Encana (NYSE:ECA) investors didn't have a lot of love for the stock when it reported earnings on Valentine's Day. The company, which has been hit by low natural gas prices, certainly didn't do much to earn that love after reporting a loss of $80 million for the quarter. If you strip out hedging and impairments, however, the company earned $296 million, which was up from $232 million a year ago.
The big story, though, and the industry's latest theme, is liquids growth. For 2012, the company averaged 31,000 barrels a day of liquids production volumes -- it marked a 51% growth in the production rate from the end of 2011 to 2012. Encana was also able to increase its total liquids proved reserves by 80% in 2012 to 240 million barrels. Looking to 2013, it expects to keep the liquids flowing as it possibly doubles its production to a range of 50,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.
That goal will be reached by the ambitious capital plans it set forth for the coming year. Encana plans to spend 80% of its 2013 capital on light oil and liquids-rich natural gas development while the remaining 20% will be spent on low-cost dry natural gas projects. It is targeting a total investment targeted of between $3 billion to $3.2 billion. For the most part, it'll be funded by cash flow from operations, which is expected to tally $2.3 to $2.5 billion with the balance funded by divestments of up to a billion dollars.
Encana is not alone in its investment to grow liquids production. Large U.S. based onshore peers Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) and Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) are just two of the many examples of exploration and production companies looking to shift the balance of production into liquids. Chesapeake grew its liquids production 52% last year and is planning a further 29% boost in the year ahead. Chesapeake's success is due in part to devoting more than 85% of its capital budget to liquids projects.
Devon, on the other hand, is looking at an annual growth rate of 20%, thanks to its investments in its Jackfish oil sands project and Permian Basin position. It expects to continue to grow oil production by 18% to 20% while natural gas liquid production grows between 8% and 10%. Unlike Encana, the company is not investing to grow its natural gas production at this time.
Even smaller players such as Magnum Hunter Resources (NASDAQOTH:MHRCQ) are turning their focus almost entirely to liquids production. Its $300 million capital budget for 2013 will be focused on the liquids-rich areas of the Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Marcellus. Magnum expects these investments to drive a 24% to 35% jump in production. This will help shift the company's production firmly on the liquids side of things.
So, as you can see, Encana is in good company as it continues to invest to grow its liquids production. While the stock's recent decline probably doesn't sit well with investors, those who stick around for the long term should see brighter days ahead. You also have to give the company credit for investing in natural gas at what could be the low end of the cycle. These investments today could pay off big time down the road.