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Southwestern Energy Company's Shares Rose 11% After Pulling the Worst April Fool's Joke Ever

By Tyler Crowe - Apr 4, 2016 at 11:41AM

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Investors probably had a heart attack when they learned that the company had maxed out its credit lines for April 1.

Image source: Southwestern Energy investor presentation.

What: Shares of Southwestern Energy (SWN 2.46%) are up 11% as of 10:45 a.m. ET after the company announced in a disclosure that it had borrowed the maximum $1.5 billion available on its credit line on March 30, only to repay it all back on April 1. 

So what: Southwestern's decision to draw all of its credit line sounds like a horrible, horrible April Fool's prank on its investors, especially after seeing so many companies in the space get in trouble by borrowing too much on those credit lines and not having the means to pay it back. The real reason that Southwestern made this move, though, was to take advantage of an accounting trick that helped give it more financial flexibility in the future.

As Southwestern explained in its 8-K disclosure, the company has certain terms and covenants on its existing debt levels that require a certain amount of cash on the balance sheet at the end of the quarter. So by drawing all of the available amount on its credit line on the very last day of the quarter, the company was able to increase its borrowing capacity for the second quarter by $232 million. It simply paid it back the next day and went on with business as usual. 

Now what: You could look at this in a couple of ways. On the positive side, you have a management team that is using every small advantage it can to keep its funding options open while the market for natural gas is a raging dumpster fire. On the other hand, you have a company that needs to resort to funky accounting tricks to stay alive right now.

From a long-term perspective, this event is pretty much a non-starter that doesn't change the overall investing thesis on the company, but it does give you a peek into management's ability to handle a crisis and how dependable it is on outside funding right now. 

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