America's top independent oil and gas company, ConocoPhillips (COP -1.98%), is scheduled to deliver its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on Thursday. Along with providing details about recent operations, this report is likely to give investors a hint at what to expect in 2014. Investors should keep an eye out for how ConocoPhillips answers the following questions relating to 2014 and beyond.
Will the production problems continue?
Earlier this month the company gave investors a heads up that its fourth-quarter production would come in a little light. ConocoPhillips experienced significant weather-related downtime across several areas within its portfolio. Operations in the North Sea and the Lower 48 of the U.S. were hit especially hard.
ConocoPhillips wasn't the only company to warn on the weather. Lower 48-focused peer Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD -3.53%), for example, saw about 5,000 barrels of oil equivalent production per day, or BOE/d, curtailed by the rough winter during the fourth quarter. At one point more than half of Pioneer's wells in the Spraberry/Wolfcamp area were shut in due to the weather. That had a noticeable impact on Pioneer's production for the quarter.
That said, while weather was a problem for ConocoPhillips in the quarter, a greater concern is its production in Libya, or should I say the complete lack of it. The company already noted that its 2014 production estimate includes 50,000 BOE/d from its operations in that conflict-riddled nation. However, as of earlier this month that production remained offline. Investors will want to make note of if and when ConocoPhillips actually expects oil production in Libya to resume.
Is the portfolio reshuffle complete?
Last quarter, the company announced that it completed its sale of some Canadian oil sands assets, as well as plans to sell its interest in Kashagan and businesses in Algeria and Nigeria. It has already announced the closing of its Algerian business for $1.75 billion and the Kashagan interest for $5.4 billion, along with an agreement on the sale of the Nigerian business. Combined with other sales, since 2012 the company has deposited $12.4 billion back into its treasury. Investors will want to know if it has any new plans to unload assets.
If anything should be on the auction block it's the company's unpredictable Libyan assets, which don't fit well into the ConocoPhillips asset base that is filled with predictable, high-margin growth. But those would be a tough sell, as peer Marathon Oil (MRO -2.08%) discovered. Marathon Oil was rumored to be considering a sale of its Libyan oil assets but apparently changed its mind a few months later. It will be interesting to see if ConocoPhillips has any more plans to unload additional assets like Libya in the future.
ConocoPhillips' restructuring plan was designed to deliver steady production and margin growth averaging 3%-5% per year through 2017. But asset sales and production delays have impeded growth. Investors will want to see if those days are behind the company, or if we can expect more of the same in 2014.