Apache's Transformation Reaches Inflection Point

Apache has been transforming itself into a domestic player, and this strategy is paying off.

Jul 21, 2014 at 5:58PM

Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the production costs and start times of Chevron's LNG projects. The Fool regrets the error.

Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA) has spent much of the last four years restructuring. The company has been selling international assets, paying down debt and ramping up production from its domestic shale oil plays. Now, Apache is more focused and aligned than it has been in the past.

What's more, the company's domestic spending and international sales have reached inflection point. Investors should start to reap the benefits over the next few quarters.

Dumping assets
Apache's most recent asset sale is its interest in the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas project.

The Wheatstone project is run by Chevron (NYSE:CVX). The total cost of the project is expected to be around $29 billion, although this figure of course could easily be revised higher. The project is currently slated to deliver first gas in 2016, targeting 8.9 million tons of LNG output per annum.

Wheatstone is the second of two huge LNG plants in Australia, both owned and operated by Chevron. Unfortunately, Chevron's other LNG project, Gorgon, is in rough shape. While the project is progressing, it is now over-budget by around 50%. Specifically, Gorgon's price tag has jumped from $37 billion to $54 billion. 

No longer core
LNG is no longer core to Apache's long term outlook and as well as the Wheatstone project, the company is trying to offload its interest in the the Canadian Kitimat LNG project.

Overall, Wall Street believes that the sale of the Kitimat and Wheatstone stakes could be worth around $6 billion for Apache; that's $4 billion for Wheatstone, $1.5 billion to $2 billion for Kitimat. Including these two stakes, Apache has announced $9.8 billion of asset sales in the past year alone, giving the company much-needed cash to pursue its North American dreams.

Assets divested by Apache over the past few years include its Argentinian operations, deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico and a stake in its Egypt business. These sales have helped the company pay down debt and refocus its operations toward North America.

During the first quarter of this year Apache reported worldwide net daily production of oil, natural gas and NGLs of 640,000 boe/d. Domestic production, in particular production from the Permian and Central regions, averaged 239,000 boe/d, or around 37% of total production.

All in all, North American onshore production accounted for 62% of Apache's pro forma net production during the first quarter of this year, up from only 34% during 2009, as shown in the chart below.


Source: Apache investor presentation.

But Apache is not ready to rest just yet. The company has plans to spend around $8.5 billion driving production growth this year, funded by both the aforementioned asset disposals and free cash flow from existing assets.

The remaining assets within the North Sea, Egypt and Australia are free cash flow positive and slated to generate $1 billion in free cash flow during 2014. Hefty North American spending is expected to drive liquids output higher by 12% to 16% at a compounded rate over the next three years. During 2013, Apache was the most active driller in onshore North America, operating an average of 79 rigs on a daily basis and completing nearly 1,300 wells.

And it is believed that Apache's Permian operations are already generating enough cash flow to cover costs. Apache's other North American assets should hit this free cash flow benchmark during the next few quarters as capex reaches an inflection point.

The bottom line
Apache has been restructuring its asset base over the past few years and ramping up onshore production. Capex is expected to hit an inflection point this year, and the company's North American operations should start reporting positive free cash flow during the next few quarters.

For shareholders, as Apache's strategy pays off, the company's earnings should jump and shareholder returns will follow suit.

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Rupert Hargreaves owns shares of Chevron. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. 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.

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