Among energy stocks, Chesapeake Energy has gone through more than its share of turmoil over the past several years. Three years ago, Chesapeake's concentration in natural gas worked against the company, as natural gas prices plunged to their lowest levels in more than a decade and crushed profits. Ongoing issues with former CEO Aubrey McClendon led to his departure in 2013, creating still more controversy and uncertainty. Now, Chesapeake faces its biggest challenge yet, as the company must deal with both its legacy issues and the impact of the drop in crude oil prices. Investors worry the energy company might not be as successful in rebounding from its current crisis as it has been in the past. Let's look at what's happening at Chesapeake Energy and whether investors' fears are justified.
Whipsawed twice in a row
The biggest problem that Chesapeake has faced is that its efforts to adapt to rapidly changing conditions in the energy markets have proven ill-timed. For a long time, the company emphasized natural gas production, with the early boom in gas-rich shale plays leading to substantial production gains. Yet when natural gas prices sank, Chesapeake was overexposed to the market, and that hurt it more than it did some of its more balanced peers.
In response, Chesapeake set out to increase its exposure to oil- and liquids-producing assets. Several major asset sales raised much-needed cash to handle its balance-sheet obligations, and soaring oil prices performed much better than the natural gas market.
That strategy worked well until the second half of 2014, when crude oil prices began their trip lower. Suddenly, Chesapeake found itself on the wrong side of the energy trade again; even though natural gas still represents the bulk of the company's production, investors feared Chesapeake's most obvious path to a full recovery was suddenly blocked.
What really hurt Chesapeake most recently, though, is the larger drop in prices of natural gas liquids. During its most recent quarter, Chesapeake's average price for natural gas liquids fell nearly 60%, now bringing in just $13 per barrel. Despite higher production, that crushed overall revenue, and near-term earnings were only saved by the fact that Chesapeake had hedged much of its future production of oil and gas.Click here to read more.
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