Suncor Energy (NYSE:SU) recently reported surprisingly strong second-quarter results. In fact, the results were so strong that CEO Steven Williams said he was "delighted to share" them as well as provide some color on the quarter. Here are five things he wanted investors to know about the quarter.
1. We're making a lot of progress on our goals
Williams led off his comments on the call by saying:
During the past few years, we've talked repeatedly about three key focus areas for Suncor: Operational excellence, capital discipline, and profitable growth. In the second quarter, despite a very challenging macroeconomic environment, we delivered on our commitment in these areas.
Williams specifically pointed out its five-year plan to deliver 90% throughput on its oil sands upgrading conflicts by 2017. However, it is well ahead of schedule as the company has comfortably exceeded 90% throughput for the past two quarters. Furthermore, Williams also noted the company continues to be in the position to reduce its capex without deeply impacting its ability to drive profitable growth.
2. Our oil sands operations are really strong
Williams then took some time to run through the company's oil sands operations, which he noted "ran reliably once again this quarter." He noted that production averaged 424,000 barrels per day with 94% throughput on the upgraders. In addition to that, costs are down to just $28 per barrel, which is down 18% year over year. Also, it completed its annual maintenance on schedule and under budget.
That's just a continuation of the company's strong performance so far this year. Williams pointed out that "with six months under our belt, oil sands year-to-date production is in the upper half of our annual production guidance range." And despite more maintenance scheduled this fall, it is well positioned to "meet and in some cases exceed our original guidance," according to Williams.
3. We're generating a lot of free cash flow
CFO Alister Cowen noted that Suncor's "strong operational quarter led to equally strong financial results." It was able to generate $2.1 billion in cash flow from operations, which after capex spending left it with $580 million in free cash flow. However, that's just a continuation of its success so far this year as Cowen also noted that:
What's particularly encouraging is the resiliency of our business model. With a Brent crude price that averaged less than $60 per barrel in the first six months of this year, Suncor was able to generate sufficient cash flow from operations to fund our entire capital spending program, over 50% of which is focused on growth, and produced over $700 million in free cash flow. These results, combined with a strong cash on hand position, supported a dividend increase and the renewal of our share buyback program.
As Cowen pointed out, the company has generated more than $700 million in free cash flow this year even after spending a several billion dollars to grow its production. That excess cash flow is being returned to investors via a higher dividend and a reinstated share buyback plan.
4. We can thrive if oil stays low
Cowen also pointed out that the company's ability to invest in growth and yet still generate free cash flow in the current environment "is a value proposition which very few companies in our industry can manage." Furthermore, he noted that its "business model and our strategy have put us in a position to thrive if, as expected, oil prices remain lower for longer." Even better, it will really benefit once oil prices increase as its costs should remain low enabling it to really generate an abundance of free cash flow in a higher oil price environment.
5. We are still a growth company
As previously noted, Suncor Energy is generating a lot of free cash flow. While it could spend that money on growth, it's choosing to return it to investors. That being said, it's not because the company doesn't have growth opportunities as it's already spending roughly half of its $5.8 billion capex budget on growth projects.
Most of this spending will drive growth post-2017, when both the Fort Hills oil sands project and the Hebron offshore project come online. However, beyond that, a number of opportunities are on the horizon. Williams noted that once its Fort Hills mining project comes online, the company will likely emphasize in situ development going forward in the oil sands. Meanwhile, offshore still holds a lot of potential as the company has compelling positions in the Shelburne Basin and Flemish Pass. Because of this potential, Williams wanted to remind investors that "we are still a growth company."
Suncor Energy is handling the oil downturn much better than most of its peers. Thanks to its strong operations, it's generating a tremendous amount of free cash flow. This has it in a position to thrive during the current environment, with really strong upside should prices improve.