Hess Leads Oil Explorers Showing $15 Billion in 2015 Losses

  • Slimmed-down Hess reports first annual loss since 2002
  • String of bleak earnings reports to stretch into next month

Oil Declines as U.S. Stockpiles Increase

During the next eight days, independent U.S. oil explorers are expected to report 2015 losses totaling more than $15 billion, the result of the steepest price collapse in a generation.

Hess Corp. kicked off earnings season for the companies on Wednesday, reporting a net loss of $1.82 billion for the quarter and $3.06 billion for the year, its first annual loss since 2002. The company also reduced its estimate of proved oil and gas reserves by 24 percent, because of lower crude prices and reduced drilling plans. 

Murphy Oil Corp. also reported a net loss Wednesday of $2.27 billion for 2015. The company and its peers, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., have been squeezed by a crude drop of more than 70 percent since June 2014.

"These companies are adjusting on the fly," said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. "Hunkering down and trying to weather the storm."

Investors have punished oil and gas explorers, wiping out more than $300 billion in market value for the companies in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent E&Ps Valuation Peer Group in the past year. Distressed debt exchanges and bankruptcies are mounting. The companies have fired thousands of workers, abandoned drilling projects, cut dividends and restructured debt to conserve cash and fend off insolvency.

For most independent explorers -- those that don’t also own refineries and retail gasoline stations -- cash flows have been “decimated” by the decline in oil prices, a team of analysts at Wells Fargo Securities LLC including David Tameron and Gordon Douthat said in a note to clients on Jan. 25.

Hess Assets

After spending the past half-decade slimming down from an owner of refineries, filling stations and oil wells to a pure-play crude explorer, Hess may have few assets left to sell if it finds itself needing to raise cash, Fitch Ratings said in a report this month. Hess cut its 2016 drilling budget by 40 percent to $2.4 billion on Tuesday.

The New York-based producer’s per-share fourth-quarter loss, excluding one-time items, was $1.40 a share, beating the $1.47 average of 22 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the biggest estimated loss among the 61 companies in the BI E&Ps group.

Murphy said it cut its workforce by 20 percent last year and plans on capital spending of $825 million this year, down about 62 percent from 2015. It left the door open for further downward revisions if prices remain low.

Anadarko Loss

Anadarko is next in line with results on Feb. 1. The producer is expected to post a $6 billion loss for last year, which would also be its worst result since at least 1987. Anadarko has been clobbered by both the fall in oil and tumbling prices for natural gas, which is more than 60 percent of the company’s output.

Occidental Petroleum Corp. and ConocoPhillips are expected to post full-year losses of $2.74 billion and $1.58 billion, respectively, on Feb. 4. For Occidental, that would represent the steepest annual decline since at least 1987. ConocoPhillips hasn’t reported an annual loss on that scale since 2008. Both companies are based in Houston.

The combined estimated loss for those five companies is more than $15 billion.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what the companies do with their 2016 budgets,” said Michael Scialla, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Denver. “Most have said they plan to stay within their cash flows but with oil now down around $30, I think they’re going to be forced into some draconian cuts.”

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