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Earnings

Pioneer Natural Resources output dip won't derail variable dividend

(Reuters) - The recent winter storm in Texas will dent U.S. shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources’ production by about 2% this year, but has not derailed the company’s plans to launch one of the oil industry’s first variable dividends, Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield told analysts on a conference call.

Severe winter storms in Texas last week shuttered oil output across the top U.S. shale field and will reduce the company’s output by about 8,000 barrels per day this year, Sheffield said. Pioneer still expects $2 billion in free cash flow for 2021 and will start paying a variable dividend in 2022 in addition to its regular dividend.

Devon Energy Corp is the other shale producer so far to have followed through on the idea of paying a variable dividend, which it will start this year.

Analysts put Pioneer’s combined dividend at 4% to 5.5% based on differing cash flow estimates.

The company expects to pay about $750 million to shareholders across four quarterly payments in 2022 for the variable dividend, “forcing investors to take notice with its cash return strategy,” Mizuho Securities analyst Vincent Lovaglio said in a note.

Pioneer is also targeting $750 million from free cash flow for debt repayment.

Shares rose 3.5% to $150.32 on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday it reported fourth-quarter non-GAAP adjusted income of $177 million, above expectations, as crude oil prices recovered from pandemic-driven lows.

It expects to run 18 to 20 drilling rigs in the Permian Basin this year and five to seven fracking fleets, President Richard Dealy said.

Most Pioneer production is back online and storm damage repairs are “minor in the grand scheme of things,” Chief Financial Officer Neal Shah said.

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis

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