Oil and gas prices were scorching hot this week. Natural gas rose a blistering 10% as the recent frigid weather helped burn down storage levels. Crude oil, meanwhile, rose more than 4%, driven by the continued decline in storage levels, thanks to OPEC. These moves sent several energy stocks up this week, with the biggest gains coming from those that need higher prices to thrive.
That said, a handful of energy stocks went against the grain this week, with Range Resources (RRC -0.28%) and Laredo Petroleum (LPI 1.08%) among the most noteworthy underachievers. However, while both are now cheaper after slumping this week, they're not necessarily worth buying.
Not as much fuel in the tank as expected
Range Resources initially spiked this week, along with natural gas prices. However, the natural gas producer gave back those gains, and then some, after unveiling its five-year outlook Wednesday evening. The company said that production would increase at an 11% compound annual rate over that time frame, with 11% growth expected in 2018. However, that was on the low end of its most recent outlook, which indicated that output would rise 10% to 20% this year and well below previously forecasting that production would increase 20%.
One reason for this is that Range hasn't been getting as much bang for its capital dollars as expected. Last year, it spent 10% more than planned due to a range of issues. Because of that, it's cutting spending 25% this year to better match with cash flow. Further, it noted that all of its growth-focused spending would be on its Marcellus Shale position going forward.
That's quite a surprise, considering that the company paid more than $4 billion in 2016 to buy Memorial Resource Development for its land in Northern Louisiana, which it anticipated would be a major growth driver. However, instead of growing that position, Range now expects to keep production flat so it can generate free cash flow to reduce debt.
Slowing its roll just a bit
Laredo Petroleum, likewise, initially rallied this week along with oil prices. However, it slumped after providing investors with an update on its operations during the fourth quarter, as well as a glimpse at what to expect in 2018.
The company said that it ran into some operational issues during the fourth quarter that would cause production to come in at the low end of its guidance range. Not only did it complete wells at a slower-than-expected pace because it was testing a new area, but two wells encountered problems that would permanently reduce their output. Further, the company had to increase its capital budget by $100 million due to cost inflation and other added expenses.
Those issues are causing Laredo to cut back in 2018 -- it plans to reduce its budget by about 12%. While that lower spending level will enable Laredo to finally begin living within cash flow by year-end -- and a year earlier than initially expected -- production would only increase by about 10% this year, which is a slightly slower pace than anticipated.
Not worth the risk
Range Resources and Laredo Petroleum unleashed a barrage of bad news on their investors this week. They spent more than expected last year without anything to show for it, which is forcing them to cut back in 2018 to better align their investment levels with anticipated cash flow. That increases the concern that there could be more disappointment ahead.
Because of that, this week's sell-off doesn't seem like a buying opportunity, especially when rivals are performing much better. On the natural gas side, Cabot Oil & Gas (CTRA -0.95%) is on pace to increase production 10% to 15% this year, while generating significant free cash flow. Cabot plans to return that excess money to investors via a buyback and higher dividend.
Meanwhile, on the oil side, Diamondback Energy (FANG 0.07%) is growing production at a 10% rate per quarter. Further, Diamondback is financing that faster-paced growth within cash flow at $50 oil, which positions it to accelerate in 2018 given the recent improvement in crude. These factors make either a better option to consider buying over Range and Laredo.