3 Key Numbers From Chesapeake Energy Corporation's Earnings

By Matthew DiLalloFool.com

Shares of Chesapeake Energy have been pummeled over the past year, down more than 66%. While very weak oil and gas prices have had a lot to do with this abysmal performance, the other major contributing factor is the fact that the company continues to spend more money than it makes. However, one thing that was made clear from its recent third-quarter results was that it is serious about curbing its spending habits.

Here are three numbers from that report showing just how serious it is getting to curb its costs.

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1. Production and G&A expenses are fallingFor the third quarter, Chesapeake Energy turned in a much smaller than expected loss of $0.05 per share, which beat the consensus estimate by $0.08 per share. One of the factors playing a big role in this better-than-expected performance was the company's ability to push its costs down. The company's production expenses and its general and administrative expenses, or G&A, were $4.09 per barrel of oil equivalent, or BOE, and $0.79 per BOE, respectively, during the quarter. Combined, these expenses were down 10% from just last quarter, which helped the company offset some of the weakness from commodity prices.

Because of this strong showing, and the expectation that it can continue to push costs lower, Chesapeake Energy is lowering its 2015 guidance for both categories. The company now sees its production expense in a range of $4.25 to $4.50 per BOE, which is down from last quarter's guidance of $4.40 to $4.90 per BOE. Meanwhile, G&A expenses is expected to be in a range of $0.75 to $0.85 per BOE, which is much less than the $1.25 to $1.35 per BOE in its prior guidance. By getting these two costs down, Chesapeake can offset some of the weakness in oil and gas prices.

2. Capex spending in 2015 is under budgetThe second big financial takeaway is the fact that Chesapeake Energy is again lowering its full-year capex budget. The company now expects to spend between $3.4 billion to $3.9 billion, which is $100 million less than its prior guidance range of $3.5 billion to $4 billion. What's worth noting is the fact that the company isn't changing its production growth guidance. It still expects production to be in a range of 670,000 to 680,000 BOE/d this year, which represents an increase of 6% to 8% over last year's average.

While Chesapeake Energy can now deliver the same amount of production growth while spending less money is certainly an achievement, the question still remains whether that's the right course of action given the fact that the U.S. is currently oversupplied with oil and gas. A much better course of action would be to cut spending back even further to keep production flat.

3. Capex spending in 2016 will fall even fartherThat option could actually be on the table for 2016. That's after CEO Doug Lawler noted in the earnings release that the company was "prepared to execute on a significantly lower capital program in 2016," which seems to hint that capex spending could be cut all the way down to a level that would keep production flat.

That's actually the course of actionEOG Resources took in 2015, despite the fact it has a much stronger balance sheet and can drill very economic wells at the current oil price. Instead, EOG Resources noted in its first-quarter earnings release that it had "no interest in accelerating oil production at the bottom of the commodity cycle. EOG's primary goal for 2015 is to position the company to resume strong oil growth when oil prices improve." It then reiterated that goal in the second quarter after removing $200 million from its capex budget due to cost savings. Instead of reinvesting those savings into new wells, EOG Resources noted that it was "choosing to refrain from growing oil production into an over-supplied market."

That same restraint would have served Chesapeake Energy well this year after it spent a great deal of money to drill more wells to increase production into an oversupplied market, likely contributing to prices falling even farther.

Investor takeawayIt would appear from Chesapeake Energy's third-quarter report that it has finally figured out what EOG Resources already knows, which is that growing production in an oversupplied market is a (small-f) fool's errand. The company appears to be learning from that mistake and is now focused on reducing its costs. That's evident by the fact that its operating and capex expenses are expected to be lower than guidance, while the company seems to be hinting that it could cut its capex spending next year down to the bare minimum.

The article 3 Key Numbers From Chesapeake Energy Corporation's Earnings originally appeared on Fool.com.

Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of EOG Resources,. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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