Deep Dive: These energy companies have the highest debt and the most at risk as the oil market collapses

Investors shocked at Saudi Arabia’s decision to lower oil prices and increase production sent financial markets reeling. A concern now for the oil and gas industry is which players can survive a prolonged market imbalance.

West Texas crude oil for April delivery
CLJ20,
+7.09%

fell as much as 34% to $27.34 a barrel Monday. That action followed Saudi Arabia’s announcement Saturday that after failed negotiations between OPEC and Russia to cut production in an attempt balance supply with reduced demand as the coronavirus spread, it would actually lower its own prices while increasing production.

“Now the question is, what is the Russian response?” said Philip Orlando, chief equity market strategist for Federated Hermes, in an interview. “Do they hold their breath until they turn blue? Or do they say, ‘You have the market weight here, why don’t we sit down to cut and stabilize the market?’ That may be too obvious and rational, so I have no idea how this is going to end up.”

Read:Why an oil price war is wreaking havoc on stocks and global financial markets right now

Highly leveraged energy companies

Banks with heavy exposure to the energy industry may be facing defaults, loan losses and other fallout. Here’s a list of banks with the most exposure as a share of tangible common equity.

But how about the energy borrowers? Starting with the S&P Composite 1500 (made up of the S&P 500
SPX,
-7.59%
,
the S&P 400 Mid Cap Index
MID,
-9.13%

and the S&P Small Cap 600 Index
SML,
-9.64%

), here are the 20 U.S.-listed oil companies with the highest percentages of long-term debt to equity, according to FactSet, based on their most recent regulatory filings as of March 6:

Company

Ticker

Long-term debt/ equity

Industry

Equitrans Midstream Corp.

ETRN,
-10.47%
90.2%

Oil & Gas Pipelines

Tetra Technologies Inc.

TTI,
-45.97%
84.6%

Oilfield Services/Equipment

Apache Corp.

APA,
-53.86%
71.8%

Integrated Oil

Core Laboratories NV

CLB,
-43.28%
66.1%

Oilfield Services/Equipment

Oneok Inc.

OKE,
-37.75%
66.0%

Oil & Gas Pipelines

U.S. Silica Holdings Inc.

SLCA,
-52.74%
63.1%

Other Metals/Minerals

Archrock Inc.

AROC,
-26.20%
63.1%

Oilfield Services/Equipment

Nabors Industries Ltd.

NBR,
-46.57%
62.8%

Contract Drilling

Denbury Resources Inc.

DNR,
-39.31%
60.5%

Oil & Gas Production

Gulfport Energy Corp.

GPOR,
+1.29%
59.7%

Oil & Gas Production

Consol Energy Inc

CEIX,
-10.14%
58.7%

Coal

Laredo Petroleum Inc.

LPI,
-40.07%
58.1%

Oil & Gas Production

Halliburton Co.

HAL,
-37.64%
57.7%

Oilfield Services/Equipment

Range Resources Corp.

RRC,
-10.30%
57.5%

Oil & Gas Production

Williams Companies Inc.

WMB,
-14.09%
56.7%

Oil & Gas Pipelines

Exterran Corp.

EXTN,
-23.86%
53.3%

Oilfield Services/Equipment

Occidental Petroleum Corp.

OXY,
-52.01%
53.1%

Oil & Gas Production

Penn Virginia Corp.

PVAC,
-48.94%
51.7%

Oil & Gas Production

Noble Corp. plc

NE,
-34.92%
50.5%

Contract Drilling

Source: FactSet

You can click on the tickers for more about each company.

Turmoil, the economy and a silver lining

The S&P 500 hit its most recent record high Feb. 19, showing how long it took for the risk to the global economy from the spread of the coronavirus to affect the U.S. stock market. It has been too early for economic reports to show any effect from supply-chain disruptions or reduced revenue for travel-related industries to hit home.

Last week’s employment report showed the U.S. economy added 273,000 jobs during February, with the unemployment rate falling back to a 50-year low of 3.5%.

Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management in London, believes investors may stage a strong “relief rally” soon, because stock-market action “has been so brutal.”

But he also said during an interview that “it is quite unusual for a bear market to anticipate a recession even before we see negative indicators” in the U.S. A brief relief rally aside, he doesn’t expect U.S. stocks to bottom until there is a weakening of economic growth.

“Then all the bad news will be out,” he said.

As for the game of chicken between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the effect on U.S. energy producers, Dimitry Dayen, senior research analyst for energy at ClearBridge Investments, said in an interview that “the vast majority” of U.S. shale oil producers “are not cash flow positive,” and that “you will see bankruptcies” for some of the most highly leveraged players.

Then again, “you also have some large companies with very low leverage that will come out intact,” he added.

In contrast to the companies listed above, Exxon Mobil’s
XOM,
-12.22%

long-term debt was 12.7% as of Dec. 31, and the ratio for Chevron
CVX,
-15.36%

was 15%.

When asked about average costs for oil producers, Dayen said it’s more important to look at the minimal price for producers to be cash-flow positive, and for Saudi Arabia and Russia to consider the prices at which their governments (which rely heavily on oil revenue) can balance their budgets.

Shale-production costs in the U.S. market vary, but according to Dayen, “the best players in the Permian Basin [in the Southwest] need crude north of $50 a barrel in order to be cash flow positive,” while Russia needs a price of about $42 to balance its budget and Saudi Arabia needs a whopping $75 a barrel.

In a world starved for yield, Russia and Saudi Arabia can borrow heavily to finance their governments. All of this is part of the mix as we wait and see if they blink and return to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Dayen expects it will take until the second half of 2020 for the current expansion of U.S. production to reverse, leading to lower production late this year or early 2021, as the world oil market eventually stabilizes.

He sees a hidden benefit for natural gas suppliers: Gas is produced as a byproduct of oil, so a production cut for oil can reduce the oversupply and lead to higher natural gas prices.

Don’t miss:You should avoid shares of these banks with too much oil and gas exposure

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