Integrated energy giant Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX ) released a first-quarter earnings report that looked downright scary. The headline numbers were nothing short of awful, and yet the company's share price only declined slightly on the day of the announcement. This might come as a surprise considering Chevron posted declines across each of its core operating segments and throughout most of the metrics important to an oil and gas company, including production and profits.
And yet, Chevron shares displayed a striking tone of resilience after the company reported results. The reason appears to be that Chevron's results weren't quite as bad as some had feared. And, the company actually has a promising project lineup that has the potential to accelerate production over the next couple of years.
A recap of Chevron's quarter
By now, it's abundantly clear that the integrated majors such as Chevron and close rival ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) are really struggling right now. Normal field declines and unplanned downtimes are taking a bite out of production, and on the downstream side of the business, refining margins continue to narrow. Both Chevron and ExxonMobil performed poorly in the first quarter.
In all, Chevron earned $4.5 billion in the quarter, down 27% year over year. By comparison, ExxonMobil did much better. Its profits dipped just 4% to $9.1 billion. The reason for ExxonMobil's outperformance is that its upstream segment fared much better than Chevron's. In fact, ExxonMobil's upstream segment earnings jumped 11%, while Chevron's upstream unit posted a 27% decline.
This hurts Chevron in a couple of ways. Not only was its upstream performance bad on an absolute basis, but Chevron leans on its exploration and production activities more than ExxonMobil does. To be exact, Chevron derives roughly 95% of its profits from upstream. That means that for all intents and purposes, as E&P activities go, so goes Chevron.
Fortunately, there's a light at the end of Chevron's tunnel when it comes to the upstream side. That's because Chevron has some major projects reaching important milestones. If all goes smoothly, Chevron is about to reap huge rewards from its massive oil and gas project lineup.
Reasons for hope
Chevron still has an ace in the hole that will fuel the company's future. It has several massive upstream projects that make Chevron's future production set to soar.
First, Chevron is in the process of building out two separate liquefied natural gas facilities in Australia, known as Gorgon and Wheatstone. At Gorgon, Chevron received and installed the final two gas-turbine generators. All five generators are now installed. The Gorgon project is 80% complete, which means LNG is set to start up by mid-2015. At Wheatstone, Chevron completed the foundation for the platform and initiated the development of a well-drilling campaign.
Nearer term, Chevron is about to ramp up production from its massive Gulf of Mexico development known as Jack/St. Malo. It recently completed testing of flowlines and pipelines. The project is on track to start up production later this year. The facility is expected to have a design capacity of 177,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, which would be a significant increase to current production. Consider that Chevron produced a total of approximately 2.6 million barrels of oil equivalent in the first quarter; the Jack/St. Malo project alone could add nearly 7% to production.
Another reason for investors to exercise patience is that Chevron at least pays its shareholders well to wait for the turnaround. Chevron recently increased its dividend by 7%. Chevron's new $4.28 per share annualized payout yields a hefty 3.4%, which is at least helping to ease some of the pain.
In addition, Chevron consistently buys back large amounts of shares to further send cash back to shareholders. The company bought back $1.2 billion worth of its common stock in the first quarter and will likely buy a similar amount in the current quarter.
Don't miss Chevron's big picture
It's easy to be disappointed by Chevron's performance, but one quarter doesn't make or break a company. Its future is bright, thanks to a very promising lineup of upstream projects that are set to begin production over the next few years. When those projects come online, Chevron's production should really accelerate. Until that happens, Chevron is rewarding shareholders for their patience with a high dividend yield and billions in share buybacks.
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