Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD) has a knack for delivering quarterly results that come in above expectations. That was the case once again during the third quarter as the energy company's production and earnings beat their respective forecasts. Add in its other successes during the quarter, and this oil company appears poised to grow value for its investors.

Drilling down into Pioneer Natural Resources' third-quarter earnings

Metric

Q3 2019

Guidance or Expectations

Total production

351,000 BOE/D

333,000-348,000 BOE/D

Oil output

215,000 BPD

206,000-216,000 BPD

Adjusted earnings per share

$1.99

$1.96

Data source: Pioneer Natural Resources. BOE/D=barrels of oil equivalent per day. BPD=barrels of oil per day.

As that table shows, Pioneer Natural Resources' production came in above the high-end of its guidance range, putting it up 6.4% from the second quarter. Meanwhile, its oil output was right near the top, rising 4.4% sequentially. Overall, the company completed 75 wells during the quarter. Pioneer is delivering increasingly productive wells by incorporating data from machine learning to optimize how it completes wells to boost their output.

Pioneer Natural Resources complimented its excellent drilling operations by continuing to drive down costs. That enabled it to keep its production costs well below the top end of its guidance range. The company also achieved its target of reducing its annualized general and administrative as well as its facility costs by $100 million apiece during the quarter. That was well ahead of schedule and also contributed to the company's ability to beat analysts' earnings expectations once again. Pioneer's cost reduction efforts also allowed it to generate lots of cash, including $250 million in free cash flow. It used $200 million of that money to buy back stock. That brought its year-to-date repurchases to $728 million under its $2 billion program

A look at what's ahead for Pioneer Natural Resources

The driller's strong production results during the third quarter gave it the confidence to boost its full-year forecast. Pioneer now expects to produce between 336,000 and 340,000 BOE/D this year, about 3% more than its prior guidance at the midpoint.

Even more impressive, Pioneer is on track to produce more oil and gas while investing less money than it expected. Overall, it trimmed $150 million off the top of its capital budget, bringing the range down to $2.8 billion-$2.85 billion. That's about a 5% reduction. The company's ability to produce more oil and gas for less money should enable it to generate higher returns on its investment in new wells.

Pioneer also noted that it continues to make progress on its longer-term strategic initiatives. It's currently evaluating options to monetize some non-core acreage that it doesn't plan to develop anytime soon. It could sell this drillable land or bring on a financial partner to accelerate its development. The company is also working on selling its interest in some natural gas processing plants operated by Targa Resources. Finally, it's evaluating the long-term strategy for its water infrastructure, though it doesn't plan to decide on that until the end of next year. Success in completing these initiatives would further streamline Pioneer's operations, bolster its balance sheet, and improve its returns.

Another successful quarter in the books

Pioneer Natural Resources continues to produce more oil and gas for less money, which is enabling it to generate a gusher of earnings and cash flow. That's enabling it to produce excess cash, which it's returning to shareholders through a needle-moving buyback and a rapidly rising dividend. Those cash returns, when combined with the company's faster growth, could help drive up its stock in the coming years.