As 2008 gains momentum, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) is making good on the cash-generating plans it disclosed last year. In the first part of a multistep monetization program, the company will assign future natural gas reserves and production to UBS (NYSE: UBS ) and Deutsche Bank (NYSE: DB ) . In exchange, Chesapeake gets $1.1 billion to fund an active development program.
The 4,000 producing wells involved in the deal are located in mature producing areas of Kentucky and West Virginia, and they represent only about 2% of Chesapeake's proved reserves and net production. The banks will receive the gas in scheduled quantities, free of costs and production taxes. Nevertheless, Chesapeake will keep the rights to gas found below the wells' current producing horizons.
Based upon plans that Chesapeake set forth in September, we'll likely see several more similar sales during the next couple of years. At the same time, the company is working with UBS investment bankers on the formation of a private master limited partnership or other instrument. That instrument would permit it to monetize some of its midstream gas-gathering and -processing assets. In total, these funding steps will likely yield more than $3.5 billion to Chesapeake.
The first phase in the fundraising effort comes two weeks after Moody's lowered its ratings on Chesapeake's debt, based on what the agency considered high debt and increased spending. Here's hoping that Moody's heartburn will be reduced by the flow of cash Chesapeake has already begun to receive.
In any event, the cash boost will allow the company to move forward on its exploration and development program without adding new debt. It seems to be the sort of canny approach to resource management that has earned Chesapeake high marks among energy investors over the years. That skill has also been crucial in helping the company become a top-tier gas producer in league with BP (NYSE: BP ) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) .
In addition, Chesapeake, a Motley Fool Inside Value selection in good standing, has seen its shares rise by 40% during the past year. In my opinion, all this constitutes reason enough for Fools with an appetite for energy to keep this solid company in their sights.
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