It may seem like the outlook of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) stock is becoming more favorable. Oil prices are higher, the early returns from CHK’s recent acquisition are solid, and its last couple of quarterly results have looked decent at worst.
But all that has done little for CHK stock, which continues to trend in the wrong direction.
The recent fade of CHK stock only adds to the long-held frustrations of the owners of CHK. Chesapeake Energy stock has looked attractive for most of the last three years; I’ve recommended it myself on several occasions, while also highlighting the many risks posed by CHK stock.
And Chesapeake Energy stock has made gains from time to time, climbing from $3 to $5+ last year, and doubling off its late December lows in the first part of 2019.
Once again, however, CHK stock hasn’t been able to hold its gains. And it’s worth wondering when, if ever, that will change.
The Case for Chesapeake Energy Stock
In mid-2014, the shale bubble started to burst, and CHK stock was hammered. It was valued at $30 in mid-2014; in less than two years, CHK traded below $2 as bankruptcy rumors swirled.
Since then, debt has been a big part of the contentions on Chesapeake Energy stock, by both sides. Bears and skeptics argue that CHK is one more oil price downturn away from bankruptcy fears returning. But in any case, the debt continues to weigh on the company and on CHK stock, limiting its ability to be as aggressive as it would like to be.
For bulls, particularly from a valuation standpoint, the debt is a plus. CHK has a market cap of about $4 billion, which combined with that $10 billion in debt gives it an enterprise value of $14 billion. If one values Chesapeake’s business at $1.4 billion, the value of CHK stock would jump 35% to $5.4 billion.
So, fundamentally, the volatility of CHK stock makes some sense. And the recent downturn to $2.44 makes Chesapeake Energy stock more attractive, at least on paper. Another debt refinancing has pushed out maturities, giving the company breathing room. CHK continues to shift toward higher oil production, away from its legacy focus on natural gas, even as optimism toward U.S. shale oil is rising.
CHK’s acquisition of Wildhorse Resource Development seems to be a solid move, as I wrote when the deal was announced. It provides a larger asset base to back the debt – and more earnings to pay it off. And the company has shifted capital expenditure dollars to the Powder River Basin, where its acreage is performing exceedingly well at the moment.
It seems like Chesapeake Energy itself is making progress. Yet Chesapeake Energy stock, save for the December bounce, isn’t.
Is This Time Different for CHK Stock?
There are two broad issues at play when it comes to CHK stock. The first is that even with the recent bounce in oil prices, exploration and production stocks aren’t doing all that well. Chesapeake Energy stock has lost about 28% of its value over the past year; but that performance is about average for its sector . Oil prices have fallen over that stretch, weighing on the sector’s stocks.
The second is that investors’ patience with CHK stock likely is running out. Every Chesapeake earnings report seems to highlight CHK’s potential. But its results simply haven’t improved.
Chesapeake has been targeting positive free cash flow for years, but it hasn’t achieved that goal and probably won’t this year. CHK has predicted that its adjusted EBITDAX (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, and exploration expense) will come in at $2.55 billion-$2.75 billion. But its interest expense of $500 million-plus and its expected capital expenditures of $2.1-$2.3 billion more than offset that.
Chesapeake has been promising to pay down its debt for years. At the end of 2015, its long-term debt was $10.35 billion. CHK’s debt is now nearly $10 billion, thanks to debt it assumed as part of the Wildhorse deal.
The problem with the company’s fundamentals, and with CHK stock, is that on paper, there’s reason for optimism, but in practice, that optimism never seems to last.
The Bottom Line on CHK Stock
So what should investors do with Chesapeake Energy stock,? That’s a tough question.
On paper, bulls’ contentions make some sense. And one thing CHK stock has proven is that it can bounce, even if those bounces soon fade. Certainly, nimble traders likely have done well with CHK, and that may be the case going forward as well.
For investors, however, the decision is a little tougher. The acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) by Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) could lead to more M&A activity in U.S. shale. But Chesapeake, given its huge levels of debt, probably won’t become a takeover target.
Even with Chevron (NYSE:CVX) likely on the prowl after losing out on Anadarko, and majors like Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) potentially looking for shale assets, there are reasons for them to pass on CHK, at least in the near-term. And with the sector’s stock prices still down over the past year, there are other, less-indebted, names that might be worth considering.
I’m personally not ready to abandon my long-term bullishness on CHK stock just yet. But at a certain point, it’s too difficult to keep fighting the tape. CHK stock has become a “show me” stock at this point, and other stocks seem to be better choices right now.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.