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Antero Turns in Strong Third Quarter, Thanks in Part to Utica Shale

A strong hedge book, firm transportation portfolio, the sale of its water business and robust liquids production from the Utica Shale helped Antero Resources Corp. buck the lackluster third quarter earnings trend that has come into sharp relief in recent weeks.

Both year-over-year net income and revenue was up at Antero. Management added Thursday when it discussed third quarter results that the company would begin cutting into a more than 50 well backlog at the end of the year to help ramp production heading into the new year.

The company also expects to hydraulically fracture its first Utica well in West Virginia in November, with results expected by the end of the year, a prospect Antero has been discussing since last year even as other operators have found success from their recent Utica wells in the state.

"We are pleased with the way drilling went; we have a lot of experience in drilling deep, high pressure wells," said CEO Paul Rady, discussing the Utica well, which was drilled in the third quarter. "The plan is to use a combination of resin coated and ceramic proppant. We'll flow it back under a restricted rate. We definitely don't want to suffer any flowback of proppant or crushing. So, we'll keep it somewhat restricted. It'll probably be a little bit of time before we see any kind of decline in it."

Earlier this year, Antero said it would defer the completion of 50 horizontal Marcellus Shale wells as a result of the drop in commodity prices (see Shale DailyJan. 21).

Slight production declines have been forecasted since. But in May, Antero said it would slow the Marcellus program by the second half of the year and turn its attention to the Utica (see Shale DailyMay 1).

"Both the overall production growth and liquids production growth were driven by outstanding results in our Utica operations, where we placed 25 wells online during the quarter" CFO Glen Warren said. "Utica net production increased over 120 MMcfe/d to average 365 MMcfe/d, including liquids production of 19,250 b/d for the quarter."

Overall, the company produced 1.506 Bcfe/d, a 39% increase from the year-ago period and a slight increase from the 1.484 Bcfe/d it produced in 2Q2015 (see Shale DailyJuly 17). Production consisted  of 1.192 Bcfe/d of natural gas; 45,072 b/d of natural gas liquids and 7,178 b/d of crude oil. Overall liquids production was up 109% from a year ago and 14% from 2Q2015.

Warren said fourth quarter production would likely be flat compared to the third quarter, saying "we accelerated some completions out in the Utica just due to some great performance out in the field. So I think that's what drove the outperformance in the third quarter. I would not expect a big uptick in the fourth quarter."

In September, the company completed the drop down of its water business to Antero Midstream Partners LP, receiving $794 million in cash (see Shale DailySept. 18). Combined with a $206 million gain on natural gas, NGL and oil hedges and premium pricing from its firm transportation, the company reported net income of $534 million ($1.93/share), compared to net income of $204 million (78 cents/share) in 3Q2014. Revenue was also up, going from $762 million in the year-ago period to $1.4 billion.

Antero's all-in price realization also weathered the downturn last quarter. While it fell from $4.91/Mcfe in 3Q2014 to $3.83/Mcfe, it essentially stayed flat from the 2Q2015 realization of $3.85/Mcfe and outperformed its peers that have thus far reported.

The company's borrowing base was also increased 12.5% from $4 billion to $4.5 billion. It remains heavily indebted, though, reporting consolidated debt of $4.4 billion, of which $500 million was outstanding under its own credit facility and another $525 million outstanding under its midstream master limited partnership's credit facility. Antero also reported a property impairment charge of $9 million related to its unproved assets.

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