Chesapeake Energy Corp., the trailblazing Lower 48 unconventional oil and natural gas producer, reported an astounding first quarter net loss of $8.3 billion, an earnings per share hit of $852.97 on Monday, and it acknowledged Chapter 11 is a distinct possibility.
The Oklahoma City-based producer has withdrawn its financial guidance for the year and it elected not to hold a quarterly conference call.
“The company has engaged advisors to assist with the evaluation of strategic alternatives, which may include, but not be limited to, seeking a restructuring, amendment or refinancing of existing debt through a private restructuring or reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code,” Chesapaeake said in its Form 10-Q filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The first quarter results compare with a year-ago net loss of $21 million (minus $6.37/share). Patrick Rau, NGI’s director of strategy and research, said he couldn’t immediately recall such a steep loss being reported by an energy company, but noted Chesapeake’s equally large impairment that dragged down results. The latest loss included a roughly $8.5 billion impairment on assets primarily related to low oil and gas prices.
“It’s never a good sign when a publicly traded company fails to have an earnings conference call with analysts and investors,” Rau said, noting that most of the questions would have likely focused on a potential bankruptcy, which management would be hard pressed to answer at this point.
As it did late last year, management said in the 10-Q that there is substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern. The previous going concern warning was lifted after the company executed a distressed debt exchange.
“We expect to see continued volatility in oil and natural gas prices for the foreseeable future, and such volatility, combined with the current depressed prices has impacted and is expected to continue to adversely impact our business,” the regulatory filing said. Based on the company’s current forecast, management also said that it does not expect to be in compliance with its financial covenants beginning in 4Q2020, an event that could trigger default under its revolving credit facility.
Chesapeake has struggled with a mountain of debt and said on Monday that the Covid-19 pandemic has created even more uncertainty for its business. It currently has more than $9 billion of total debt on its balance sheet. Chesapeake won shareholder approval for a reverse stock split last month to regain compliance with a New York Stock Exchange delisting notice. The move was one in a series of financial measures it has executed since last year to better manage its debt. The company also recently adopted a shareholder rights plan, otherwise known as a poison pill, to prevent a hostile takeover.
The company, founded by the late Aubrey McClendon, at one time had more than 100 rigs operating across the Lower 48 and was valued at nearly $40 billion. But in recent years, it has whittled down its asset base and transformed from a natural gas juggernaut into an oil producer. The company still has an expansive asset base, with operations in the Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Marcellus shales, along with the Midcontinent and Powder River Basin.
Chesapeake produced 479,000 boe/d in the first quarter, compared to 484,000 boe/d in the year-ago period. It reported an average realized price of $20.53/boe in the first quarter, down from $28.22/boe at the same time last year.
The company had planned to cut natural gas production and keep oil volumes flat this year under guidance it issued in February that was abandoned on Monday as it works with both financial and legal advisors to “best position Chesapeake for the future.”
Late last week, Chesapeake said in another regulatory filing that the company’s top executives could receive roughly $25 million in cash retention payments if they waive their right to equity and bonus awards in an indication that bankruptcy could be near.
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