UPDATE 2-Chesapeake results widely miss estimates, pushing shares down

Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:04am EST

* Fourth-quarter adj profit $0.27/share vs est $0.41

* Takes $320 mln charge to repay debt early; other one-time items

* Shares fall as much as 8 percent (Adds comments by chief executive, financial details, updates stock price)

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp reported quarterly results that missed Wall Street estimates by a wide margin because of weak production, sending its shares sharply lower on Wednesday.

In the past year the company has been aggressively trying to repair its balance sheet and cut high spending programs put in place by Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake's co-founder and former chief executive officer.

As a result, the company recorded one-time charges of $320 million during the fourth quarter. The cleanup operation has been seen by analysts as a distraction from the company's ability to increase oil and natural gas production.

Chesapeake's stock fell as much as 8 percent on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning.

Trying to calm concerns, Doug Lawler, who became CEO last June, promised that most of the charges were behind the company.

"We believe that most of the charges related to our organizational restructuring are in the rear view mirror and we look forward to reporting fewer adjustments to earnings going forward," he told analysts on a conference call.

The company is negotiating a civil settlement with Michigan officials to try to end a criminal investigation into whether it colluded to keep oil and gas lease prices artificially low in the state.

Lawler and other current executives are also contending with plans by a McClendon-run firm to force Chesapeake to drill 12 multimillion-dollar wells in Louisiana's Haynesville Shale, a step that would run counter to plans to reduce corporate costs.

Chesapeake's average fourth-quarter production of 665,100 barrels of oil equivalent disappointed analysts, despite rising 2 percent from the same period last year. Heavy rain and cold weather in Texas led largely to the miss.

The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based company posted a net loss of $159 million, or 24 cents per share, compared with net income of $250 million, or 39 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Excluding one-time charges to cull debt and simplify its balance sheet, Chesapeake said it earned 27 cents per share.

By that measure, analysts, on average, expected earnings of 41 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 28 percent to $4.54 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $4.86 billion.

Average production expenses inched up 2 percent from the third quarter, while general and administrative expenses rose 5 percent.

Chesapeake said earlier this month it would cut spending by 20 percent this year and sell assets to plug a $1 billion gap between operating cash flow and capital expenditure.

Lawler promised that such practices will fade away.

"We no longer need to divest assets to survive or fund our drilling capital program," he said.

Chesapeake shares were down 6.2 percent at $25.28 in midmorning trading, off an earlier low at $24.76. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in New York and Swetha Gopinath in Bangalore; editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Matthew Lewis)

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