C&J Energy Services trade at recent highs and suggest an ideal timing for spinning off the Seventy Seven asset, the uncertainties could leave the stock trading at sub-industry valuations.
While it's true that the division will now be open to more work with other firms, it's also very possible that Chesapeake will open up a more competitive bidding process for its work. The net impact is that investors will avoid this stock for now.
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Mark Holder and Stone Fox Capital clients own shares of C&J Energy Services. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.