Shale Boom Goes Bust As Costs Soar
"Traditionally we’ve been a financially conservative company," explains one fracking company, warning that "we’ve become more leveraged than we historically have been and we’ve become uncomfortable with that." This is the growing message from a shale boom that, as Bloomberg reports, is facing a shakeout as drillers struggle to keep pace with the relentless spending needed to get oil and gas out of the ground. As everyone chases the dream, well counts have soared and production per well has tumbled. "The list of companies that are financially stressed is considerable," warns one analyst as shale debt has almost doubled over the last four years while revenue has gained just 5.6% "not everyone is going to survive. We’ve seen it before."
The U.S. shale patch is facing a shakeout as drillers struggle to keep pace with the relentless spending needed to get oil and gas out of the ground.
Shale debt has almost doubled over the last four years while revenue has gained just 5.6 percent, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of 61 shale drillers. A dozen of those wildcatters are spending at least 10 percent of their sales on interest compared with Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 0.1 percent.
“The list of companies that are financially stressed is considerable,” said Benjamin Dell, managing partner of Kimmeridge Energy, a New York-based alternative asset manager focused on energy. “Not everyone is going to survive. We’ve seen it before.”
In a measure of the shale industry’s financial burden, debt hit $163.6 billion in the first quarter... companies including Forest Oil Corp. , Goodrich Petroleum Corp. and Quicksilver Resources Inc. racked up interest expense of more than 20 percent.
And here comes the vicious circle...
Drillers are caught in a bind. They must keep borrowing to pay for exploration needed to offset the steep production declines typical of shale wells. At the same time, investors have been pushing companies to cut back. Spending tumbled at 26 of the 61 firms examined. For companies that can’t afford to keep drilling, less oil coming out means less money coming in, accelerating the financial tailspin.
“Interest expenses are rising,” said Virendra Chauhan, an oil analyst with Energy Aspects in London. “The risk for shale producers is that because of the production decline rates, you constantly have elevated capital expenditures.”
While borrowing to spend is typical of start-up companies, it’s not always sustainable. Forest Oil, where interest expense totaled 27 percent of revenue in the first quarter, in February reported disappointing well results, and warned that it might run afoul of its debt agreements.
“Traditionally we’ve been a financially conservative company,” said Bruce Vincent, president of Houston-based Swift. “We’ve become more leveraged than we historically have been and we’ve become uncomfortable with that.”
So is there a limit to what excessively low credit risk premia will stand? Is there a limit to what the market will bear? It seems so... but the day of creative destruction in America appears to be over as nothing has consequences. The best case sceanrio is some major shakeout in the "black gold" rush, leaving stronger sustainable companies non-reliant on ultra-low interest rates to maintain their business model (or else energy prices must soar to maintain these companies)... be careful what you wish for from the Fed.
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