Enerplus Resources Fund (ERF) Q3 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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Enerplus Resources Fund (NYSE:ERF)
Q3 2020 Earnings Call
Nov 06, 2020, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Enerplus Corporation Q3 2020 results conference call. [Operator instructions]. I’d now like to turn the conference over to Drew Mair. Please go ahead.

Drew MairManager, Investor Relations

Thank you, operator and good morning everyone, and thank you for joining the call. Before we get started, please take note of the advisories located at the end of today’s news release. Our financials have been prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP, all discussion of production volumes today are on a gross company working interest basis and all financial figures are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified.

I am here this morning with Ian Dundas, our president and chief executive officer; Jodi Jenson Labrie, senior VP and chief financial officer; Wade Hutchings, senior VP and chief operating officer; Shaina Morihira, VP, Finance and Garth Doll, VP, marketing. Following our discussion, we will open up the call for questions. With that, I will turn it over to Ian.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Drew. And thanks to all of you for joining us today. I’ll begin the covering few of the highlights from our third-quarter results and then spend some time talking about our outlook for the rest of the year, as well as some preliminary thoughts as we prepare for 2021. But before I begin, I would like to just take a moment to thank our staff and our strategic partners both in the field and at the corporate level for all of their support and dedication during this very complicated time.

Despite the environment that we all find ourselves in, Enerplus continues to execute its business plan in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. I thank you all. While it was a relatively quiet quarter in terms of capital activity, our teams are continuing to respond to the environment through enhancing our operational efficiencies, driving down per unit costs and maximizing margins additionally, our solid execution this year has helped to drive production outperformance in the Bakken with our current forecast, well above our previous guidance. This strong performance translated into several key highlights in the third quarter including generating $48 million in free cash flow with visibility to continuing free cash flow in the fourth quarter.

Increasing the midpoint of our annual production guidance by 1,500 BOE per day, reducing our capital spending outlook to $295 million from $300 million previously and reducing our cash cost guidance by combined $0.45 per BOE further supporting our margins. Looking at the upcoming fourth quarter, we expect our liquids production to average between 47 to 49,000 barrels per day. Declines in the third quarter due to the limited capital activity this year, in response to the oil price weakness. Turning to 2021, the same principles that have historically guided our strategy remain foundational today.

Namely, maintaining balance sheet strength, returns based capital allocation at a focus on shareholder returns. Based upon our current commodity price view, our preliminary outlook for next year sees a stabilizing production with line of sight to generating free cash flow. Specifically, we would expect to execute a maintenance capital plan, which would keep our production largely flat to the midpoint of our expected fourth-quarter 2020 volumes of approximately 86,000 BOE per day, including 48,000 barrels per day of liquids. Importantly, our capital plans to sustain our base production are supported by robust economic returns at current prices.

The capital spending associated with this plan is approximately $300 million and includes drilling capital that would set us up for a similar maintenance capital estimate in 2022. This capital plan is expected to be fully funded including the dividend at around $40 WTI and obviously at higher prices, we see incremental free cash flow, which we will prioritize to further strengthen our balance sheet and will return cash to our shareholders. We do not see a price signal to grow production currently. We would need to see WTI prices somewhere in the high 40s to 50s before we would consider some level of growth.

That said we are constructive on the outlook for oil prices, the implications for supply. Given the lack of investment is important to bear in mind, today demand is driving the uncertainty, but the market will come back into balance. We believe it is just a question of timing. And in a higher price environment, we anticipate meaningful free cash flow generation.

In $50 West Texas environment, we would have significant optionality to further enhance the balance sheet, increased cash returns to shareholders and pursue additional growth opportunities. As you look across the in few landscape, a new paradigm has taken hold where unsustainable strategies of pursuing excessive and uneconomic production growth are no longer being supported. It is our belief that this change will endure, and that we are dealing with it truly new dynamic. There is no question that a growing business is better than one that is treading water or shrinking.

But sustainable growth is an outcome of full cycle economic returns and needs to be managed thoughtfully to support longer term business sustainability. This means that, at even higher commodity prices, we expect the sector to grow at more moderate rates prioritizing the generation of free cash flow and more financial resilience. We will provide more formalized guidance for 2021 later this year or early next year. But in summary, we remain well-positioned to navigate volatility and we believe that we offer high quality, low risk exposure to a potential price recovery and reasonable returns in the current market.

Now I’ll turn the call over to Jodi, who will update you on some financial highlights. Jodi?

Jodi Jenson LabrieSenior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Ian. Starting with cash generation, our adjusted fund flow for the third quarter with $83 million, which fully funded our capital spending requirements and generated $48 million of free cash flow. Our earnings in the quarter were impacted by non-cash impairments to our property, plant and equipment totaling $257 million. The property, plant and equipment impairment was driven by the decline in the trailing 12 months average prices for oil and natural gas as defined under US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Enerplus continues to have significant liquidity, consisting of $85 million of cash on hand and 600 million U.S. of undrawn capacity on our bank credit facility at the end of September. Our net debt to adjusted funds flow ratio continues to be 1.0 times at September 30th, which has not changed from June 30th. Moving on to our oil realizations in the Bakken, our differential averaged US$5.37 per barrel below WTI in the third quarter.

About a $1 per barrel wider compared to the prior quarter, largely due to the uncertainty following a district court’s order in early July for the Dakota Access Pipeline cease operations. In early August, the appeals court granted the pipeline owners request for a stay over the district court’s order. As a result, there is no outstanding court order in place requiring the pipeline to shut down at this time and the legal process is ongoing within both the district court as well as the appeals court. We continue to forecast our realized Bakken differential of USD 5 per barrel below WTI for 2020.

Now, turning to the Marcellus, regional natural gas prices were particularly weak during the third quarter, especially in September and October and continuing into the early part of November. This is a result of nearly full regional storage combined with low demand during the shoulder season. As a result, our realized Marcellus sales price differential widened to average USD 0.72 per Mcf below NYMEX during the quarter. We have seen price related production curtailments in the Marcellus due to continuing price weakness and expect some level of curtailments to continue here in the fourth quarter until cash prices strengthened.

Given the wide third-quarter Marcellus basis and current ongoing weakness, we are adjusting our full-year 2020 guidance for Marcellus price differentials to USD 0.60 per Mcf below NYMEX from USD 0.45 per Mcf previously. We do however remain constructive on natural gas prices heading into winter and our Marcellus position provides a valuable and under-appreciated option on the strong outlook for natural gas prices next year. Assuming a normal winter season, we expect to see a differential to NYMEX in the minus $0.40 per Mcf range for 2021. Moving on to our expenses as Ian noted we’ve seen cash costs continue to trend down across the board and have lowered our 2020 guidance for operating costs, transportation and G&A by a total of $0.45 per BOE.

Further supporting our resiliency in this low price environment. We have added to our commodity hedging position in 2021 and currently have 10,000 barrels per day of WTI Three Way Collars at approximately USD 32 by USD 41 by USD 51 per barrel for the first half of next year. We have also swapped 40 million cubic feet per day of natural gas for the summer 2021 gas season, which is April through October at just under USD 3 per Mcf and with that I will turn it over to Wade.

Wade HutchingsSenior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Jodi and good morning everyone. We have limited capital activity during the third quarter with no operated drilling or completions in North Dakota. However, the teams did an excellent job safely restoring our previously curtailed volumes and protecting the integrity of our production through workover activities. Having restored curtailed production early in the quarter, our third quarter liquids volumes were up 9% from the second quarter.

In terms of rest of year activity from an operating perspective, we are completing four DUCs in the fourth quarter in North Dakota. In addition to this, we expect a slight uptick in non-operated activity in both North Dakota and the Marcellus. As we have previously highlighted, we’ve seen a step change in our well cost performance this year in North Dakota. Our latest view is the total well cost this year have averaged USD 6.4 million, which is a very meaningful USD 1.2 million structural reduction to our 2019 average.

These capital cost reductions have been driven by solid planning and execution, which when coupled with technology application has driven a continuing trend of improved drilling and completion cycle times. The improvements we’ve delivered on our well costs have helped to support our reduced capital spending guidance this year, now at $295 million. Turning briefly to 2021. Our preliminary operating plan will once again be largely focused on the Bakken where we expect to enter the year with a 29 gross 23 net well DUC inventory.

Our maintenance capital outlook would see us completing DUCs and reinitiating drilling during the year to provide an inventory of wells to complete in 2022. We will remain mindful of commodity prices and have the flexibility to adjust our capital plans next year as needed. Lastly, I will wrap up with a few ESG comments. Safety performance year to date has been exceptional.

In fact, the last 15 months have seen our best safety performance ever as a company. I would like to thank our employees and partners for their focus and efforts to operate safely amid the uncertainty of 2020. As noted in our recent ESG report, we anticipate corporate GHG emissions intensity to be 20 to 25% lower year over year. This has been driven by a step change in our North Dakota flaring intensity, resulting from both improved operational planning and lower basins completions activity.

The report also highlights our efforts to reduce use of freshwater in our stimulation activities and we project to finish the year using a bit more than 20% produced water per stimulation in North Dakota, ahead of our published target. Our ESG strategy continues to deepen and has become an integrated element of our operations planning. I’ll leave it there and we’ll turn the call over to the operator and open it up for questions.

Questions & Answers:

Operator

[Operator instructions] There seem to be no questions at this time. Oh, it just look like a few have popped in now. Your first question comes from Jarrod Edelen with South Dakota Investment Office. Please go ahead.

Jarrod EdelenSouth Dakota Investment Officer

Hey guys, thanks for the call today and my questions. Could you just touch on briefly you may mention the dynamic of companies trying to or existing in a new paradigm and you’re focused on a flat production next year, but what price signal would you need to have in order to have a declining production, i.e., when you’re talking about completing wells into a very weak commodity price of $40 today with a wide differential, what’s the strategic rationale for continuing to keep production flat and what would you need to do to change that?

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Jarrod. Thank you for the question. It’s great. So for us it’s economics and it’s affordability.

I mean, that really drives decision making and we at the current forward market and partially supported by our hedge book, we see robust cohort economics from our DUC inventory and highly affordable. I guess the good news from a market perspective, it also sets up a free cash flow dynamic as well. So I think that’s pretty easy. in our opinion.

So, how low the things go, were those conditions would change. If you’re much under 40s the free cash flow isn’t there. Is that matter very much? Probably, not so much in the margins because you still have economics for this foreign program. Yes, I think if you start getting into the mid-30s, you start questioning whether you’re just being wasteful perhaps.

So, I think as you start falling through meaningfully below 40, mid-30s, I think you start to really think about it again.

Jarrod EdelenSouth Dakota Investment Officer

Great. Thank you. Thanks so much. Best of luck.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from Greg Pardy with RBC Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Greg PardyRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Yes, thanks, good morning. We couldn’t let you guys go that easily. So, couple of questions, I guess the first one is, I know nothing so I fully baked, at this point. But in the context of $300 million capital program for next year, how much of that would likely go to the Marcellus.

And maybe can you talk a bit about just how much you need to spend there. I mean, I know a lot, it’s mostly non-op. I get it. But just curious as to what the spending might be on gas?

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I’ll turn that over to Wade to give you a little bit of color, it is all non-operated with a couple of partners dominating it one in particular. Wade do you want to give Greg a little bit of color on what we see there.

Wade HutchingsSenior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Yes, I happy too. Good morning, Greg. Of course, this is all preliminary at the moment but this year we’ve had roughly 15% of the capital pointed at the Marcellus. In 2021, we wouldn’t see that materially change, might be up just a little bit.

And so, to your broader question when we look at kind of what it takes to sustain kind of production or kind of at a flat level. We typically look at a similar pace of activity that we’ve seen even this year. But if you look at somewhere in the order of 40-ish million dollars of capital, net capital on our part, that typically drives enough activity to keep our net production roughly flat.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

OK. That is CAD 40.

Wade HutchingsSenior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Correct.

Greg PardyRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

OK. OK, terrific. Thank you for that. Second is another broader question but just with everything occurring, I mean, we, it’s not unusual for you to get the question around the landscape for acquisitions and just what all of that looks like.

Just any thoughts there? And again the focus, I guess would really be the Bakken.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, not a lot’s happened directly in the Bakken. There has been quite a change in some of the participants in the Bakken, series of restructurings that have occurred there publicly and privately. If you step back, we’re starting to see certainly a lot of conversations, M&A broadly. And, I think that’s a necessity.

I think it’s going to continue. I think it’s going to continue throughout the US, I think it’s going to continue into Canada that fight for scale and for I guess for relevancy their powerful forces. And I guess my intervals perspective, we see the benefits in well considered, well executed transactions and pretty simple principles, though I think are critical to me keeping focus, maintaining a strong balance sheet, real and logical operating and corporate synergies, maintaining the shareholder centric perspective with sensible and accretive outcomes for all shareholders. And I think if you put all that together and you end up with a resulting business that’s more sustainable with strong governance, I think those kinds of things are going to be supported, there has been a bit of a question about building scale for the sake of scale, generally hasn’t been a successful strategy, even though we do see benefit in the right kind of scale.

Though what I anticipate things opening up in North Dakota, I would, the volatility has been pretty profound, which makes it harder for things to come to fruition. A bit of the uncertainty around DAPL is the dynamic into the market out there, but I think this pace of activity is going to continue. And I think it’s just going to be a trend that we’re going to be talking about for a long time.

Greg PardyRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Thanks very much.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Greg.

Operator

Your next question comes from Patrick O’Rourke with ATB Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Patrick O’RourkeATB Capital Markets — Analyst

Hey, guys. Good morning. I know you just touched on the uncertainty around DAPL. I was wondering if you could give us an update kind of where that process stands, what the timeframes are.

I know you’re not fully exposed to the pipeline, but what, maybe if you can quantify again for us what the risk could be and what the upside could be in 2021 there with respect to differentials in the Bakken.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Patrick. Appreciate the question. I think, Jodi, do you want to start this?

Jodi Jenson LabrieSenior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes, sure. Good morning. So, yes, as you mentioned, we’re not directly involved in the DAPL process or the legal process. So we can’t really comment on steps and timelines and that sort of thing, but what it means for us is if DAPL continues to operate, we can see differentials in the basin in that $3-ish range.

We see supply declining and so there’s going to be the ability to use pipe to clear the basin. If DAPL does end up getting shut down, we have quantified that so in the context of a full-year shut-down that would equate to about $0.80 on a per BOE corporate net back that it would cost us and differentials could be in that 6 to $8 range for the Bakken production.

Patrick O’RourkeATB Capital Markets — Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator instructions] There are no further questions at this time. Please proceed.

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

OK, well thank you to everyone that joined the call today. I appreciate your interest and have a great day and a great weekend. Thanks.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 24 minutes

Call participants:

Drew MairManager, Investor Relations

Ian DundasPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Jodi Jenson LabrieSenior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Wade HutchingsSenior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Jarrod EdelenSouth Dakota Investment Officer

Greg PardyRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Patrick O’RourkeATB Capital Markets — Analyst

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