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Cash To Burn

By Robert Rapier on October 3, 2017

Two weeks ago shares of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (NYSE: APC) surged following an announcement that the company would buy back $2.5 billion worth of its shares. The company intends to complete the first $1 billion purchase by the end of this year, and the remainder by the end of next year.

The buyback represents about 10% of the company’s outstanding shares and is a consequence of Anadarko’s growing pile of cash — which has nearly doubled since the end of last year to just over $6 billion at the end of Q2 2017.

The only oil company with more cash on hand at the end of Q2 was ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP). After selling some of its Canadian interests earlier in the year for over $13 billion, COP ended Q2 with $11.8 billion of cash and cash equivalents. 

ConocoPhillips had already announced a $3 billion share buyback (equal to about 5% of shares outstanding) but doubled that to $6 billion when they announced the sale of the Canadian assets. The first $3 billion in repurchases will take place through the end of this year, while the remaining $3 billion will be spread out over 2018 and 2019. 

These announced buybacks have had a positive impact on the share prices of both companies, so the obvious question is “Who might be next?”

To answer this question, I utilized the stock screen I developed for The Energy Strategist. This screening tool is Excel-based and extracts data from the subscription-only S&P Global Market Intelligence database.

I screened the 100 largest oil and gas companies to determine which companies have a lot of cash on their balance sheets. I excluded midstream and downstream (i.e., refiners) companies from the screen.

The initial screen showed that Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) had the 3rd and 4th largest amounts of cash on hand. Yet Chevron’s $4.8 billion and ExxonMobil’s $4.0 billion of cash on hand only amounts to 2.1% and 1.2% of their respective market capitalizations.

That’s not enough cash to fund a share buyback that’s likely to excite investors. But the next three companies on the list look more like Anadarko and ConocoPhillips. 

At the end of Q2, Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO) had $2.8 billion on hand. However, the company’s market cap is only $11.5 billion, giving them roughly the same amount of cash on hand relative to market cap as Anadarko (23.2% for Marathon versus 22.0% for Anadarko). Marathon’s cash to total debt ratio of 36.7% was also in line with Anadarko’s 35.8%.

Hess Corporation (NYSE: HES) was next on the list with $2.5 billion in cash. However, the cash as a percentage of the market cap was a bit lower at 16.9%.

Just below Hess was Devon Corporation (NYSE: DVN), with $2.4 billion in cash against a market cap of $19.2 billion.

Scanning a bit further down the list, Southwestern Energy Company (NYSE: SWN) has $1.1 billion in cash and a market cap of $3.1 billion. Among the Top 30 oil and gas companies, they have the largest amount of cash relative to market cap. 

Of course, the amount of cash a company has on hand is just one consideration in whether it will decide to buy back shares. A company could opt to pay down debt or invest in new projects. Or if you have a large enough pile of cash, like ConocoPhillips, you can do all three. 

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