Will Chesapeake Start to Heat up Again?

The sharp rise in shares of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) has curbed down in the past several months. Albeit the company’s third quarter earnings results were good, this wasn’t enough to impress investors. Has the company done well in the third quarter compared to its competitors such as Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX)? Will the company continue to grow in the fourth quarter? Let’s analyze these issues.

Third quarter results and fourth quarter outlook

One of the main driving forces behind the company’s sharp rise in revenues is the 119% spike in marketing and gathering operations. Alas, this business segment has only a profit margin of 0.7% so it doesn’t have much of positive effect on Chesapeake’s bottom line. Conversely, the oil and natural gas operation has a gross profit margin of 82%; so the 15.5% rise in revenues in this segment is something worth noticing. The company’s gain in this segment’s revenues was mostly related to higher oil and natural gas prices.

In the third quarter, the market price of natural gas rose by 23% in the third quarter (year-over-year). The company’s realized price increased by nearly 15%. Nonetheless, Chesapeake’s natural gas revenues grew by only 3.7%: The sharp rise in natural gas price was partly offset by the 10% drop in NG production. Looking forward, the positive effect of natural gas on Chesapeake’s revenues in the fourth quarter is likely to be less dramatic. Currently, the quarterly average price of natural gas is only 2% higher than in the parallel quarter in 2012.

Although the price of oil rose by 15% during the quarter, the company’s realized price of oil increased by only 1.4%. This was also the case for Exxon and Chevron. Exxon’s realized  oil price grew by 5.6%; Chevron’s , by 7%. Moreover, these companies’ revenues remained near-stagnate in the third quarter: Chevron’s revenues inched up by 0.2%; Exxon’s revenues slipped by 2.4%. Chevron’s modest rise in revenues was due to adverse impact from currency changes, decline in asset sales, and little progress in downstream revenues. For Exxon, the sharp drop in downstream sales was among the main reasons for the decline in sales. Thus, in terms of growth in sales, Chesapeake has outperformed its competitors.

Moreover, the rise in prices of oil and natural gas has also reflected in the increase in Chesapeake’s profitability.

The chart below shows the changes in Chesapeake’s operating profit (excluding goodwill charges) and normalized prices of oil and natural gas. The company’s profitability slightly grew to 9% in the third quarter of 2013.

operating profitablity CVX 2012-2013 AND NG AND OIL PRICE

Source: Google Finance, and Energy Information Administration

As you can see, in the fourth quarter of 2013 (up-to-date) the prices of natural gas and oil were higher than the prices in the same quarter in 2012. If oil and natural gas prices don’t dramatically fall in the coming weeks, this could suggest prices will have a positive impact on the company’s revenues and profit margins in the fourth quarter. Specially, based on the company’s current projection for its production in the fourth quarter and the current prices levels, the company’s revenues from natural gas, oil and NGL operations could rise by 4% to 5% compared to the fourth quarter in 2012 – nearly half the growth rate recorded in the third quarter.

Bear in mind, however, natural gas operations account for less than 34% of Chesapeake’s oil and gas revenues – last year this percentage was 38%. The drop in natural gas’s share out of total revenues is related to the company’s decision to sell some of its natural gas operations in the past year. Therefore, the changes in the price natural gas on total revenues will have a diminished effect compared to previous years.

Despite the relatively positive earnings results, the main issue for Chesapeake remains rebuilding the trust with its investors following last year’s cash flow problems.

Gaining confidence

During the past year, the company has slowly been gaining back the confidence of the markets: Chesapeake’s credit default swap (five years, in US dollar) has declined during 2013 from 589 basis points at the beginning of the year to nearly 270 bp at the end of October . The current price of 270 means the annual premium is $270 thousand in case the company defaults $10 million of its debt within the next five years. The sharp drop in the CDS is an indication that Chesapeake is regaining the confidence of both bondholders and shareholders. The company seems to have sold enough of its assets to finance its capital expenditure for the near future, repaying some of its loans and paying dividend. The last sale was made back in July when Chesapeake  sold Northern Eagle Ford Shale and Haynesville Shale for nearly $1 billion. In terms of dividend, the company will pay a quarterly dividend  of $0.0875 per share, which comes to an annual yield of 1.4%. In comparison, Chevron offers an annual yield of 3.3%; Exxon pays a yearly yield of 2.6%. If the company is slowly regaining the confidence of its investors, is the stock price still right?

Chesapeake’s valuation remains stable

Despite Chesapeake’s improvement its valuation remains lower than its competitors.  In the table below are the calculated enterprise value and EV-to-EBITDA ratios of Chesapeake, Chevron and Exxon.

Chesapeake valuation

Source: Google Finance, Damodaran, and wikinvest

As you can see, Chesapeake’s EV-to-EBITDA ratio is still higher than the industry average but remains lower than the ratio of Exxon or Chevron. These findings suggest, at face value, that Chesapeake’s stock price remains well priced and still has room to grow.

The bottom line 

I think Chesapeake has done well in the past year to get out of the cash flow problems it faced a year back. The company still has room to improve its financial situation and increase its operations mainly in the oil market. Finally, the company’s fourth quarter earnings results might fall short from the third quarter but are   likely to outperform the parallel quarter in 2012.

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Disclaimer: The author holds no positions in stocks mentioned and does not plan to initiate positions within 120 hours of the posting of this article. This article is to be used for educational, research and informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. There are no guarantees, expressed or implied, of future positive returns in regards to the subject matter contained herein. Understand the risks inherent in investing before making the decision to invest or consult an investment professional for more information. Reasonable due diligence has been performed in regards to the information in this article. However, the author expressly disclaims any liability for accidental omissions of information or errors in fact.