One year after founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon died in a one-car accident, the company he founded remains one of the most controversial in the oilpatch. McClendon’s death last March seemed to end an era for Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK), which pioneered fracking for natural gas in the industrial northeast but was undone by the subsequent collapse of prices.
But CHK stock won’t go down quietly.
Directors Archie Dunham and Thomas Ryan have been buying shares despite the Chesapeake Energy missing analyst estimates on fourth-quarter revenue.
For 2017 so far, CHK stock is down 22%, despite UBS finding the fourth quarter “mildly encouraging” and upgrading the stock. Chesapeake is one of the great mysteries on Wall Street. Why are people still buying it? More importantly, why is director Archie Dunham still buying it?
Chesapeake Energy and the Mysterious Mr. Dunham
Director and chairman emeritus Dunham should be aware, chapter and verse, of CHK’s troubles, and how things got this way. But he has bought 2.5 million shares this year as the stock price fell, even though it would seem to make little sense since the share count keeps rising, and it stood at 890 million at the end of last year. Institutions are also continuing to show faith in the stock. In Chesapeake Energy’s latest report, Vanguard Group, a conservative investment company, held 9.5% of the common stock.
Most of CHK’s revenue comes from the sale of natural gas, and while its price has stayed about $3 per mcf, the trend for most of this year has been down.
One reason Chesapeake investors stay might be that they have confidence in the company’s new drilling strategy, which is to sink deeper wells that run for miles underground, in hopes of reduced depletion rates and bigger returns on investment. The company’s strategy, emphasizing the Eagle Ford play in south Texas, is drawing praise from some analysts.
Or Dunham could be betting that asset sales — the company still has 11 billion barrels of oil equivalent in its portfolio — will generate enough cash to capture rising prices down the road.
In either case, Dunham’s faith in his company is increasing the company’s volatility, keeping the market cap near $5 billion on $13 billion in assets, despite nearly $10 billion in debt on those assets.
It makes no sense.
Convention Says Sell Chesapeake
Conventional wisdom, in the form of InvestorPlace contributor Richard Saintvilus, says buying Chesapeake now would be a fool’s errand. He says the company is increasing production in the face of falling prices, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard grade of crude, currently trading below $48 per barrel after hitting a high of $54 per barrel in February.