Gulfport Energy Corp. is again facing criticism from its largest shareholder, Firefly Value Partners LP, which said in a letter to the board on Thursday it’s not satisfied with steps taken to create additional value.
Firefly holds nearly 10% of Gulfport’s outstanding stock. Frustrated by what it said was a lack of engagement with the board, the firm outlined proposals to improve Gulfport’s performance in a letter earlier this year. The company then took action to slash spending and implement a share repurchase program.
However, Firefly said Thursday Gulfport has “not even come close to fulfilling its commitments to urgently pursue noncore asset sales and return cash proceeds to shareholders.” Instead, the firm accused the board of pursuing its own agenda with little regard for shareholders.
The letter followed Gulfport’s announcement earlier this week to cut the workforce by 13%, suspend the share repurchase program and make board changes aimed at boosting shareholder value.
“We believe the board’s actions send a crystal-clear message that the board does not care about having shareholders’ perspectives in the boardroom or their input when it comes to finding highly qualified directors,” Firefly said of the recent moves by Gulfport. “Instead, the board has chosen to act unilaterally while ignoring the attempted engagement of the company’s largest active shareholder.”
Gulfport said board members Craig Groeschel and Scott Streller are expected to step down by the end of the year, while long-time director and Chairman David Houston won’t seek reelection at the annual meeting next year.
“Gulfport values shareholder dialogue,” a company spokesperson said. “Our announced initiatives, including the suspension of our share repurchase program and our continued focus on accretive debt repurchases, reflect the collective input from many of our large stakeholders and we are confident that these efforts will drive shareholder value.”
Firefly which said, “We strongly believe a board refresh is needed,” wants to “immediately fill” one of the upcoming director vacancies with a principal to serve as a shareholder representative.
The firm has previously pushed for three directors to be replaced and a shareholder representative to be named. It said Thursday it would pursue “any and all options” to institute the changes, including nominating director candidates at next year’s shareholder meeting.
Gulfport told NGI’s Shale Daily, however, that “we have repeatedly invited them to provide criteria and/or resumes for qualified new director candidates, which they have declined to do.” In addition, the board “has an ongoing rigorous process in place to identify the best candidates for the company and is happy to consider individuals that meet the board’s requirements for skillset, diversity and experience.”
Firefly’s complaints follow similar comments in September by investor Shah Capital, which also shared its frustrations over the company’s performance.
David M. Wood took over as CEO last year. The company has been searching for greater efficiencies, while management has aimed to cut spending and improve the balance sheet.
Gulfport has dumped noncore assets throughout the year, including a legacy position on the Gulf Coast, interests in an overseas exploration and production company, Marcellus Shale rights overlying a portion of its Utica acreage and royalty interests in the Bakken Shale. Proceeds have amounted to less than $100 million.
Gulfport primarily operates in Ohio’s Utica Shale, which accounts for the bulk of its volumes, and the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province. Despite its asset base and the steps taken so far this year, Firefly noted that the stock has fallen 66% since January. Over the last six years, Firefly said Gulfport’s shares have lost 95% of their value.
The company’s stock has traded at a 52-week low of $2.28/share at a time when many independent oil and gas producers have been beat up by the equity markets as commodity prices remain volatile. Natural gas operators in particular have seen their market values eroded in recent years on persistently low prices and are increasingly confronting more active investors demanding better returns.