What: Shares of Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) jumped in May, up more than 14% for the month. Fueling that surge was a nearly 7% rally in the price of oil as well as bullish statements from the company in regards to its projected output for 2016.
So what: Oil continued to rebound last month, closing at just under $50 a barrel due to declining U.S. production and supply outages in Canada and Nigeria. That $50-per-barrel mark is key for Whiting Petroleum because it's the price at which the company believes it can generate enough cash flow to keep its production roughly flat, all else being equal.
In fact, it was crude's recent rally toward $50 a barrel, as well as bringing on a financial partner to help fund drilling, that has Whiting Petroleum more optimistic about its production for 2016. After initially cutting its capex budget by 80% and planning to cease its fracking operations by the end of the first half of the year, Whiting Petroleum now sees its output coming in stronger than its initial projections. That optimism was evident at its annual shareholder meeting last month when the company issued upbeat second-quarter and full-year production guidance, with it is now expecting production to be between 48.1 million to 50.1 million barrels of oil equivalent, or BOE, for the full year. At the midpoint, that's above its initial guidance range of 46.8 million to 50.5 million BOE. That said, Whiting Petroleum still expects its average daily production to decline by double digits from last year's average rate.
While Whiting Petroleum is growing more optimistic for 2016, it's nowhere near as positive as Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD), which, unlike Whiting, plans to grow its production this year. In fact, Pioneer Natural Resources now expects its output to increase 12% in 2016, which is above its initial guidance for 10% growth. Furthermore, Pioneer Natural Resources noted that it plans to add as many as 10 more drilling rigs this year once it feels confident oil has stabilized at $50 a barrel, which could drive even more production growth. Needless to say, Whiting Petroleum will need oil to move a lot higher than that before it can restart its own double-digit production growth engine.
Now what: With oil moving higher, it is fueling a lot more optimism at Whiting Petroleum. That said, the company still expects its production to decline this year despite its more optimistic view. Also, it is a long way from being able to grow its output given its large debt load and weaker drilling returns. In other words, it still has a lot of work to do before it's able to create value for investors.