This hasn't been the year LINN Energy (NASDAQOTH:LINEQ) anticipated. The company thought its transformational deal in February to acquire Berry Petroleum (UNKNOWN:UNKNOWN) with the help of affiliate LinnCo (UNKNOWN:LNCO.DL) would set the tone for the year. Instead, the company has faced a barrage of criticisms, which eventually led to an informal SEC inquiry that has been holding up its deal for Berry. But much of that uncertainty is now clear as that the deal is closing in on a closing. Looking ahead, the following five areas are those investors need to watch most closely.
LINN's ability to continue to hedge its production
LINN's secret sauce is its hedging program. Management has said that it will continue to evaluate how it hedges production in light of the concerns with how it accounts for these derivatives. The company has already stated that it would no longer buy puts to hedge production. But it's possible that the company will need to make even more changes in the future. If LINN needs to change its strategy, it could have a significant impact on its ability to secure its distribution. Investors should be on the lookout for any more changes to how the company hedges its production.
Continued access to the capital markets
Because LINN pays out a majority of its cash flow to investors, it needs to access the capital markets in order to grow. If LINN is unable to raise equity or debt at favorable rates it could really impact the company's ability to grow. Currently, both LINN's unit price as well as LinnCo's stock price are down on the year. That makes it more difficult to issue equity to acquire assets. This is one reason why LINN and LinnCo were forced to raise the offer of the Berry deal because Berry investors would have been better off selling their shares in the open market than selling to LinnCo.
That being said, LINN's bankers don't have a problem lending it money. LINN was able to get a $500 million term loan to fund its pending acquisition in the Permian Basin. As long as LINN can still borrow it should have no problem funding its growth while it awaits closing its deal for Berry.
A steady stream of future acquisitions
LINNs ability to acquire assets on favorable terms is paramount to its ability to grow its distribution. Significantly overpaying or severely misjudging an acquired asset could also impact LINN's business. LINN has asset integration down to a science, but Berry Petroleum is its first real merger. Mishandling the integration process could derail LINN's future growth plans.
Negative revisions to its reserves
LINN's oil and gas reserves are the lifeblood of the company. But if commodity prices collapse it could cause some of the company's reserves to come off its books if those reserves cannot be economically produced. A worse scenario are revisions to reserves due to asset performance where the estimated oil and gas in the ground is much less than thought. LINN investors will want to see every one of its more than five-trillion-feet equivalent of reserves produced over the next two decades and a realization that some of those reserves either don't exist or can't be produced economically would hurt investors.
Increased organic production growth
Investing capital to grow organically provides some upside to LINN investors while also helping to more than offset the natural decline of LINN's producing wells. If commodity prices or cost pressures make it uneconomical to invest capital to grow organically, then LINN's future returns and distributable cash flow could suffer. Further, if capital is invested in poor performing wells like some Hogshooter wells earlier this year, it could also impact LINN's ability to maintain or grow its distribution.
In the short term, LINN investors are focused on watching the conclusion of the deal for Berry Petroleum. While that's certainly important, LINN is much more than that one deal. That's why over the longer term, there are five other areas of more importance in driving LINN in the future.
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