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There is a saying in finance: 'Raise money when you can, not when you have to.' With the news that Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) raised $3 billion in senior notes on April 10, it seems the natural gas producer is taking that phrase to heart.
The company is taking advantage of low debt costs by raising a record $3 billion in senior notes with floating yields of between 2.54% and 3.25% above standard benchmarks. The earliest senior notes won't mature until 2019.
Chesapeake Energy plans to use part of that $3 billion to repay an existing unsecured term loan and redeem senior notes with higher yield. By using the money to redeem notes with a higher yield, the company should save money as long as interest rates don't rise significantly.
Investors liked the news and bid Chesapeake Energy stock up on a day when the S&P 500 fell 2%.
Offering improves Chesapeake's liquidity but may be bad news for Icahn
The low cost part of the debt raise is good news for investors because it signals market confidence in the value of the company's assets and future cash flows.
The long-term part of the debt raise is also good news for investors because it makes Chesapeake Energy less susceptible to low natural gas prices. If natural gas prices were to fall significantly, the company would have more money to ride out the tough times. Chesapeake Energy would not have to do a dilutive equity issuance or a forced asset sale to raise money like it did in 2012.
The large size of the debt raise may not be good news for 10% owner Carl Icahn, however. Earlier in the year, several sites reported that Carl Icahn was pushing for Chesapeake Energy to sell itself to a bigger company such as ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) or Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) .
In my opinion, a sale to a super-major looks less likely now because the large size of the debt offering implies that management wants Chesapeake Energy to stay independent. If management were planning to sell in the near future, they would not raise such a large amount because Chesapeake Energy could just use the acquiring company's capital for its funding needs. The acquiring company's cost of capital would most likely be lower as well, making more expensive debt less attractive.
The bottom line
I like Chesapeake Energy as an independent company. If natural gas prices were to rally, the company would do very well because it has many quality assets that would be worth a lot more.
If natural gas prices were to remain range-bound or trend modestly lower, the company would do just fine because its fundamentals are a lot better than in 2012.
The company's debt situation, for example, is more manageable. At the end of 2013, Chesapeake Energy's net debt/adjusted EBITDA was just 2.4 versus a ratio of 3.3 at the end of 2012.
Chesapeake Energy's cash burn is lower as well. Management projects 2014 capital expenditure to be between $5.2 billion to $5.6 billion, or 60% lower than the company's capital expenditure in 2012.
Finally, Chesapeake Energy is more diversified. Management projects that higher price natural gas liquids to account for 29% of total production for 2014 versus 20% for 2012.
Chesapeake Energy has many positive trends going for it. The recent capital raise is just another sign that the company's fortunes are improving.
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