Chesapeake Flares After Aubrey McClendon Era

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Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) came within a penny of its 52-week high Wednesday morning after reporting first-quarter earnings before markets opened. By the end of the day the stock managed to post a new high. The oil and gas producer easily topped both revenue and profit estimates and boosted its guidance.

For the quarter, the oil and gas exploration and production company posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.59 on revenues of $5.05 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported adjusted EPS of $0.30 on revenues of $3.42 billion. First-quarter results also compared to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $0.48 and $4.45 billion in revenues.

The statement on guidance came from the company’s CEO, who said:

We are raising our 2014 total production growth outlook on an adjusted basis to 9 – 12% to reflect higher-than-expected natural gas liquids volumes. Additionally, we are raising the midpoint of our 2014 operating cash flow outlook by $700 million, or 13%, due primarily to our increased production outlook, better-than-expected first quarter cash flow and an increase in our benchmark commodity price assumptions for the full year.

Oil production increased in the first quarter by about 6.5% year-over-year and decreased by about 3% sequentially, natural gas liquids (NGL) production increased 55% year-over-year and 29% sequentially, and natural gas production decreased 4.8% year-over-year and 4% sequentially. The unusually cold weather sliced about 7,600 barrels a day from the quarter’s total liquids production.

The big improvement came as a result primarily of higher natural gas prices, higher production of NGLs and lower costs and expenses. Oil prices were $4.50 a barrel lower sequentially and $9.77 lower year-over-year. Natural gas prices rose to $3.27 per thousand cubic feet on average in the quarter, up from just $1.90 a year ago and $2.13 in the prior quarter.

During the first quarter, Chesapeake received $520 million of net proceeds from asset sales. In April the company received $362 million on the closing of another previously announced sale, bringing the year-to-date total for asset sale proceeds to more than $925 million. Chesapeake sold off $4.4 billion in assets in 2013.

The combination of lower expenses, higher realized prices and improved production adds up to a solid start to the year.

Chesapeake shares traded up about 0.2% Thursday morning, at $29.70 in a 52-week range of $19.12 to $29.84. The consensus target price for the shares was around $28.20.

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