Chesapeake to spend less in 2014, targets higher output

Thu Feb 6, 2014 12:55pm EST

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

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

Credit: Reuters/Steve Sisney

(Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK.N) on Thursday cut its capital budget for the year by more than a fifth as Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler focuses on drilling in U.S. shale basins with the highest returns, but the company's oil production outlook disappointed and the stock fell more than 7 percent.

Analysts at energy-focused investment bank Simmons & Co in Houston said the company's forecast for oil growth of 1 percent to 5 percent, a figure that does not adjust for 2013 asset sales, fell short of their expectations for growth of 12 percent.

The Oklahoma City-based company said it would spend between $5.2 billion and $5.6 billion this year, about 20 percent less than its 2013 capital expenditure estimate of $6.9 billion.

Lawler, who replaced Chesapeake's co-founder and former CEO Aubrey McClendon in June, has pledged to cut costs and debt while increasing oil and gas production in the company's most profitable fields. The company has undergone a restructuring under Lawler that included the elimination of 10 percent of its workforce.

"We are going to be a low-cost producer, and we are going to be efficient in our investment," Lawler told investors on a conference call.

He said the company is still very focused on growing its liquids output, but will not drill for oil in places where returns are not good. About 35 percent of Chesapeake's 2014 budget is earmarked for drilling in the Eagle Ford shale field.

Including capitalized interest, Chesapeake still faces a gap between operating cash flow and capital expenditures of $1 billion this year. Asset sales are planned, but the company declined to provide any additional details.

Chesapeake was targeting more than $4 billion from asset sales in 2013. On an absolute basis, Chesapeake is targeting 2014 production growth of 2 percent to 4 percent, it said on Thursday.

Adjusting for 2013 asset sales, the company said it expected overall production growth to rise 8 percent to 10 percent this year. Oil output is forecast to rise 8 percent to 12 percent, natural gas liquids production to increase 44 percent to 49 percent and natural gas output to climb 4 percent to 6 percent.

MORE RIGS IN THE HAYNESVILLE SHALE

A rise in natural gas and natural gas liquids output from Chesapeake's operations in the central United States, the Utica shale in Ohio and Marcellus shale in the U.S. Northeast is also expected to contribute to production growth in 2014.

Chesapeake also said it has been adding rigs in the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana, a move that puzzled some analysts who contend that natural gas prices are not high enough to drill profitable dry gas wells.

Drilling for dry gas, which does not contain high amounts of liquids such as propane and butane that can be stripped out and sold at a premium, has slowed dramatically in formations like the Haynesville and Barnett Shale in Texas due to low prices.

Still, Chief Financial Officer Domenic Dell'Osso told investors that the company's Haynesville wells were "highly economic."

"We are pleased to be in a position to return some activity to the Haynesville in 2014," he said.

As a result of cost-cutting initiatives, Chesapeake expects production expenses to fall by about 10 percent to $4.25 to $4.75 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) in 2014.

The company expects general and administrative expenses to slide 25 percent this year.

After tumbling 7.4 percent to a session low of $24.27, Chesapeake's stock trimmed losses to trade down $1.71 at $24.50 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting By Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; Editing by Maju Samuel, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Marguerita Choy and Jan Paschal)

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