Bakken Update: 2 Pure Plays Have A Decent First Quarter

Includes: NOG, OAS
by: Michael Filloon

Monday was a busy day for Bakken investors, as several producers reported earnings. Of those producers Northern Oil and Gas (NYSEMKT:NOG), Oasis (NYSE:OAS) and GeoResources (NASDAQ:GEOI) were supposed to report, but GeoResources' board decided to postpone its annual meeting due to its being purchased by Halcon Resources (NYSE:HK).

Northern Oil and Gas had missed analyst estimates on earnings for four quarters straight. It did the same in the first quarter of 2012, but was much better than in previous quarters. It reported an EPS of 23 cents/share versus the Street's estimate of 24 cents. Revenues came up short as well with a reported $50.5 million versus the Street's estimate of $65.35 million. It reported a $14.7 million loss associated with derivatives. Net income per fully diluted share was 14 cents. All in all, a pretty good quarter.

Even with the miss Northern is growing at a very fast clip. 117% year over year production growth, and $65.1 million record oil and gas sales highlight where this company is going. Oil and gas sales increased 141% year over year. Northern added 10278 net acres in the Williston Basin at an average of $1672/acre. It now has a total of 173000 net acres. During the first quarter it participated in 129 gross or 13.9 net wells that were completed and placed into production. It has a total of 793 gross and 71.8 net developed wells. Another 158 gross or 16.5 net wells are awaiting completion.

Looking at costs, production expense increased 49% from $5.65/Boe to $8.40/Boe. This is a significant increase, but shows how Williston Basin production is outpacing infrastructure. Water is by far the largest expense in this area, and many wells are being completed before pipe and disposal wells are in place. Trucking costs continue to increase costs, and I would think this expense will continue to rise in the short term. Looking at the DD&A charge, it seemed a little high. In Northern states it was due to a large increase in production, with emphasis on future development cost, but there may be more to this 22% increase year over year.

Looking ahead, Northern expects costs to increase in oil production. It is a given that increased stages will increase costs/Boe, but much of this should be offset by pad drilling, zipper fracs, decreased drilling times, and better overall production due to producers getting more comfortable in the play. So this number is a bit of a mystery and one we should watch in upcoming quarters.

Oasis also reported first quarter of 2012 earnings Monday. It looked as though Oasis had a terrible quarter, but this is not the case. Oasis reported revenues of $138.6 million versus the Street's estimate of $127.47 million. It reported earnings of 13 cents/share versus the Street's estimate of 32 cents. This is a bit deceiving, as it had an $18.586 million net loss on derivative instruments. This is equal to 20 cents/share and when added to the 13 cents reported, shows Oasis beat EPS estimates by a penny.

Oasis has several good things going for it, and the most important was its production. It came in with an average first quarter production of 17633 Boe/d. This beat guidance of 15000 to 16500 Boe/d. It expects the second quarter of 2012 will have an average production between 18000 and 19500 Boe/d. This production growth was achieved through Oasis' ability to bring forth production quicker than expected, and increased working interest.

Looking at expenses, Oasis increased its infrastructure build out significantly. Given its problems associated with water disposal costs, it has made some changes. Lease operating expenses decreased 21% in the first quarter year over year, due to an increase of salt water running through its disposal systems. This decrease in LOE was part of the reason DD&A charges increased from $18.97 in the first quarter of 2011 to $24.23 in the first quarter of 2012. Oasis also stated this was from higher service costs.

In summary, both Northern and Oasis had pretty good quarters. Both were dinged with large derivative losses, but this is part of investing in oil and gas. Those derivatives protect to the downside, if the price of oil rolls over. Much of these losses are mark to market, and will be added back on to the balance sheet if the price of oil pulls back. Both companies experienced higher DD&A charges, and I believe both due to infrastructure build outs for salt water disposal. Oasis had the better quarter of the two, but both did well.

Disclosure: I am long OAS.

Additional disclosure: This is not a buy recommendation.