What: Shares of CONSOL Energy (NYSE:CNX) jumped 15% by 11:00 a.m. ET on Friday. Fueling that gain was the company's stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings report.
So what: CONSOL Energy reported net income of $30 million, or $0.13 per share, due to strong hedging gains as well as a gain on the sale of a non-core asset. That said, once these and other one-time items are adjusted out of its results, the company lost $26 million, or $0.11 per share. However, that was $0.02 per share better than analysts expected, which sent investors cheering.
They were also pleased to see the company control its costs, with total unit cash costs in its exploration and production (E&P) division falling 25% year over year. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania division of its coal division set a new level of cost performance. These cost savings, when combined with 35% year-over-year production growth in its E&P division, enabled CONSOL Energy to produce $102 million in cash flow from operations, which was ahead of the $87 million it produced in the year-ago quarter despite meaningfully weaker commodity prices.
Looking ahead, CONSOL Energy doesn't currently expect to drill any new natural gas wells in 2016, which is something a growing number of producers are doing. That includes top five producer Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN), which recently noted that it isn't operating any rigs at the moment. That said, despite no new drilling, CONSOL Energy expects to grow its natural gas production 15% over 2015 because it still has a number of wells that have been drilled but not yet completed as well as additional midstream debottlenecking initiatives to work through. That's growth few of its rivals will likely match in 2016, with Southwestern Energy, for example, likely aiming to keep its production roughly production flat unless commodity prices spike.
Now what: CONSOL Energy is focused on controlling the only thing it can, which is its costs. It was able to do a solid job of keeping its costs at bay during the quarter, and expects to do that again in 2016 by significantly reducing its capex by not drilling any new wells. That will not only let the company manage its cash flow through the downturn, but will help the industry because it will add less gas to an already oversupplied market.