(Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK.N) forecast broadly steady oil production for this year and an overall output drop, disappointing investors and sending shares of the U.S. oil and gas producer down as much as 15.6% to new record lows.
The group reported smaller-than-expected loss in the fourth quarter, citing a drop in operating expenses, However, analysts said that improvement was coming at the expense of less ambitious targets for oil production, which is key for Chesapeake’s financial health.
The shale pioneer, which borrowed billions of dollars to become at one point the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer, has been shifting to higher margin oil production in response to sliding gas prices caused by a global supply glut.
Chesapeake forecast 2020 oil production at between 41.5 million barrels and 43.5 million barrels, below a 44.03 million barrel forecast of four analysts polled by Refinitiv.
“Official ‘20 oil production guidance is a shade below expectations, as it implies a -3% y/y decline,” Capital One Securities analysts said in a note. “This is the main reason for our ‘mildly negative’ tilt,” they said.
In November, Chesapeake warned it might struggle to continue as a going concern in the face of low energy prices and its debt burden, but last month eased some concerns by saying it had cut its debt by $900 million in the fourth quarter.
“The previous going concern language will not be present in our 2019 SEC 10-K filing,” Chief Executive Officer Robert Lawler told analysts.
As of Dec. 31, Chesapeake had about $8.9 billion in outstanding debt.
Chesapeake seeks to further improve its cost structure this year by cutting its capital program by about 30% compared to 2019 and general and administrative expenses by over 10%, the company said.
It also said it planned to improve liquidity by funding 2020 maturities with $300 million to $500 million in proceeds from non-core asset sales.
On an adjusted per share basis, it posted a loss of 4 cents, below the average analysts’ forecast of a 6 cent loss, according IBES data from Refinitiv.
Shares of the company were down 14% at 38 cents at around 1600 GMT.
Reporting by Arunima Kumar and Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Tomasz Janowski