The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first and are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.
This week, I plan to dive into the oil and gas industry and highlight the underappreciated CEO of EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG), Mark Papa.
Kudos to you, Mr. Papa
Forget the fact that EOG Resources was once a part of the defunct Enron more than 10 years ago – this is a remarkably well-run oil and gas driller headed by a superior leader.
As you might imagine, oil and gas producers haven't fared very well over the past year as oil prices were generally tame throughout most of 2012 and natural gas prices slid heavily as warmer weather crushed demand and forced multiple drillers to cut back on production. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), one of the nation's largest natural gas drillers, reduced its nat-gas capital expenditures by approximately 70% and promised a renewed focus on oil and natural gas liquids. EnCana (NYSE:ECA), Canada's equivalent to Chesapeake Energy in the U.S., responded by reducing production, but also by selling a 40% stake in undeveloped land interests in British Colombia. Last year was all about raising cash and repositioning toward liquid fuels.
One of the first companies that proactively reacted to this shift in demand was EOG and its CEO. With the expectation of low natural gas prices hanging around for years to come, Papa has angled his company toward increased oil and natural gas liquid production – two fuel sources with higher margins and stable demand.
My Foolish colleague and energy analyst Joel South recently highlighted the key details that have allowed EOG to excel beyond its peers in the past couple of years. First, EOG's focus on cutting costs, specifically with regard to its purchase of a sand mill that cuts out the high markups associated with sand purchases, is saving the company around $1 million per well.
Second, rather than shipping oil to Cushing, Okla., or selling oil directly from the well and accepting the West Texas Intermediate price, EOG and peers Hess (NYSE:HES) and Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) have been shipping their Bakken-drilled oil by rail to Louisiana and are being paid a handsome $20-$25 premium at the Brent crude spot price. Even with the added costs of shipping, these companies earn significantly more than if they were selling their product locally. Continental, for instance, is shipping 65% of its daily production to Louisiana.
But, as Joel also notes, EOG has been able to increase its liquids production volume at a faster rate than any other U.S. producer since 2010, giving it the edge over all of its peers. Looking ahead, EOG's Papa upped his company's oil and liquids forecast in its most recent quarter to 40% and 38% from 37% and 35%, respectively, and pumped EOG's production forecast to 10.6% growth from 9%.
A step above his peers
I believe I've demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt just how EOG has outperformed its peers. Now let's take a look at the other factors, not just operating performance, which make EOG great and make Papa a great leader.
It all starts with the company's modest, but rising, dividend. In 2002, EOG was paying out a quarterly stipend of just $0.02. In its latest quarter, EOG paid shareholders $0.17 per share, a 750% increase over the past decade. Considering that EOG is in a very investment-heavy industry, I wouldn't anticipate its dividend will increase dramatically over the next couple of years (not until natural gas prices have a sustainable rally), but a payout ratio of just 15% is begging for a bigger share to be divvied out to shareholders.
Oil companies also get the stereotype that they are heartless thrown at them. That isn't the case for EOG which takes good care of both its employees and its surrounding communities.
In addition to the usual perks you get working for a top-tier multibillion dollar company, including a 401(k) and flexible health benefits, employees also receive subsidies on fitness centers and tuition reimbursement for approved courses.
The greatest perk of all, however, affects both employees and the community: matching charitable gifts up to $75,000! That's right... EOG will match employee contributions, dollar-for-dollar, to approved charitable organizations up to $75,000 per year! As far as I can recall, that's one of, if not the, highest total I've ever witnessed in dollar-for-dollar matching!
I'd be doing EOG a disservice if I didn't also mention that it partners with colleges and universities to fund training and educational opportunities, as well as partners with local leaders to assist with annual nationwide fund raising campaigns, such as the March of Dimes Walk America, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
I'm pretty sure I say this every week, but sometimes these CEO's just make it too easy. Mark Papa has executed the game plan perfectly for promoting higher margin liquid products; boosted shareholder payouts; and continued the theme of encouraging charitable contributions within the communities that EOG operates through employee participation and by making donations out of their own pockets. What more can be said about this fantastic CEO other than that he's well-deserving of two thumbs-up from me!
Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, head on over to the new CEO of the Week board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry; you can still weigh in on other members' selections.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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