Weak oil prices have made it tough for oil companies to make much money. This is forcing producers such as Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) to make changes to reposition the company to run on a lower oil price. Here are five things its management team recently said on its third-quarter conference call about its progress toward this goal.
1. We're spending less, but producing more
CEO Harold Hamm first pointed out its production progress noting:
Due to another quarter of strong production, we are once again raising year-over-year production growth guidance to a range of 24% to 26%. Let me take this opportunity to point out to you, we have now increased our production guidance 30% to 50% from original guidance set last year. While at the same time, we're projecting to be 8% to 10% under on CapEx, that's pretty impressive.
According to CFO John Hart, the company is on pace to be "$200 million to $250 million under our $2.7 billion CapEx budget for the full year," but the company's production will be much higher than its initial guidance. This is largely due to the powerful combination of significant cost deflation as well as the strong well results thanks to its new enhanced completions.
2. We're working toward cash flow break-even
This is putting the company in the position to balance cash flow with spending at a much lower oil price than ever imagined. According to Hamm:
[We have] reiterated our commitment to balance capital expenditures with cash flow ... today we're approximately cash flow neutral at $50 WTI and are making additional adjustments going forward to achieve cash flow neutrality as commodity prices continue to fluctuate.
Being cash flow neutral is an important place for Continental to be because it will put the company on the path toward long-term sustainability should the current oil price be the new normal. That said, like many of its peers, including larger integrated names like Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), it still needs oil to recover substantially from the current level in order to balance cash flow with capex next year, with Occidental Petroleum currently requiring a $60 oil price while Continental needs oil to top $50.
3. Our finances are in good shape
The oil price downturn has had a negative impact on producers with a lot of debt and limited liquidity. And while Continental is stronger than some peers, with Hart noting that it "continue[s] to have ample liquidity and no near-term debt maturities," the company still undertook a number of transactions during the quarter to further strengthen its position just in case. However, Hart wanted to make one thing clear:
The strategic implication of these transactions is keeping our balance sheet strong, reducing interest cost and demonstrating that we have ready access to additional liquidity if it were needed. Don't confuse this with any intention to add debt. That is not our plan. We remain committed to maintaining our investment-grade rating and believe we have the financial flexibility to do so.
In other words, the company is focused on being financially disciplined during this tough time and this has taken a bit more work because of its slightly weaker financial position. That said, even with these moves it is still well behind a company like Occidental Petroleum, which not only boasts of a strong A-rated balance sheet but currently has enough cash on hand to pay for an entire year of capex.
4. We continue to find more oil
While the oil market is abundantly oversupplied at the moment, that's not stopping Continental from exploring for additional sources of oil. Hamm noted:
We continue to deliver on the exploration side. ... And let me just say that STACK has emerged as yet another high-value growth opportunity for Continental. We currently own 146,300 net acres and Continental's well completion results, as well as those of industry peers, continue to validate our high expectation for the over-pressured window ... this ... is definitely a step change in the STACK play.
Continental is among a small handful of companies to have locked up acreage in a really compelling trend in Oklahoma called the STACK play. Initial drilling returns have been strong, even in the current price environment, which is why the company is so excited about the potential to develop its acreage in the region.
5. Initial guidance for 2016
In looking ahead to 2016, and assuming no recovery in the oil price, Hart gave the following initial thoughts on guidance for 2016. He said:
In today's commodity environment, our focus is on cash flow neutrality or said differently no new debt. Doing so preserves our financial flexibility and assets for a better commodity environment. We expect our 2016 guidance will reflect this view and reflect relatively flat or slightly lower production compared to the 2015 exit rate guidance. For example, 2016 capital at $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion is estimated to hold 2016 production flat at 200,000 BOE per day.
In other words, gone are the days of robust growth, with Continental Resources' new focus being to aim to maintain its production next year so that it doesn't burden its balance sheet with any more debt.
The key takeaway of Continental Resources' third-quarter conference call is that the company has made significant progress to transition the company to run sustainably at a much lower oil price. That said, it still has work to do given that its current breakeven is still well below recent oil prices. While that doesn't mean it will dig itself into a hole next year, it does suggest that the company will need to get creative should oil remain weak.