Chesapeake asset sale lifts profits, shares rise

Mon Aug 6, 2012 7:38pm EDT

Chesapeake Energy Corporation's 50 acre campus is seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Sisney

Chesapeake Energy Corporation's 50 acre campus is seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Sisney

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(Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp's second-quarter results on Monday offered investors some evidence the cash-strapped U.S. oil and gas company will be able to bridge a big funding gap with more assets sales and higher crude oil production.

Chesapeake, which faces an estimated shortfall of about $10 billion this year, as well as governance and legal woes, said it is on track to close three deals in West Texas in the third quarter, including its Midland Basin producing assets to privately held EnerVest Ltd. That price was not disclosed.

The company has completed $4.7 billion of sales in the first half of 2012 and expects to announce deals for another $7 billion in assets in the third quarter.

Chesapeake shares were up nearly 3 percent after the close of regular trading.

Low natural gas prices have battered Chesapeake, which is shifting capital to the search for more profitable oil. In the second quarter, Chesapeake said its oil and natural gas liquids output rose 65 percent and the company forecast more gains for the year.

"Overall, I would say the quarter probably wasn't as bad as people thought," said Mark Hanson, an energy analyst at Morningstar. "You've got liquids production going up, which is a sign that they are aggressively going after them. That could be the influence of Icahn."

Still, Hanson noted that Chesapeake's projections for acreage purchases this year rose to $2 billion from a prior forecast of $1.6 billion at a time when investors are looking for signs the company is slowing its spending.

Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake's Chief Executive Officer, said: "We are taking aggressive and focused actions to increase cash flow and net asset value per share, while also reducing long-term debt, as we continue our ongoing transformation to a more balanced asset base between higher-margin liquids and lower-margin natural gas

Chesapeake and McClendon have been operating under a cloud following a series of Reuters investigations that have drawn the attention of state and federal regulators, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Two of the company's biggest investors, billionaire Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management's Mason Hawkins, now control four seats on Chesapeake's nine member board of directors. Both have pressed for lower spending.

McClendon was also replaced as chairman by former ConocoPhillips director Archie Dunham in June.

Chesapeake, the second largest producer of natural gas, has struggled amid the steep downturn in price for the fuel. In its latest earnings report, the company said it cut its proved, undeveloped reserves in the Haynesville and Barnett shale formations because they were unprofitable to produce.

Chesapeake's reserves as of June 30 were 17.4 trillion cubic feet equivalent, down 7 percent from a year ago, it said.

Profit in the quarter was $929 million, or $1.29 per share, up from $467 million, or 68 cents per share, in the same period a year ago.

Excluding the $584 million gain from the sale of its Chesapeake Midstream Partners, a $490 million gain in the value of its energy derivative positions and other one-time items, earnings per share were 6 cents, the company said.

Analysts had on average forecast earnings per share of 7 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenues rose to $3.4 billion from $3.3 billion a year ago.

Chesapeake said it now expected its asset sales would be between $13 billion to $14 billion this year, the upper end of its previous target of $11.5 billion to $14 billion.

The company's shares, which were down 21 percent so far this year through Monday's close, were trading after hours at $18.20 per share from the $17.70 close.

(Reporting By Anna Driver in Houston and Matt Daily in New York; editing by Andre Grenon)

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