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Apache's North American Business Now 'Capable of Standing on Its Own'

Apache Corp.'s North American exploration and production (E&P) business is able to stand on its own today, separate from its international operations, something that might not have been possible a year ago, CEO Steve Farris said Thursday.

To that end, the Houston-based super-independent is committed to separating its international assets, "through either strategic transactions or the capital markets," he said during a conference call to discuss third quarter results.

Squeezed by low natural gas prices and mounting debt, the global operator by the end of 2013 had shed close to $7 billion of assets and through June, $10 billion were sold, including a big chunk of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) portfolio (see Daily GPI, May 8). However, major shareholder Jana Partners LLC has continued to pressure Apache to sell off the rest of the global holdings, including those in Canada, to focus only on U.S. onshore opportunities (see Daily GPI, July 22).

"Truthfully, I think our North American business today, and I probably wouldn't have said this a year ago...is very capable of standing on its own," Farris said. "I think we've got the inventory, and I think...we now have the capabilities and the leadership in the regions to be able to do that."

There are some big items still for sale, he noted, including stakes in two liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects. For months Apache has been marketing its 50% interest in the proposed Kitimat LNG facility, which would be sited on British Columbia's west coast and operated by partner Chevron Corp. Also being monetized are stakes in Wheatstone LNG in Australia, another Chevron-operated facility. In addition, plans are to sell some natural gas properties in South Louisiana.

The GOM still is a big part of the portfolio, as is the U.S. onshore, where the Permian Basin continued to drive North American results in the third quarter. In February Farris had said Permian production would grow 12-15% year/year. Through the first nine months, production actually rose 25%.

"The increased growth is a result of a shift to more horizontal drilling," he told analysts. Apache's horizontal well count is up by half from 2013, while the vertical well count in the Permian is down 40%. Also encouraging are results from the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. As well, the emerging Canyon Lime in North Texas has shown promising results, and Apache is buying up more land to add to its 100,000 acres.

The company posted a loss of $1.3 billion (minus $3.50/share) in 3Q2014, versus a profit a year ago of $300 million (75 cents). The loss was attributed primarily to one-time items, including repatriating foreign earnings from discontinued overseas operations. Losses also resulted from the portfolio sales, which reduced production and profits. Adjusting for the one-time items, Apache earned $528 million ($1.38/share), which was down 12% year/year.

Operating cash flow, driven by North America, was $2.1 billion in the period, down from $2.2 billion sequentially on lower commodity prices. Oil price realizations averaged $94.69/bbl in 3Q2014, down 9% sequentially. Gas price realizations averaged $3.88/Mcf, off 7% from the second quarter, but 9% higher year/year.

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