Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO) has gone through some very tough times. Like many other small E&P companies that have struggled during the oil price crash, MRO has had to sell off non-core assets, cut expenses, and focus on higher margin operations. But MRO stock could turn it around.
Indeed, times have been really challenging for MRO, in which revenues were cut by almost two-thirds since 2012, while debt pretty much stayed the same, and dividends were cut.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. MRO stock is not that well-known so just in case you aren’t familiar with its operations, here’s a quick primer. MRO is driven by three divisions: North America E&P, International E&P, and Oil Sands Mining.
The North America E&P segment develops, explores, produces, and markets crude and natural gas. The International E&P segment does the same, but only in Guinea, Gabon, Kurdistan, Libya and the UK. The Oil Sands Mining handles bitumen in Alberta, and upgrades it to synthetic crude and vacuum gas oil.
Now, MRO has really managed its capital well during the oil crash. The biggest threat to any energy company during a prolonged slump is debt. Certainly in the case of shale producers, which are saddled with very high debt service, but also other energy companies because debt is so central to the business.
There’s just tons and tons of capex to manage in the energy sector, so debt is always in play.
So if debt can be paid down, it not only relieves the overall burden on the company, but also reduces cash burn by saving on interest.
Marathon Oil stock was helped in 2017, by reducing debt by $760 million alone in Q3, leading to savings of $64 million in interest payments. Then management said it would cut debt by another billion dollars, saving another $50 million in debt service.
Next up will be a $750 million boost from selling the oil sands mining operation, and that could also be put towards paying down debt.
So, after getting hit with losses of almost $700 million in 2016, on top of losses in 2015, it should turn the corner when it reports Q4 – or Q1 of 2018 at the latest – thanks to the sustained upswing in WTI crude prices. Q3 saw a net loss of about $70 million, an improvement from Q2’s net loss of $200 million.
Still, MRO stock needs truly long-term WTI prices of $60 or higher to generate free cash flow. That’s the key going forward. MRO is in turnaround mode at the moment, trying to keep operations running and becoming a leaner operation. If it succeeds, and oil prices stay up, then there could be substantial upside.
Marathon Oil stock was at $11 and change just two years ago and bottomed again in April of last year. MRO stock now sits at $18.70. So while it is 70% off that low, it is also more than 50% off its all time high.
For investors looking for a speculative turnaround with some limited – but still very real – downside, MRO stock may be the way to go.
Lawrence Meyers is the CEO of PDL Capital, a specialty lender focusing on consumer finance and is the Manager of The Liberty Portfolio at www.thelibertyportfolio.com. He does not own any stock mentioned. He has 23 years’ experience in the stock market, and has written more than 1,800 articles on investing. Lawrence Meyers can be reached at TheLibertyPortfolio@gmail.com.