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Ohio’s Shale Oil and Gas Firms Disappoint Shareholders

By Ted Auch, Great Lakes Program Coordinator

A financial crisis seems to have been averted as the price of crude oil is beginning to stabilizeat least for now. One must wonder how such a volatile market affects oil and gas’ Wall Street, private equity, and pension fund followers, however. We have found that many oil and gas (O&G) shares have experienced steep valuation declines in the last few years for companies operating in Ohio.

Share[d] Values

To approach such a broad question, we focused our assessment on Ohio and looked at the share performance of the 17 publicly traded firms operating in the Ohio Utica region since the date of their respective first Utica permits. The Date of First Permit (DFP) ranges between 12/23/2010 for Chesapeake Energy to 3/20/2013 for BP.

US Energy Leverage

Across these 17 companies there are, quite expectedly, winners and losers. On average their shares have experienced 3.75% declines in their valuation or -00.81% per year in the last several years, however. This might be why many of Wall Street and The City’s major banks have limited – or ended – their lines of credit with energy firms from Ohio to the Great Plains. Others are still picking off the highly leveraged losers one by one for pennies on the dollar (Corkery and Eavis, 2015; Staff, 2014). This cutoff of credit and disturbingly high levels of debt/leverage may explain why we found, in a separate analysis, that while cumulative producing oil and gas wells have increased by 349% and 171%, respectively, the rate of permitting needed to maintain and/or incrementally increase these production rates has been 589%.

Cross-Company Comparisons

Ohio Utica Shale Publicly Traded Companies Return

Figure 2. Annual change in share price (%) for 17 publicly traded firms operating in the Ohio Utica shale since their date of first permit

The biggest losers in Ohio’s oil and gas world include Chesapeake Energy. Chesapeake (CHK) is also the largest player in the Buckeye State based on total permits and total producing laterals, accounting for 41% and 55%, respectively. CHK has seen its shares decline on average by 9.1% each year since their DFP (Figure 2). Antero (-10.7% per year), Consol Energy (-7.8%), and Enervest (-12.1%) have experienced similar annual declines, with investors in these firms having seen their position shrink by an average of 37%. Eclipse shares have declined in value by nearly 20% per year, which pales in comparison to the 30-33% annual declines in the share price of Halcon, Atlas Noble, and XTO Energy.

Conversely, the biggest winners are clearly Carrizo (+49% per year), PDC Energy (+41%), and to a lesser degree smaller players like EQT (+22%), Hess Ohio (+8.4%), and Anadarko (+7.9%). Interestingly, the second most active firm operating in Ohio is Gulfport Energy, and their performance has been somewhere in the middle – with annual returns of 10.3%.

Out of State – The Bigger Picture

But before the big winners light up celebratory cigars, it is worth putting their performance into perspective relative to the rest of the field as it were. In an effort to be as fair as possible we chose the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 – two indices that everyone has heard of because they are viewed as broad indicators of US economic growth. Incidentally, the DJIA includes the O&G companies Exon and Chevron. Exon is a multinational firm not involved in Ohio’s Utica development, while Chevron is involved. Additionally, the S&P 500 includes those two firms, as well as 39 other energy firms. Nine of those currently operate in Ohio. To assess these companies’ performance with the most energy-centric indices we have compared Ohio Utica players to the S&P 500’s Energy Index, which strips away all other components of its more famous metric, as well as the Vanguard Energy Index Fund. The latter is described by Vanguard as the following on the Mutual Funds portion of its website:

This low-cost index fund offers exposure to the energy sector of the U.S. equity market, which includes stocks of companies involved in the exploration and production of energy products such as oil, and natural gas. The fund’s main risk is its narrow scope—it invests solely in energy stocks. An investor should expect high volatility from the fund, which should be considered only as a small portion of an already well-diversified portfolio.

In reviewing these four indices we found that they have outperformed the 17 oil and gas firms here in Ohio or the Ohio Energy Complex (OEC), with annual rates of return (ROR) exceeding 35% (Figure 3). This ROR value was not approached or exceeded by any of the 17 OEC firms except for PDC Energy and Carrizo. However, these two companies only account for 2.8% of all Utica permits and 4.4% of all producing Utica laterals to date. Even if we remove the broader indicators of economic growth and just focus on the two energy indices we see the US energy space ROR has experienced annual growth rates of 33% or 7% below the broader US economy but impressive nonetheless. With such growth in the number of companies drilling for oil and gas, it is likely that we will see significant consolidation soon; some of the world’s largest multinationals like Exxon and Total may step in when all of the above are priced to perfection, which is something Exxon’s Chariman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, eluded to in a speech in Cleveland last June.

US Economic Performance and Energ Industry Metrics

Figure 3. Annual % Return of Two Broad Economic and Two Energy Specific Indices.

The performance of the OEC indicates investors and/or lenders will not tolerate such a performance for much longer. Just like our country’s Too-Big-To-Fail banks, boards, CEOs, and shareholders were bailed out, it seems as though a similar bubble is percolating in the O&G world; the same untouchables will be protected by way of explicit or implicit taxpayer bailouts. Will Ohioans be made whole, too, or will they be left to pick up the pieces after yet another natural resource bubble bursts?

References

Corkery, M., Eavis, P., 2015. Slump in Oil Prices Brings Pressure, and Investment Opportunity, The New York Times, New York, NY.

Staff, 2014. Shale oil in a Bind: Will falling oil prices curb America’s shale boom?, The Economist, London, UK.