Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) reported surprisingly strong results for the fourth quarter, which ignited shares of the oil and gas producer. Here are five of the most impressive numbers from that report, which show just how far Chesapeake has come in the past year.
$0.21 per share: adjusted net income
With oil prices crashing during the fourth quarter, analysts expected that Chesapeake's profitability would head in reverse. However, that wasn't the case, as the company posted $0.21 per share of earnings, which was $0.02 per share ahead of the third quarter and beat the consensus estimate by $0.03 per share. That strong result came even though overall production declined while costs increased. Chesapeake was able to offset those headwinds by boosting its output of higher-margin oil, which rose 10% overall in 2018 after adjusting for asset sales.
$12.81 per BOE: highest margin since 2014
Chesapeake's focus on growing oil production helped boost its adjusted EBITDA margin per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) from $10.83 in 2017 to $12.81 in 2019. That was the company's highest level since 2014, when crude prices averaged more than $90 a barrel. One of the drivers of that margin improvement was the company's position in the Powder River Basin (PBR), where Chesapeake grew its oil volumes 78%.
Meanwhile, the company sees its margins rising to an average of $14.50 per BOE in 2019. Driving that continued expansion will be further growth in the PBR -- where the company sees its oil output more doubling and costs falling after it signed an oil gathering agreement to move its volumes by pipeline rather than truck -- as well as the benefit from its acquisition of the oil-focused WildHorse Resource Development.
$1.8 billion: total debt reduction in 2018
Chesapeake Energy ended last year with $8.2 billion in debt, which was $1.8 billion less than it had at the start of 2018. The main driver of the debt decline was the sale of its Utica Shale assets. While Chesapeake Energy added $1.4 billion in debt when it acquired WildHorse, the company sees that deal improving its leverage ratio to 3.6 times net debt to EBITDA this year and to 2.8 times in 2020, which gets it closer to its target level of 2.0 times.
$2.4 billion: midpoint of its capital budget
With the WildHorse deal now closed, Chesapeake Energy updated its forecast for 2019. The company now plans to spend between $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion on capital projects, which at the midpoint, is flat with last year's spending level. By keeping a lid on spending even as its oil-fueled cash flows are on track to rise, Chesapeake will continue narrowing the gap between capex and operating cash flow, which tallied $1.8 billion last year.
32%: anticipated year-over-year increase in oil production
Chesapeake Energy's capital budget will provide it with enough money to deliver transformational oil production growth in 2019. The company estimates that it should produce between 116,000 to 122,000 barrels of oil per day this year, which is a 32% increase from last year. Fueling that growth will be the company's position in the PBR -- where it expects output to double -- and the addition of WildHorse. That oil-focused growth will increase crude as a percentage of Chesapeake's total production from 19% at the end of last October to 26% by the fourth quarter of this year.
On the right track, but it still has some work to do
As these numbers show, Chesapeake Energy has come a long way over the past year. However, the company still isn't where it wants to be since its leverage ratio remains well above its target level and it's outspending cash flow to fund growth. The company will need to fix both of those issues if it wants to join the oil stock elite, which can generate enough cash at $50 oil to grow at a healthy rate while returning a significant amount of money to investors.
Matthew DiLallo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.