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Oxy Spinoff Sees More Red Ink; Eyes Debt Reduction, Deals

Reporting more losses after its first full quarter as an independent, Los Angeles-based California Resources Corp. (CRC), the recent spinoff from Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), is planning to shed some of its $6.6 billion in debt and sell some of its operations while waiting for oil prices to get back near $75/bbl on a sustained basis.

This was the essence of CEO Todd Stevens remarks and answers to analysts' questions during a 1Q2015 earnings conference call in which CRC reported a net loss of $97 million (minus 25 cents/share), compared to net income of $223 million (57 cents/share) for the first quarter last year while still part of Oxy.

Despite the continued red ink carrying over from 4Q2014 results, Stevens said he was "strongly encouraged" by the first quarter results, even in the midst of a sharp drop in global oil prices that has caused CRC to cut its capital spending plans by 80% this year and to cut its rig count to three. CRC's oil production hit record levels, he said.

Stevens said CRC could begin to grow again when oil prices reach "normalized" levels of around $75/bbl and stay there on a sustained basis.

In the meantime, he is focused on strategic options for reducing debt and part of that will come from monetizing some of the company's assets through partnerships and/or sales that CRC is pursuing in preliminary discussions -- "not serious negotiations" -- with various third parties.

"We have cast our net as wide as possible, and we're now looking at all our options and going through the details," Stevens said. "It is still early, but we are not far away, so once we have the options refined, we can start looking to execute with one or more parties. I think we will have something signed up, if not closed, by year-end."

Noting that ongoing discussions aren't what he would call active negotiations, Stevens said "we're clearing discussing a lot of opportunities. We have a unique set of assets out here [in California], particularly in exploration acreage. [Under Oxy] we never would take partners, but in the California oil/gas landscape, everyone eventually is going to bump up against us, so if you want any real exposure to oil/gas resources here, you have to partner with us.

"We have more than enough parties interested [in partnering] on both the exploration and exploitation sides of our asset base."

Stevens says there are many "opportunities for upstream asset monetization" and what CRC's senior officials are trying to figure out is which ones have optimal benefits from the standpoint of lowering the company's overall debt profile and enhancing its operations, along with tax consequences and other issues. "We've identified most of the opportunities and now we are working through the details."

In response to questions about any targets for the amounts of long-term debt reduction, Stevens said there are three principal buckets of debt -- $5 billion in bonds, the first batch of which are not mature until 2019; a $1 billion term loan, and a $600 million of working capital facility -- the latter two "would be the easiest to pay down. So our short-term target is to attack the $1.6 billion."

CRC remains focused on the extensive steam and water flood enhanced oil recovery operations, which require large volumes of natural gas for the steam and/or onsite power generation. As such, in response to a question about its gas use, Stevens said CRC is considering more hedging of gas prices.

"California's had a very mild winter, 90% of the gas used here is imported and tends to trade at a 10%-15% premium to Nymex prices, and although that has collapsed quite a bit, I think there is an opportunity to potentially lock in some lower natural gas prices as a feedstock for our steam floods," Stevens said.

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