This has been an awful year for Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) investors with the stock down some 75% since the start of the year. Some of that's due to very weak commodity prices, and some is due to the company's own missteps. That said, the company is working to address its issues with CEO Doug Lawler detailing the specific progress that has been made on the company's third-quarter conference call.
1. We signed a new gathering agreement
Lawler started off the highlight reel by noting, "We executed new gathering agreements in the Haynesville and dry gas Utica which have dramatically improved the value of these two assets." What he's referring to are the restructured gas-gathering agreements that Chesapeake Energy signed with Williams Companies (NYSE:WMB) and Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ). The agreements lower the rate Chesapeake had to pay on gas gathering starting next year in exchange for driving higher volumes of gas into Williams' system. The lower rates enable Chesapeake to capture a higher value for its gas, which improves its drilling returns and, therefore, the value of its Haynesville and dry gas Utica assets, while the higher volumes it promised Williams will offset what Williams lost in the rate.
2. We improved our financial flexibility
Lawler continued with the progress report by noting, "We secured an amended revolving credit facility which has provided a significant increase in our financial flexibility." What the company and its banks did was amended the facility to move it from senior unsecured to senior secured, while also adjusting the leverage ratio, keeping the borrowing base at $4 billion, and allowing Chesapeake to take up to $2 billion of junior lien debt. These changes gave the company full access to the facility under current market conditions, providing it with greater financial flexibility.
3. We permanently reduced cash outflows
Lawler then noted:
[The company] eliminated our common stock dividend and also eliminated drilling and financial commitments resulting from the sale of our Cleveland and Tonkawa subsidiary, both of which have added cash back to the Company. We continue to reduce controllable costs and eliminated approximately $200 million of annual production in G&A costs from our cost structure.
One of the main concerns of investors is that Chesapeake Energy routinely spends more than its brings in. It's working to reduce its outspend, and during the quarter it was able to eliminate two big recurring payments by eliminating its dividend, which saves it $230 million on an annualized basis, and reducing outflows from the Cleveland Tonkawa subsidiary, which totaled $75 million in annual preferred dividends and other payments. Added together with the operational cost reductions and that's $500 million in annualized cost savings from these three initiatives.
4. We're bringing in more cash
In addition to reducing its cash outlays, the company is also working on increasing its cash inflows with Lawler noting, "We signed or are in the process of signing several sale agreements for non-core, non-operated assets." These asset sales will help offset its cash flow gap so that it doesn't need to burden its balance sheet with any more debt.
5. We've repositioned the company to better handle low commodity prices
Lawler also noted that the company continues to search for additional ways to reduce its cash outflows, with capital expenditures spending being a big target. He said that the company recently cut another $100 million off of its 2015 budget bringing it down to a range of $3.4 billion to $3.9 billion. In addition to that, he expects the company will "meaningfully reduce our capital spending in 2016."
Prior to the progress the company made during the third quarter, analysts had forecast that Chesapeake would outspend its cash flow in 2016 by upward of $2.7 billion based on a $3.7 billion capex plan. However, after eliminating more than $500 million in dividend and operating expenses outlays alone, the outspend won't be quite as wide as feared, especially if the company makes good on its promise for a meaningful cut to capex.
Chesapeake Energy made a lot of progress last quarter to address its financial issues. That said, it has a ways to go given that it still has a pretty wide gap between projected cash flow and capex, which will either need to be addressed through additional asset sales or one massive capex cut. So, despite its progress the company clearly isn't out of the woods just yet.