The stock market slide at the end of last year was compounded by a sharp drop in crude oil and natural gas selling prices, which made it a particularly rough period for energy stocks. Not even Antero Resources (NYSE:AR), one of the nation's largest natural gas producers, could escape Mr. Market's wrath. Shares lost over 28% of their value last month, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Don't expect management to blink, however. Antero Resources remains confident in its near-term growth plans in 2019 and expects to continue buying back shares worth up to $600 million by the end of the year. Roughly half of that will be funded from savings delivered by the consolidation of its two partnerships, while the other half is expected to come from cash flow growth generated by production growth. Will management have to adjust its plan if energy prices fail to cooperate?
Investors might have mixed feelings about the stock's slide. On the one hand, Antero Resources has pretty ambitious plans for 2019. Its partnerships are consolidating into one company, then converting into a C-Corp, which will save the parent nearly $300 million in tax and other expenses in the next few years. Meanwhile, the company has hedges in place to sell most of its production at prices between $2.50 to $3.38 per million BTU, something The Motley Fool contributor Matt DiLallo says will largely mitigate commodity-pricing risks.
On the other hand, Antero Resources simply hasn't been a great business to own in recent years. Shares are down 47% in the last three years and have lost 82% of their value in the last five years. That may make investors a little wary of the ambitious growth plans laid out by management.
There's also another risk posed by stubbornly low energy prices. Antero Resources generates a significant amount of value from sales of natural gas liquids (NGLs). While the appetite for the petroleum products is expected to grow at a significant clip in the years ahead, falling energy prices could erode their value potential.
While Antero Resources says it can deliver significant value to shareholders through its ambitious share repurchase program, a lack of execution in recent years should be enough to give investors pause. Besides, the company purchased $129 million in shares from the beginning of October through Dec. 18 -- and the share price still fell by 40% in that span! In other words, the share repurchase program won't be the company's saving grace, and investors are better off waiting to see if this natural gas stock can deliver.