Why Chesapeake Energy Stock Is Tanking Thursday

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Independent oil and gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) is holding its first investor day in two years, and by the look of the share price, investors don’t much like what they’re hearing. The stock traded down more than 5% early Thursday morning but was down about 3% before midday.

In its presentation to investors, Chesapeake touts its efforts to get its balance sheet in order, and that story is encouraging. What is not encouraging is the company’s outlook.

On slide number 144 of 177 in its presentation, Chesapeake presents a summary of its production outlook for this year and next. Production growth is estimated at flat to up 3% for 2016 and at down 5% to flat for 2017. And that comes at the cost of higher capital spending.

Liquids production is expected to reach 56 million to 60 million barrels this year and to drop to 51 million to 55 million barrels in 2017. Oil production of 33 million to 35 million barrels is forecast for both years. The decline comes in production of natural gas liquids (NGLs), forecast at 23 million to 25 million barrels this year, falling to 18 million to 20 million barrels next year. Total daily production for 2016 is expected to reach 617,000 to 637,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, dropping to 532,000 to 562,000 barrels a day in 2017.

Operating costs are forecast to drop year-over-year in 2017, but capital spending is expected to rise from $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion this year to a range of $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion next year.

As Chesapeake’s cost structure continues to improve, the company now expects to be free-cash-flow neutral in 2018. Without specifying any numbers, the company said it expects production growth of 10% to 15% year over year in 2018.

Regarding its still impressive debt of nearly $11 billion, the company has cut its debt maturities from $2.2 billion as of September 30, 2015, to $625 million at the end of September 2016. This helps with short-term cash flow obviously.

Debt reduction remains top of mind at Chesapeake. CEO Doug Lawler noted that the company plans an additional $2 billion to $3 billion in debt reduction on top of the more than $2 billion reduction it anticipates for this year. By 2019 the net debt to EBITDA ratio is expected to fall from around 6.5x to about 2x. Production growth is targeted a 5% to 15% through 2020 and Chesapeake expects to triple its margins.

The devil is in the details, and there is plenty of detail in this presentation. Technological improvements and lower costs will help make Chesapeake’s plans come true, as will targeted investments in high-grade drilling locations.

The one thing the company can’t control, however, is commodity price, and although that is rising now, there is no guarantee that it will continue to rise going forward.

To Chesapeake’s credit, it’s doing what it can and it has outlined a plausible plan. But are investors willing to wait another two years to see results? That’s asking a lot.

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