Penn West Petroleum Ltd. : Long Time of Hardship Continues

Image result for oil price cartoons

Dividend: Q1 2015

CDN: $0.01

TSX : PWT

$1.81

Change : $ -0.10 (-5.236%)
Vol : 4701451

NYSE : PWE

$1.42

Change : $ -0.10 (-6.579%)
Vol : 7229947

Tremendous potential – but they used to say the same thing about me.The rout in crude oil is turning out to be more than just a blip, and producers that are feeling the pinch may have to start selling.

The struggle to outlast sub-economic oil prices took another ugly turn Thursday as Penn West Petroleum Ltd. all but eliminated its once-hefty dividend and started discussions to ease the terms of its debt.

The restructured company has gotten so lean, CEO David Roberts said it now offers great “torque” on an oil price recovery.

“The management of this company and the board are strongly aligned with shareholders, with significant amount of personal capital at risk, and focused on redefining oil and gas excellence in Canada,” Mr. Roberts said on a conference call to discuss fourth-quarter results.

But the latest measures continue a long time of hardship at Penn West, which over the past year has undergone a major restructuring to cut costs and re-invent itself as a low-cost producer focused on three conventional light oil plays in Alberta, then had to address an accounting scandal involving previous management that led to a re-examination of financial results for 2014 and four previous years.

By December, just after Mr. Roberts thought the company had finally “turned the corner,” oil price collapsed and “served to overpower our 2014 results,” he said in the call.

Though “we think our path to success is firm,” the company ended the year with a loss of $1.77-billion in the fourth quarter, compared to a loss of $675-million in the same year-ago period, largely due to impairments of goodwill and property, plant and equipment tied to the decline in commodity prices.

Cash flow shrunk to $137-million from $203-million in the same period a year ago.

“Looking ahead, clearly we as an industry are facing a dramatically different commodity price environment today relative to this time last year,” Mr. Roberts said in a statement.

“Operations aside, with crude oil prices ranging between approximately US$43 per barrel and US$55 per barrel since the beginning of 2015, there is now a clear focus on leverage and the balance sheet. At year-end 2014, Penn West was well within its debt covenants, with a senior debt to EBITDA ratio of 2.1 times against a limit of 3.0 times and we were undrawn on our $1.7 billion credit facility.

However, if crude oil prices persist below US$50 per barrel in to the second half of 2015, we do foresee potential challenges complying with our covenants.”

That’s why the highly leveraged company started discussions with lenders and note holders, said CFO David Dyck.

It now has an agreement in principle to ease its financial covenants that involves reducing its $1.7-billion bank facility to $1.2-billion and using up to $650-million of proceeds from asset sales to pay down debt.

In a research report, RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Greg Pardy said the “relaxation of the covenants is positive and will provide the company with additional time to proceed with asset dispositions.” Penn West shares closed at $1.91 in Toronto, down 2¢. The stock has lost 80% of its value in the past year.

To save cash, Penn West, which had a large retail investor base from its past as an income trust, is cutting its dividend to 1¢ a share, from 3¢ expected for the first quarter, down from 14¢ in the fourth quarter of 2014. The company said the reduction is temporary.

Companies across the Canadian sector have cut spending, laid off staff and raised equity and debt to cope with sub-US$50 a barrel oil prices, the result of a price war instigated by Saudi Arabia to take back market share from North American producers. With the latest measures, Penn West is taking the belt-tightening to a new level.

Mr. Roberts said lenders’ decision to “stand with us” through tough times is a result of the company’s successful restructuring.

Penn West sold $1 billion in non-core assets as part of its restructuring and would like to sell more. It plans to invest $650 million this year, primarily directed at its Cardium and Viking core areas, and deliver production of about 100,000 barrels per day.

The adjustments may not even be over. With oil price volatility continuing, spending will be reviewed again in the spring, Mr. Roberts said.

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