What: Typically, a company's shares decline considerably when it announces the suspension of its dividend. Today, though, shares of CONSOL Energy (CNX -1.33%) are up close to 10% following the announcement that it suspended dividend payments and completed the sale of two more coal mines.
So what: The past year or so has not been kind to shares of CONSOL as prices for both coal and natural gas remain weak. In fact, investors were probably already pricing in a full suspension of the dividend. After all, CONSOL's management has cut its dividend three times already since 2013, and the dividend prior to its elimination was only a nominal $0.01 per share.
What's probably fueling CONSOL's surge today is the sale of its mines in Virginia and West Virginia. Today, it announced it had sold two mines to privately held Coronado IV LLC for $420 million. CONSOL said $398 million of the deal would be used to pay down part of its $3.7 billion in debt. As long as coal and gas prices remain weak, investors are going to watch CONSOL's debt levels attentively, and this debt elimination plan was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Now what: CONSOL Energy has significantly reduced its coal production portfolio over the past couple of years. That has been achieved partly through asset sales, and partly from dropping down some of those mines into its more recent spinoff, CNX Coal Resources (CCR). As much as this might have been helpful had CONSOL's other business -- natural gas -- been robust, the decline in oil and gas prices have led to CONSOL's profits withering on the vine.
While these moves today are steps in the right direction, CONSOL still has a way to go before it's out from under its pretty heavy debt load, and until investors see an even greater improvement on that end of the business, it's probably best to sit this one out.