Does Chesapeake Energy’s Adjusted Profit Signal a Turnaround at Last?

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Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2016 earnings before markets opened Thursday. For the quarter, the oil and gas exploration and production company posted adjusted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.07 on revenues of $2.02 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported a loss per share of $0.19 on revenues of $2.65 billion. Fourth-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for a EPS of $0.07 and $2.08 billion in revenues.

For the full year, Chesapeake reported a net loss per share of $0.05 on revenues of $7.87 billion, compared with a net loss per share of $0.24 and revenues of $12.76 billion in 2015. Analysts were looking for a net loss of $0.08 per share and $8.04 billion in revenue.

On a GAAP basis, the company reported a quarterly net loss of $741 million ($0.84 per diluted share), compared with a 2015 fourth-quarter loss of $2.23 billion ($3.36 per share). Adjustments included a $2.52 billion noncash impairment charge and an $818 million noncash hedging losses.

Chesapeake reported a debt balance of approximately $10 billion, compared to $9.7 billion as of December 31, 2015, with approximately $882 million cash on hand. Since the beginning of the new year, Chesapeake reported that it has reduced its debt principal balance by approximately $901 million, leaving a principal balance of about $9.1 billion. Since the end of 2015, Chesapeake has reduced the principal amount of debt due or that could be put to the company in 2017 and 2018 by approximately $2.7 billion, or 97%, from $2.77 billion to $77 million.

The company made no changes to its previously announced outlook for fiscal year 2017. Production growth is forecast in a range of −3% to 2%. Capital spending is forecast at $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2016 capex.

Analysts are calling for first-quarter EPS of $0.19 per share on revenues of $2.2 billion, as well as EPS of $0.77 per share on revenues of $8.73 billion for the full year.

CEO Doug Lawler said:

During 2016, we made significant progress in improving our capital efficiency, decreasing cash costs and future midstream commitments while improving our liquidity and leverage profile, which resulted in a much stronger foundation for Chesapeake going forward. In 2017, we are capitalizing on these improvements across our cost structure to increase shareholder returns from our high-quality, diversified oil and natural gas portfolio. Our increase in activity over 2016 levels positions Chesapeake to deliver increased profitability and long-term value for our shareholders.

Recovering prices for oil (and maybe natural gas) will really help Chesapeake reach both its own goals and analysts expectations for the 2017 fiscal year. Without that help, it could be yet another year of retrenchment only as the company continues to shed assets.

Chesapeake’s shares traded up about 2.2% in Thursday’s premarket at $6.05. Its stock closed down about 2.6% on Wednesday, at $5.92 in a 52-week range of $2.50 to $8.20. The consensus target price for the shares was $7.64 before this report. The highest price target prior was $11.00 a share.