OPEC's Nov. 30 decision to finally cut oil production in the aftermath of a bloody two-year price war should not be heralded as a return to the black gold rush that was a calling card of the Bush era. Although American and Canadian drillers proved more resilient than the Saudi-led coalition had hoped, once-bitten producers are remaining circumspect about their capital investments in the coming year. The market's ever-present fragility, a sword of Damocles hanging just over the balance sheets of every producer, should give pause to boardrooms and bankers. Nonetheless, the recent return to pricing sanity has given reason to review what those boardrooms and bankers may be thinking for the coming year.
My Rather Blind Selection Methodology
Besides mega-cap organizations such as Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX), and stocks which are currently in my portfolio or that I have written about, I selected the rest of the entries in this article based on no particular reason other than that they are oil and gas companies that had at least some exposure to oil. Some of these picks are more heavily weighted natural gas producers than others. Some of them are based in America or Canada, and others are based elsewhere. Some of these producers may not survive the coming year, while others are well positioned to hunker down and wait out the storm.
Once having selected the stars of this article, I set out to each company's website and read through their news releases to find each company's adjustments in guidance and projected capital expenditures over the course of the next year.
Apache Corporation (NYSE: APA)
Although Apache's 2016 capital expenditures underwent several revisions owing to market conditions and a 3 billion boe discovery in the Permian Basin, the company has not seen fit to announce their 2017 capex plans at this time. According to its investor presentation, the company expects to fund 4-6 rigs in their Alpine High property and 5 in their Midland/Delaware concern, but has not put a dollar figure on that at this time.
Bellatrix Exploration (NYSE: BXE)
A capital budget of C$105 million targets annual production of 33,500boepd, and includes the company's share of work on a gas plant in Alder Flats. Nonetheless, the lion's share of the budget - C$70 million - will be allocated toward drilling work. By way of comparison, the company's 2016 capex had totaled C$54 million as of Q3 and had targeted C$25 million for Q4, so perhaps this is a sign of cautious optimism.
Bonanza Creek Energy (NYSE: BCEI)
A difficult 2016 left Bonanza Creek Energy with no choice but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, announced on Jan. 4. With guidance of $25-35 million capex for 2016 after spending $18 million for the first three quarters, the company may look toward growth for 2017 after the planned equitization is completed. One of the biggest casualties of the price war, Bonanza Creek had budgeted between $630-680 million for capex in 2014.
BP (NYSE: BP)
The oil giant predicted 2017 capex of $15-17 billion in their Q2 slide set, which would be followed by a drop in their 2016 capex to $16 billion announced in their Q3 press release. It's possible that BP would trend toward the upper end of this range given the recent recovery in pricing.
Cabot Oil and Gas (NYSE: COG)
Unlike some other producers, Cabot Oil and Gas has released full guidance for 2017, targeting a total of $625 million in capex spending for the coming year. $575 million of this will go toward exploration and production, while $50 million will be allocated toward pipeline construction. The company estimates that $225 million of this is necessary to maintain flat production levels, while the rest will bring production growth of 5-10% from 2016's exit levels.
Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK)
According to their Nov. 3 outlook release, Chesapeake is providing a wide 2017 capital expenditure projection range - $1.8 billion to $2.6 billion. Unlike many other producers who are seeking to ease up production in the new year, Chesapeake is targeting -5% to flat production growth year over year.
Oil titan Chevron will be looking to pare back capital investments in 2017 to maintain their dividend, announcing in December a budget of $19.8 billion for the coming year. This is the fourth consecutive year of decline by Chevron.
Erin Energy Corp. (NYSE: ERN)
The company formerly known as CAMAC Energy has not yet announced their 2017 capex guidance, but noted in their June investor presentation that their balance sheet was "currently constrained." Rising oil prices and anticipated debt restructuring could help the company return to a growth trajectory in 2017.
Chinook Energy (GREY: CNKEF)
Following a series of divestments and spin-offs, a leaner Chinook Energy is targeting C$9.7 million in capex for the first quarter of 2017 in order to complete and tie in three wells and explore new drilling locations in the Montney area. The company has not guided for the entire year at this time.
Cimarex Energy Corp. (NYSE: XEC)
Their January Goldman Sachs presentation noted a total budget of $600 million toward drilling and completion, and aimed for an ambitious 9-14% production increase from 2016. This budget was flat from 2016.
Concho Resources (NYSE: CXO)
Although the company approved a$1.6 billion capital expenditure budget for 2017, the company is expecting to spend between $1.4 and $1.6 billion, depending on cash flows and opportunity. Among the company's goals is an increased presence in the Delaware Basin, raising the number of rigs to an average 7 from 4 in 2016.
Conoco-Phillips (NYSE: COP)
The oil giant's $5 billion capital expenditure plan for 2017 is $200 million lower than their 2016 estimated expenditure, and is redirecting a greater share of its investments to America over Canada in the new year. For their efforts, the company expects 0-2% growth year over year.
Diamondback Energy (NASDAQ: FANG)
After a flurry of acquisitions and capital raises to close out the year, Diamondback Energy announced a significant capital expenditure increase to $700-$900 million for 2017 in their December press release. This is up significantly from 2016's projected $350-$425 million. The company's capex outlook had initially been raised to $500-$650 million for 2017 prior to the Brigham Resources acquisition.
Earthstone Energy (NYSE: ESTE)
The company's solid 2016 efforts were not bookended with a projection for 2017's capital expenditure budget at this time. Their November 2016 presentation indicated that guidance was yet to be issued.
Encana Energy (NYSE: ECA)
Encana's $1.1-1.2 billion guidance for 2016 has been surpassed by the company's stated 2017 goal of $1.4-1.8 billion. Nonetheless, the 2017 figure remains well below 2015's figure. Among other things, the money will go toward significant increases in the company's Permian Basin and Eagle Ford properties.
EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG)
EOG's capital spend guidance for 2016 of $2.6-$2.8 billion has not been supplanted by further projections, but CEO Bill Thomas has indicated that the company plans to boost capex spending in the Delaware Basin and add rigs to their Yates acreage in the coming year.
Evolution Petroleum (NYSEMKT: EPM)
The company's $25 million capital budget for 2016 has not been updated beyond that date. The company's strong cash position, regular dividend, low expenses and nonexistent debt are the reasons for its premium valuation, which is richly valued at a $300 million market cap.
Unlike smaller companies who tend to budget on a yearly or quarterly basis, larger oil companies often project several years into the future when planning. Exxon announced projected cuts in capex spending to $21 billion for 2017 as early as March 2016.
Goodrich Petroleum (NYSE: GDP)
Having received a second lease on life after their 2016 bankruptcy proceedings, Goodrich Petroleum's 2017's capital expenditure budget of $40 million will fund the development of 3-4 net wells in the coming year.
Gulfport Energy Corp. (NASDAQ: GPOR)
The company has not finalized a dollar figure for their 2017 outlay, but CEO Michael G. Moore outlaid plans to expand to a six-rig drilling program at a minimum for the year, up from 4 in 2016.
Halcon Resources (NYSE: HK)
A producer I described as "embattled" two years ago, Halcon Resources has managed to struggle onward after a bankruptcy proceeding in September. The company's preliminary plans to spend $200 million in capex in 2017 will keep production roughly neutral, but the expiration at the close of 2016 of a strong hedging program will mitigate some of the gains in pricing.
Kelt Exploration (GREY: KELTF)
Unless commodity prices improve, Kelt Exploration will be targeting a net total spend of C$42 million, down from C$97 million in 2016. This figure includes a significant year-over-year increase in drilling activity, to C$104.6 million, C$32 million in infrastructure improvements, and the closure of a C$94.6 million asset disposition on or around Jan. 18.
Laredo Petroleum Holdings (NYSE: LPI)
The company posted their first quarterly profit since 2014 this year, but have not seen fit to release information about their plans for a 2017 capex budget thus far.
Linn Energy (NASDAQ: LINE)
Linn's May 2016 bankruptcy provided a breather for the company, which still is billions of dollars in debt. At this time, the company has not disclosed its capex budget for 2017.
Lonestar Resources (NASDAQ: LONE)
The company's severe recent dilution in order to pay down a fraction of its debt has not brought the company out of danger yet, as the company is still $212 million in debt. Rising oil prices will help the company, which will be allocating between $62 and $72 million in 2017 to capital expenditure according to its most recent investor presentation.
Manitok Energy (GREY: OTC:MKRYF)
Plagued by a 2016 series of dilutions that left stockholders frustrated, the company nonetheless managed to survive a difficult year and completed several acquisitions by hook or by crook. The company's C$12 million capital expenditure for the first 9 months of 2016 are the only barometer we have to guess what their 2017 plans might be.
Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO)
Marathon Oil's 2016 capital budget of $1.4 billion was announced in February 2016, so we will likely see more from this company for the coming year next month.
Newfield Energy (NYSE: NFX)
Newfield likely brushed against the top end of its 2016 capex range of $700-$750 million due to increased pricing toward the end of the year, but while we can likely anticipate higher spending in 2017, the company has not provided guidance on that yet.
Nighthawk Energy (OTCQX: NHEGY)
The struggling junior producer, presently grappling with declining production and severe indebtedness, has not announced formal plans for 2017 at this time.
Ophir Energy (OTCPK: OPGYF)
The cash-rich Ophir budgeted aggressively during 2016, targeting $140-$170 million in capex on expected revenues of $130-$150 million. The company is likely to release further guidance on 2017 in their 2016 yearly report, due in March.
Parex Resources (OTC: PARXF)
The company anticipates drilling between 39-44 wells in 2017, anticipating total outlay of C$200-$225 million in the coming year. The company hopes to achieve 34,000-36,000 boepd on that expenditure, achieving significant year-over-year growth if that can be accomplished.
Penn Virginia Corp. (NYSE: PVA)
Another casualty of the price wars, Penn Virginia Corp.'s September 2016 bankruptcy gave a fresh start to the company. The company anticipates running 1 or 2 rigs in the new year, on a budget of $95 to $115 million.
The oil megalith's capital expenditure forecast for 2017 came in at $25 billion, well under its estimated 2016 total of $29 billion. The company warned to not expect a strong rebound in oil pricing in the coming year.
RSP Permian, Inc. (NYSE: RSPP)
RSP Permian's $450 million December note offering came on the heels of a modestly profitable Q3, where the company disclosed an expected capital expenditure budget of $570-$630 million. Of that total, only $50-$60 million is not allocated to drilling and completion. The company hopes to achieve production of 52,000-56,000 boepd on that figure, well above their 2016 average; their 2017 projections were bolstered by the October acquisition of Silver Hill Energy Partners.
Sandridge Energy (NYSE: SD)
While the company has not released an exact range at this time, the 3Q presentation indicates that total capital expenditures for 2017 will be under $200 million for the period. This is down from their total projected 2016 capital expenditure of $220-$240 million. The company's current debt load has been drastically reduced as a result of their bankruptcy, down to $313 million at the end of Q3.
Strategic Oil And Gas (OTCPK: SOGFF)
A brutal series of dilutions over the past few years have left stockholders high and dry, as the share count ballooned to over 500,000,000. A budget of C$30 million has been allocated for the first 6 months of 2017, but we will have to see what comes of it.
Surge Energy (OTCPK: OTCPK:ZPTAF)
Surge Energy's C$85 million budget was announced on Dec. 13. The budget predicated 2017 WTI at $55, a figure briefly touched just before the end of the year, and targeted a projected average of 14,000boepd for the year.
TAG Oil (OTCQX: TAOIF)
TAG Oil's April 14 announcement of a C$7.6 million capital budget is a little misleading, as their FY17 stretches from April 2016 to March 2017. Beyond this, the company has not provided additional direction.
Whiting Petroleum (NYSE: WLL)
If Whiting Petroleum has already decided their 2017 capital expenditure plan, they have not disclosed it to the public yet.
Zargon Oil and Gas (OTCPK: ZARFF)
Zargon's C$7.8 million capital expenditure plan for 2017 is expected to maintain flat production year over year, including keeping the ASP project ready for expansion when oil prices improve further.
Some of my readers may recall my 2014 article, "50 Oil And Gas Companies And Their 2015 Capital Expenditures." There's a reason this article has been pared down to 40 - about 20% of these companies had either been acquired or had gone irreparably bankrupt.
At the moment, opinions appear to hinge on OPEC's goodwill, and the overall impact they will carry on the market. Negative sentiment toward the conglomerate's commitment to adhering to stated quotas has pushed down oil prices over the last few days. Opinions are divided on whether the price recovery will last. As it will be demonstrated below, some producers are more cautious in the new year than in the last, and overall sentiment seems to be split between bullish and - if not bearish, then cautious. At the very least, the mood is not as exuberant as it was five years ago, and the mood is not likely to return to those levels.
Disclosure: I am/we are long ZARFF, CNKEF. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Editor's Note: This article covers one or more microcap stocks. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.