What: December was a tough month for Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL). Despite some really good news, the company's stock slumped double digits.
So what: There were two weights that pulled Noble Energy's stock down last month. First, the price of the global crude oil benchmark plunged 16% last month to just over $37 per barrel. That's below the price most oil companies need to break even on new wells. That leads into the second weight, which is the fact that the continued weakness in oil prices could cause the balance sheets of oil companies to deteriorate. Those concerns caused a major rating agency to put 29 U.S. oil companies put on review for a potential credit rating downgrade, including Noble Energy.
In order to pre-empt any credit concerns, Noble Energy recently entered into a new $1.4 billion term loan agreement to enhance its financial flexibility. It plans to use that cash to buy back some of its outstanding notes at a discount to par value. That would enable the company to save upwards of $50 million in annual interest expense while deleveraging its balance sheet.
Because of its stronger credit, Noble Energy is taking quite the opposite approach of peers like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), which have been forced to use second lien debt for similar exchanges. In Chesapeake Energy's case, it recently closed the exchange of $3.8 billion of its senior unsecured notes for $2.35 billion of second lien secured notes. Chesapeake Energy's exchange, however, didn't go over very well with the market because it was seen as a distressed exchange by its credit rating agency.
On a more positive note, Noble Energy announced last month that it expects its fourth-quarter production to be between 405,000 BOE/d and 415,000 BOE/d, which is well ahead of its previous outlook of 395,000 BOE/d. Driving this better-than-expected outlook are improved completions practices in the Eagle Ford and DJ Basin as well as the accelerated ramp-up and early performance from two of its deepwater Gulf of Mexico fields.
Finally, the company received approval from Israel to develop its Leviathan project and to start exporting gas to Egypt via its Tamar development. These are major long-term projects that have the potential to create enormous volume and cash flow growth for the company.
Now what: Noble Energy's rough showing in December had more to do with overall market unease than any company specific issues. In fact, the company's oil and gas operations are firing on all cylinders, as evidenced by its strong production and key approvals for its developments in Israel.