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Concho Expects Production to Flatten in 2016, Bullish on 2017 Growth

Though Permian pure-play Concho Resources Inc. plans to spend within its cash flow as it weathers the downturn, management of the Midland, TX-based exploration and production (E&P) company said it’s positioned to deliver double-digit production growth in 2017 at current strip pricing.

CEO Tim Leach said it twice, for emphasis, during the company’s 4Q2015 conference call with analysts Thursday.

“Based on the current market outlook for commodity prices and continuing to spend within cash flow, we expect to deliver double-digit production growth in 2017,” Leach said. “Importantly, our plan is flexible, and we’re keeping both hands on the steering wheel as we navigate the volatility. We have a strong track record of delivering growth, and by staying committed to a strong balance sheet and preserving our inventory rather than growing volumes and depleting our resources in a weak price environment, we will be uniquely positioned to grow when conditions improve.”

The E&P delivered strong production results for the quarter and for full-year 2015. Total production averaged 143,954 boe/d in 4Q2015 (up from 124,761 boe/d in the year-ago quarter) and 143,256 boe/d for full-year 2015 (up from 111,987 boe/d in 2014), delivering year/year increases of 15% and 28% respectively. Full-year natural gas production rose 23% year/year, while crude oil production was up 31%.

For its 2016 guidance, Concho said production will remain flat or decline by as much as 5% year/year, with a mix 60-64% weighted to oil. This production outlook relates to “timing and transitioning to full field development,” Leach said, noting that the E&P “significantly reduced operating activity” in the second half of 2015 “and will again reduce activity in 2016.”

The E&P is budgeting for $1.1-1.3 billion in capital expenditures (capex) in 2016, a 35% reduction from 2015 capex.

Leach said Concho brought capex below cash flow in the second half of 2015 and that it plans to do the same in 2016.

“We believe oil prices will ultimately move higher, but for now we remain committed to a plan of balancing our entire capital spend, excluding potential acquisitions, within estimated cash flow,” he said.

With a focus on efficiency, “a substantial portion” of Concho’s 2016 drilling activity will use pad drilling and long lateral development, Leach said. The E&P expects to run an average of 11 rigs in 2016, dividing its capex across acreage in the Northern Delaware (45%), Midland (25%) and Southern Delaware (20%) sub-basins, with the remaining 10% going to the New Mexico Shelf. Concho said it is currently running six horizontal rigs in the Northern Delaware, two in the Southern Delaware, one in the Midland and one in the New Mexico Shelf.

Acreage acquisitions within the Permian will also be “a key component of our strategy” in 2016, Leach said. “Given the capital chasing acreage in the Permian, property values remain high, but our acquisition efforts in 2015 were disciplined, targeted and privately negotiated. We acquired interest in bolt-on acreage to our core areas. These acquisitions expanded our long lateral drilling inventory and enhanced the overall value of our portfolio.”

He added that Concho’s “operational expertise” in the Permian gives the company an advantage in evaluating and acquiring acreage. Leach said the E&P plans to remain a Permian pure-play for now and that focusing on any acquisitions outside the basin “would be taking our eye off the ball, to some extent.”

For the quarter, lease operating expenses fell to $7.67/boe, down from $7.77 in the year-ago quarter. General and administrative expenses fell to $3.84/boe in 4Q2015, down from $4.71 in 4Q2014. Average realized prices for the quarter, including hedges, were $38.92/bbl for oil and $2.52/Mcf for gas, down from $44.69/bbl and $2.80/Mcf in the year-ago period.

Concho reported a quarterly net loss of $788,000 (minus 7 cents/share), compared with net income of $129.9 million in the year-ago quarter.

For full-year 2015, the company reported net income of $65.9 million (92 cents/share), compared with net income of $538.2 million ($4.89/share) in 2014.

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