President Trump was a cheerleader for the oil industry this week as crude oil prices surged. On Monday, he tweeted: “OIL (ENERGY) IS BACK!!!!”
Since then, oil prices have gone even higher. On Thursday both the Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate crude hit their highest prices since early March. As demand vanished last month, Brent fell below $16 a barrel, a 21-year low.
Analysts say inventories are tightening as production has slowed. Starting this month, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and others (known as OPEC+) agreed to cut production by 9.7 billion barrels a day.
And demand is slowly creeping back into the system, with more people driving and airlines ramping up for increased activity. “With much of the U.S. entering reopening mode, crude demand seems like it will continue to improve over the coming weeks,” said Oanda analyst Edward Moya.
Even the most battered of oil stocks have risen this week. Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) was up nearly 64% in the last five days. The stock price closed at $14.16, up 6.87%, Thursday. For comparison, the S&P 500 was up 3.52% in the last five days.
For Some, Bankruptcy Looms
Still, the specter of bankruptcy hasn’t faded for some oil and natural gas companies. “Despite the recent relative oil price recovery, dozens of U.S. operators are still threatened by bankruptcies even at a WTI oil price of $30 per barrel,” Rystad Energy said in a statement on Wednesday.
Based in Oslo, Norway, the energy research firm predicts that 73 American exploration and productions companies could seek Chapter 11 protection this year. If the market remains depressed, another 170 firms could follow next year.
Rystad tracks over 9,000 oil and gas operators in the U.S. Many are small, family-owned businesses that may only manage a few oil wells. These players are particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis. “If they shut their wells, they are not likely to ever restart them again,” the company said.
For the past several months, analysts have been expecting Chesapeake to file for bankruptcy. Now that crude oil prices have begun to recover, investors may think the oil and gas producer is on the mend.
But rising oil prices alone may not be enough for Chesapeake with headquarters in Oklahoma City. The company has a long-term debt overhang of more than $9 billion.
In mid-April, Chesapeake completed a 1-for-200 reverse stock split as it struggled to maintain its listing on the New York Stock Exchange. These splits are usually bad news for investors. It’s often the last stop for a troubled company before bankruptcy and delisting.
A few days ago, Tudor, Pickering & Holt analysts issued a final Sell rating, and stopped covering Chesapeake, according to Forbes. “We see low odds of CHK surviving in its current form or spending within cash flow without further expanding leverage metrics,” the analysts said.
Of 13 Wall Street analysts covering the stock, 10 have advised Sell and 3 advised Hold. CFRA analyst Paige Meyer recently slashed her price target to $0.
“We do not expect [Chesapeake] to be in compliance with its financial covenants beginning in Q4 2020, which would result in an act of default on the credit facility,” Meyer wrote. Bank of America analysts recently assigned a slightly better target of only $0.06.