(Bloomberg) -- U.S. oil producers are issuing new shares of stock at the fastest pace in more than a decade, looking to investors for a cash lifeline to pay down debt and keep drilling as crude prices continue to sink.
Tapping equity markets has become the best option for companies such as Dallas-based RSP Permian Inc., which announced March 17 it’s seeking to raise as much as $232 million by selling additional shares. Calgary-based Encana Corp. and Noble Energy Inc. of Houston also have issued shares in the past two months to reduce debt.
That brings funds raised in the first three months of the year to about $8 billion, more than 10 times the total in the same period last year. As the continued slide in oil prices further crimps cash flows, banks are pressuring these companies to shore up their capital and reduce debt to lower servicing costs and provide wiggle room.
“There aren’t really any better alternatives right now,” Chad Mabry, an analyst at MLV & Co. LLC in Houston, said in a telephone interview.
A growing acceptance that low prices will persist has convinced producers to turn to equity markets while they still can, he said. “They’re preparing for the worst.”
Few saw issuing new stock as an attractive option when the oil market first started crashing late last year because it would dilute the value of stock held by existing shareholders at a time when their holdings already were hurt by falling prices.
As recently as December and January, many producers assumed there would be little interest in pouring more money into the sector, and that funding from debt or equity wouldn’t materialize, said Rob Santangelo, co-head of equity capital markets Americas for Credit Suisse Group AG.
That began to change in February when prices seemed to stabilize and frozen credit and equity markets opened up. The $8 billion in stock issued in the first three months of 2015 is the highest of any quarter in more than a decade. If the pace continues, sales of new equity would surpass the total of 2008 and 2009 combined, the last time oil prices crashed, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The surge in equity offerings, even with the dilution of existing shareholders, now is widely considered the lesser of evils versus expensive borrowing or asset sales at reduced prices, said Troy Eckard, whose Eckard Global LLC owns stakes in more than 260 North Dakota shale wells.
This is the flexibility of the capitalist system. For relatively new oil companies formed as the shale boom took off a few years ago, the ability to issue shares today provides a considerable lifeline now that they need it. This will disappoint countries which are primarily oil producers because the majority of private sector shale oil firms are not about to disappear as quickly as many sprang to life. Some will merge and all will rely on technology to increase their efficiency. Shale drillers are here to stay, for so long as we need crude oil.Back to top