What: Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) started 2016 the same way it spent most of 2015, with its stock continuing to free-fall. While slumping commodity prices can take some of the blame, analysts who threw in the towel and downgraded the company didn't help matters.
So what: We'll start on the credit side where S&P downgraded the company after revising its oil and gas price outlook. In doing so, it cut the company's credit rating further below investment grade, reducing it from B to CCC+. This is coming just a month after it downgraded Chesapeake's rating from BB- to B. Its big concern is the company's leverage, which it says is "unsustainable" given its view on commodity prices.
Equity analysts, likewise, agreed that the company's debt was a concern, given that the current commodity price outlook led to a deluge of downgrades last month. Raymond James was one of the first out the door downgrading the stock from "market perform" to "underperform" based on a "weak natural gas price forecast and balance sheet concerns." Meanwhile, Guggenheim slashed its 2016 earnings outlook for Chesapeake early in the month and then later said that company would be "delvering for years" once oil and gas prices improve. Other analysts tried to stay positive, with Wunderlich holding firm on its "buy" rating in a report it put out earlier in the month even though it was slashing its price target on the company from $13 to $7. However, by the end of the month even Wunderlich threw in the towel and downgraded Chesapeake to a hold.
Now what: Analysts are concerned that Chesapeake Energy has too much debt, which is a big problem given how weak commodity prices are right now. As such, either the company needs to address its debt in a meaningful way, or commodity prices need to rally substantially. Until either happens, investors can expect a lot more volatility going forward.