Who could have believed that Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC ) would pull off its big bet so gracefully?
I'm talking about the exploration and production company's two acquisitions in 2006 that totaled more than $23 billion. Ever since that time, Anadarko has been patiently rationalizing its portfolio and paying down debt.
While the company initially believed it would need to float billions of dollars' worth of new shares to help fund its growth plans, selling off assets has brought in so much cash (nearly $15 billion) that it has met its debt-ratio target without resorting to diluting equity. To name just two of the major deals, Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ ) took Anadarko's Canadian subsidiary off its hands for $4.24 billion, while a consortium comprising BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , Hess (NYSE: HES ) , and Repsol YPF (NYSE: REP ) grabbed one of the company's deepwater discoveries for $1.33 billion.
The continuous asset shuffle makes it a bit difficult to compare Anadarko's fourth-quarter results with past ones, but a few figures are clear enough. The company's production volumes slightly beat guidance, and both gas and liquids output rose from the third quarter. Natural gas production was up steeply, primarily because of the ramp-up of Helix Energy Solutions' (NYSE: HLX ) Independence Hub in the Gulf of Mexico. Rockies gas production was also no slouch. In all, gas production was 23% higher than the third quarter.
Per-barrel lifting costs were exceptionally low, dropping almost 20% from the previous quarter's level down to $4.40/BOE. Fools can't get too comfortable with this low level, however. Guidance for earnings for the new fiscal year is right back into the mid-$5 range, because of spending for higher workover and coal-bed methane dewatering activity, in addition to one-time maintenance.
While slower-growing Anadarko tends to lose the spotlight to Fool favorite Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) , it's a terrific operator -- one that deserves your consideration if you're looking for a balanced, U.S.-focused energy play.